Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Why Is Your Dog Barking in the Morning?
Barking in the morning for the purpose of waking up the owners and eliciting them to start their day early is a form of nuisance barking. What increases this form of barking is obviously the act of getting up and attending to the dog by giving it food or attention. To better understand why a dog continues to bark in the morning despite not getting up and attending to the dog, it helps to understand all the mechanisms that come into play when a behavior is about to extinguish.
To better understand the process of extinction, which is the process of a behavior diminishing and eventually ending, we can compare a dog's behavior to a big fire. Giving in to a behavior like barking in the morning is adding fuel to the fire. The behavior increases, becomes stronger, and is harder to extinguish. If the fuel is not added, the behavior will likely become smaller and easier to extinguish.
Because extinction undergoes some interesting processes, it is worth learning why the act of not getting up still causes your dog to bark or even causes it to increase in intensity and duration. This behavior can be explained as extinction bursts. What happens in an extinction burst is that behavior increases temporarily, enough to have dog owners believe that the act of not getting up is not working.
Let's take a look at what happens in the dog's mind during an extinction burst. The behavior of barking in the morning had to start somewhere. Very likely, upon barking in the morning, you or somebody in your family got up and fed the dog. Since the barking worked in getting what they wanted, they likely continued to do so, and you likely continued getting up and feeding them.
Then one day you decided not to get up and ignore the barking, thinking this would nip the behavior in the bud. It did not work, your dog likely barked even more than before. Why is this? It is because of the process of extinction burst. Basically, your dog is thinking, ''My owners this morning are not getting up as usual. I need to increase my barking in intensity and duration so they get up since just barking a little is not working." They now bark more until you or somebody else in your family finally got tired of hearing them and finally got up.
This only aggravated the behavior. Extinction bursts take place when an owner tries to stop a behavior by not giving in and the dog increases the behavior to obtain whatever it wants. As much as an extinction burst sounds like an annoying problem, in reality it is a sign that not giving in is working. Giving in when an extinction burst takes place will only add more fuel to the fire.
Terry Ryan, a respected trainer and president of Legacy Canine Behavior & Training Inc., explains in her book The Toolbox for Building A Great Family Dog that "Once you recognize what the rewards are (in your case, getting up and feeding them) and take them away, the behavior will likely increase immediately. This is known as an extinction burst. In plain words, Gus will get worse before he gets better. It might be frustrating, but take it as a good sign. It's working! You've got his number! Stay the course and the behavior will drop off over time.''
The secret to stopping the behavior is therefore to never give in. The worst thing that can be done is giving in some days and resisting others. This puts the dog on a variable schedule. What this means is that if the dog barks and gets fed one day and not the next day, the behavior of barking only puts more roots because it works in the same way as playing the lottery. People get hooked on playing the lottery because of the variability of it. Slot machines are based on this principle.
How to Stop the Barking in the Morning Behavior
So what is the treatment plan? Eventually, your dog will have some pauses in between barking. These pauses must be used to your advantage. Only get up when there is silence. If you are getting up and the barking resumes, walk back to your bedroom. Make sure your dog takes notice of this. She has to hear that her barking is what causes you to not open her door. Quiet brings you closer to opening her room, while barking gets you more distant. Being smart, and looking for rewards, dogs eventually learn that silence becomes reinforcing and it will eventually replace barking, which should gradually extinguish.
- Room darkening shades or moving the dog to another part of the house that is a bit darker may trick her and allow you some extra sleep.
- A bedtime snack may help the dog feel less hungry in the morning, especially in dogs fed only once a day.
- Keeping the dog in the same bedroom with the owners may help decrease the barking. A blanket in a corner of the bedroom may be made the ''dog's place''.
- Teach the quiet command. When the dog barks, say ''quiet''. The moment the dog quiets down say ''good!'' and give a treat. If the dog barks, turn your back and ignore.
- Make sure your dog is not barking in the morning because she needs to go potty. Most dogs really need to go after keeping it all night. Make sure she is let out to potty last thing in the night.
- Make sure your dog is well exercised during the day so she is more likely to sleep in the night. A tired dog is a good dog.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli
Steven on October 08, 2018:
Sounds logical, but it doesn't help when neighbour is complaining. ie: trying to train the dog to bark less over time, but neighbhor knock on the door and threaten to have authorities to take the dog away if barking keeps on happening and is not stopped... that'd really suck if authorities really do burst in and take the dog away while the dog is still in the process of being trained to bark less over time.
Thackery Grundle on August 01, 2018:
I'm glad the author explained what extinction means so all of us ignorant folk can at least pretend to be on her level.