|By Becky Turner||Visit The Sheltie Forums|
Do you have a problem with your Sheltie barking incessantly?
Here are two simple solutions that can immediately help curb this unwanted behavior. First though... why is your Sheltie barking in the first place?
Shelties were trained to guard their flocks on the Shetland Islands for generations, so your pet today is genetically predisposed to being a watchdog.
Why is your Sheltie barking?
That's why Shetland Sheepdogs take it upon themselves to bark every time they spy a potential danger. This includes (from their perspective) children playing noisily in the street, to visitors at the front door, to the next door neighbor's cat.
Your Sheltie isn't barking to annoy you - he was simply bred that way and now has the overwhelming desire to warn you of potential intruders. He considers it his job - which is why a bored Sheltie is even more likely to bark when you least need it.
However, sometimes there are other reasons for your Sheltie barking. He may just want you to play a game - or perhaps there is something genuinely wrong. Make this distinction before taking action, because sometimes a Sheltie needs to be heard!
The first method is to put some coins in an empty can and have it on hand whenever your Sheltie is likely to start barking. When he does, rattle the can noisily to create a momentary distraction. This breaks the train of thought and re-focuses his attention on you - at which point you can give instruction, eg "Shhh!" or "No bark!"
Keep this up a few times and the noise will quickly act as negative conditioning and your Sheltie will be less likely to go on a barking rant. This doesn't work on all Shelties but a lot of owners have reported just how successful it can be.
The second method is a traditional technique to stop your dog barking. It is based on the concept of being a calm-assertive alpha figure, a philosophy propagated by Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan. I used to do this with Howard when he barked at the neighbor's cats every time they passed by outside and it was very effective.
The moment your Sheltie starts barking, correct him with a short, sharp "Shhh!" command. Assert yourself as the authority in this scenario, by standing with your shoulders back and exuding the calm confidence of a pack leader. Make eye contact with your dog when he looks at you. You may also want to click your fingers or point at your dog to make very clear that this behavior is unwanted. Nip it in the bud.
If he continues barking, then you haven't asserted yourself as the alpha leader, so you may need to be more dominant. (A highly sensitive Sheltie won’t test you... but a dominant one will!)
Gently hold his muzzle shut (so he can't physically bark) and repeat the command. Wait there for 20 seconds initially, so it becomes a deterrent for him to bark immediately afterwards. Don't make the all too common mistake of yelling at him - this just excites him and barks him up even more. Once your dog accepts you are the boss, he'll fall into a submissive state, his body will let go of the excited tension and he'll avert your gaze.
Once this happens, praise your Sheltie lots and give him a treat for being a calm-submissive member of the pack.
Some dogs are more dominant than others and this technique will work for those who tend to challenge their owners. I can't really imagine using this technique on Piper as he has been hand shy from the day we got him. The physical and mental domination would make him very afraid of me. I am trying to train him, not paralyze him with fear! So use your good judgment on how you're going to assert yourself to a barking Sheltie. You can of course use the second method without even making physical contact - a simple "Shhh!" command and eye contact is all that's needed.
Stick with your chosen technique for a few days, every time your Sheltie goes on an unnecessary barking rant. Be consistent. Your Sheltie is intelligent and will soon learn that constant alarm barking isn't what you want - especially if you praise the good behavior and ignore the bad (literally turn your body away from him).
You might both come to an understanding that it's ok for him to give one or two alarm barks when he senses something odd outside. As long as he knows when to quit - and doesn't bark persistently - your Sheltie training is a success.
If you try these method for a week and don't even see the tiniest signs of improvement, consider the alternative dog training approach of Clicker Training.
Becky Turner is the creator of Sheltie Planet. She lives in New Zealand with her partner, Peter, and their son, Fox. Becky is 100% owned by Howard and Piper Woofington Moon, the Shelties who inspired this site. Visit them on Facebook or The Sheltie Planet Forums.