How to Stop Your Sheltie Barking
Does your Sheltie bark too much? Triggered every time he hears the doorbell or the toaster or the neighbor's cat? Here are two techniques using psychological conditioning to stop this unwanted behavior.
Why do Shelties bark a lot anyway? Are they just crazy hyper dogs?
They're not completely nuts. They only bark for good reasons - good to them, at least. The excessive Sheltie bark all comes down to their genetics and breeding. Shetland Sheepdogs were trained to guard their flocks on the Shetland Islands for generations, so your pet today is genetically predisposed to being an active watchdog. Naturally, she wants to alert you to any potential dangers whatsoever.
That's why Shelties take it upon themselves to bark like crazy when they spy children playing noisily in the street, visitors at the front door, or even the neighbor's cat. These things could all mean trouble!
Your Sheltie certainly isn't barking to annoy you. Her breeding gives her the overwhelming desire to warn you of these potential intruders. She considers it her job, which is why a bored Sheltie is even more likely to bark when you least want it.
Having said that, sometimes there are other reasons for your Sheltie's barking. She may just be excited and want to play a game, or there may be something genuinely wrong. Make this distinction before you actually take action.
How to Stop Your Sheltie Barking
In most cases, your Sheltie is alarm barking in her watchdog role, and this behavior needs to be curtailed or it will drive you (and your neighbors) absolutely crazy. Here's what to do to stop her barking:
1. Coins in a Can
Put some coins in an empty can and have it on hand whenever your Sheltie is likely to start barking. When she does, rattle the can noisily to create a momentary distraction. This breaks her train of thought and re-focuses her attention on you - at which point you can give the instruction, "Shhh!" or "No bark!"
This requires repetition before it becomes a learned behavior. Rattle the can every time she alarm barks and the noise will quickly act as negative conditioning. You can even follow it up with a positive reinforcement if you like and give a treat for being quiet. Performing each conditioning act quickly and on cue is key.
2. The Alpha Leader
The second method is a traditional technique to stop your dog barking. It's based on the concept of being a calm-assertive alpha figure, a philosophy propagated by the 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 barks, correct him with a short, sharp "Shhh!" command. Assert yourself as the boss in this scenario. Standing with your shoulders back and exude the calm confidence of a pack leader. Make eye contact with your dog when he looks at you. You can also click your fingers or point at your dog to make very clear that this behavior is unwanted.
If he continues barking, then you haven't asserted yourself as the alpha leader, so you need to be more dominant. A highly sensitive Sheltie won't test you but a dominant one will!
If he challenges you, gently hold his muzzle shut so he can't physically bark and repeat the command. Wait for 20 seconds.
Crucially, don't make the all too common mistake of yelling wildly at him - this just excites him and barks him up even more. Once your dog accepts you're the boss, he'll fall into a submissive state, his body will let go of the excited tension and he'll avert your gaze.
When this happens, praise your Sheltie lots and give him a treat for being a calm-submissive member of the pack.
What's The Best No-Bark Method for My Sheltie?
If you're balking at the idea of holding your Sheltie's muzzle shut, then follow your instinct. Some Shelties are more dominant than others and this technique should be reserved for those who tend to challenge their owners. I really can't imagine using this technique on Piper as he is extremely sensitive and has been hand shy from the day we got him. The physical and mental domination would make him very fearful. I'm 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.
You also need persistence. Stick with your chosen technique for a few days, every time your Sheltie goes on an unnecessary barking rant. Your Sheltie is a highly intelligent dog and will soon learn that constant alarm barking isn't what you want. You need only rely on the simple principles of praising the good behavior (with a treat or cooing) and punishing or ignoring the bad behavior (by rattling the coin can or physically turning away from your dog).
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 see signs of improvement, consider the alternative approach of Clicker Training.
Another, much firmer, approach is the use of an ultrasonic anti-bark device. When your dog barks, this emits a high pitched sound which your dog finds unpleasant and distracting. Using the same conditioning principles described above, this deters him from barking again and triggering the noise. Be warned, however, it's not fair to use anti-bark devices in a household with multiple dogs: if one dog barks, all dogs in the house are punished.
NOTE: Ultrasonic anti-bark devices are NOT the same as shock collars and in no way do I support the use of the latter in Shelties.
This article is based on research from Secrets to Dog Training by Daniel Stevens.