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Three-Bark Rule

By Diane Garrod

There are several ways to prevent, manage and train your dog not to bark. I created the three-bark rule to showcase how easy it is to diminish and even eliminate non-alert barking without using aversive methods. It establishes it is ok to alert bark. It shows the dog you respect his communication and it ends barking with a simple, pleasant cue.

To train the three-bark rule, you start at the end, meaning you backchain the sequence of cues. This is familiar terminology for clicker trainers. If you are not familiar with clicker training head to www.clickertraining.com and join the Clicker Solutions Yahoo Groups list to start a lifetime of learning for you and your canine companion.

The entire sequence is Thank you, 2, 3, Done Cue. You can count out the 2, 3 in your head or simply, say it verbally. Your done cue can be anything done, quiet, shhhhh, cookies etc. I use done because I can use it in other training sequences with success. And the thank you portion of the chain signifies youve seen what they are barking at, confirm it, and indicates youll take care of it from here. It shows a respect for the bark as a communication tool; not annoying habit humans hate. Soon your neighbors wont even know you have dogs. Many times my neighbors have said to me I didnt know you had dogs or I didnt know you had two dogs or I didnt know you had big dogs, they are so quiet.

Start training your Done cue first. Every time your dog is simply being quiet, say your done cue and click and treat. If you see your dog siting quietly at the window looking out, this is an ideal time to practice the done cue. The key to the done cue, however, is that it also means, turn away from what you are barking at and return to me. So you also run backwards when you say your word or make it so your dog has to turn away and return to (come to) you for a reward. You can click and treat, meaning you click for the ACTION of turning away from and treat for the POSITION of returning to you to receive their reward. WAIT 3 to 10 seconds before delivering the reward so it is very clear that you the done cue does not mean you are rewarding barking. Must always be happy and always rewarding.

When you are confident you have a great quiet cue established a pattern of hearing the cue and turning away from whatever the dog is doing, then and only then start the sequence with the barking. Thank you 2, 3 is one cue. Heres how it will go:

  • You hear your dog bark.
  • You get up and go over to where your dog is and put your hand on their shoulder as you say thank you. (Later you can eliminate getting up and going, but in the learning stages this part is critical to the communication sequence.)
  • Continue with 2, 3 (in your head or aloud) and get ready to cheerfully say
  • Your done cue.
  • As you do, run backwards or walk to the kitchen or other room where the reward is easily accessible.
  • If you have trained this cue well, your dog will stop barking and turn away to return to you for their reward make sure you lavish the reward on (after 3 to 10 seconds of silence) and keep it very upbeat and happy. You can click and treat if you time it properly Click for ACTION which equals turning away from and Treat for POSITION which equals returning to you for reward and reinforcement of quiet behavior.
  • After that, block the dogs view of whatever is stimulating the barking and get them busy with an activity prevention and management. You do this so your done cue has value and meaning and that it significantly ends the barking behavior.


What if my dog doesnt stop barking when I say my done cue?

First ask yourself if you said it correctly in a pleasant delivery not with emotion or aversion yelling DONE! Is not correct and you are only adding drama and actually barking along with your dog

If you did everything correctly, then you possibly didnt quite train the done cue long enough to mean silence. Go back to step one and start over.

There has to be a consequence for barking past done and if all is in place, it simply means no reward, and a blocking of view coupled with a relax time for dog crate, room etc. This will bring the dog down from the adrenaline rush of barking, which caused them to bark after the cue. This must be done without comment, talking or aversion and is simply a time out. Time for you to figure out what piece you might have skipped over, why the barking didnt end, what you were doing wrong. Then you can regroup and try again later, after you do some practice sessions.

It will take positive reward-based repetitions and proper timing of the clicker to get it just right. The click comes ONLY when the dog hears the word, turns away and trots happily over to you to receive their reward. YOU are NOT CLICKING the bark. Click as the dog is trotting over to you, count 3 to 10 seconds out depends on the dog and deliver the reinforcement for good behavior. The more you reward good behavior NOT barking the more the good behavior you want will continue. Soon your dog will be counting out his or her own barks. More importantly, they will know their communication is being taken seriously and you value what they are telling you, which increases and establishes a better team relationship.

Other ways to diminish barking:

  • Teach your dog to speak and then use a done cue. Reward the quiet after 3 to 10 seconds.
  • Put your dogs bark on cue, and then never cue it. This is a technique established by Karen Pryor and can be found at www.karenpryor.com or www.clickertraining.com.
  • Prevention and management techniques such as, blocking distracting views, sounds and rewarding for quiet compliance. Not allowing fence running and not leaving your dog unsupervised or bored. Not yelling at or using aversive methods of training such as spray collars, electric bark collars, spray bottles and a host of other unnecessary pain causing devices. These are confrontational and inhibit relationship building and communication. I much prefer non-confrontational training, which teaches trust, proper communication out of free will and develops a bond or relationship that is long-lasting and rewarding.

Lets take a look at why dogs bark in the first place.

  • To get you to notice them.
  • To communicate to you and others.
  • Fear, stress or anxiety.
  • Frustration. Can lead to your dog barking at YOU.
  • Responding to sights/sounds. (other dogs, people, mailman, garbage truck)
  • Boredom lack of supervision or human interaction, or when dog is home alone without proper activity preparation.

Once you realize dogs dont bark just to irritate the human species, then you can understand what to do to make barking communication manageable and even enjoyable. Then you can prevent what you dont want by doing the following:

  • Keep a log so you can identify what triggers your dog to bark. Then you can be one step ahead in preventing and managing this pattern.
  • Reduce exposure to sights/sounds that trigger barking.
  • Create more exercise time for you and your dog.
  • Make sure they are satiated proper feeding, play, interactive time, training time, and mental stimulation.
  • Keep your dog busy doing something else. If they are working on a delicious Kong, or bone or toy, it is counterproductive to barking. The dog must decide however, what that activity is and then their human must satisfy that need.
  • Teach what you DO want. Reward the good behavior. Three-bark rule.
  • Actively reinforce quiet or hesitation with your done cue.
  • Work with a sound desensitization tape. You can get these with all sorts of everyday sounds, to include show background noises if you have a show dog. This gives you opportunities to practice at various levels of volume, starting with low volume.
  • Make sure you are following through with your dogs learning consistently in real life situations. As these occur, are you doing what you are practicing? Be consistent, persistent, patient and most of all committed to showing your dog what behavior you DO want.

I particularly like to use the three-bark rule and especially the cue Done said in a happy conversational tone, because this cue then becomes the end of other activities done interacting with dogs or people, or done playing or a host of other activities sniffing, etc. But it must always mean turn away from what you are doing, and return to me. What a great way for you and your dog to begin a lifetime of proper reward-based training techniques that builds your relationship and communication.

Diane is a great teacher as well as a trainer. She has knowledge of dog behavior and is also ’human friendly’ so she communicates well with both! Diane always seems happy to see my dog.

- C.J. and Ponder
Clinton, Washington

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