Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: Barking, by Kim Campbell Thornton

Elka is not a problem barker.  She in fact barks appropriately, occasionally in play, but most often as an alert if she feels somebody's approaching the house who ought not be.  I promise I won't brag about this any more than necessary.

Barking is a big problem dogs owners face, however, as I discussed in Dog Manners: the barking edition.  Dogs bark; it's a main means of communication.  And dog barks mean something, whether we humans get the point or not.  So, if your dog is barking, and you think it's a problem, then there's a definite miscommunication going on.

Barking, by Kim Campbell Thornton, is a rather short book that discusses why dogs bark and what owners might do about it.

The good news is that Thorntom, for the most part, makes a lot of sense.  She identifies different kinds of barking, such as alerting and play.  She also discusses how dogs who are bored or anxious might bark as well, and if your dog is barking out of boredom, then it's your responsibility as a dog owner to make sure your dog is occupied in a better manner, physically and mentally.  Thornton explains identifying the behavior ("Bark") and giving it a command, and thus being able to cue your dog. 

Thornton doesn't discuss this point specifically, but once a behavior is put on cue, a dog will not necessarily do it incessantly.  Elka almost never barks, or rather, barks appropriately.  So, if I wanted to put "Bark" on cue, I'd have to figure out a way to get her to bark so that I could name it. 

Does this mean she'll offer the behavior all of the time, thinking it might be a thing that gets me to give her a treat?  Maybe, but probably not.  Unlike "Testify!" which was entirely free shaped and thus is offered all the time, "Bark", currently, is subjective.  If we're playing with tennis balls out back, and I've got Elka revved up and ready for the next throw, I'll hesitate.  I'll hold the ball up and kind of wiggle it and say "Bark!"  She kind of huffs her lips at me in excitement, and darts around, and typically spins, but she'll stop and stand again, and look at me.  Repeat.  The second she barks (and she doesn't always. I'm sure there's a better way of doing this), I say "Yes! Good bark!" and throw the ball.  Elka tears after it, gets it, brings it back, and play resumes as normal.

You might wonder why I want to put Bark on cue, as it isn't an adorable trick the way "Bow" or "Spin" or "Testify!" is.  Well, there are obvious homeowner benefits to having a big scary Doberman bark on cue, even from behind a closed door.  Also, it's fun to teach Elka new things!

Thornton's book had some downsides to it, though, as books will.  For a physical correction to barking, she suggests taking a doggie head halter, the sort usually used to discourage pulling on walks.  When the dog barks, pull the strap that tightens the device on the dog's muzzle, thus preventing the mouth from freely opening, thus correcting against the bark.  This is a practice I cannot condone; I am not a veterinarian, but my understanding is that one must never use a Gentle Leader or a Halti for a physical correction.  The risk of injuring a dog's neck and vertebrae is far too severe, especially in a breed like the Doberman, which can be prone to Cervical Vertebral Instability.  Thornton also, as a last resort, mentions electronic bark collars.  To her credit, she says something along the lines of "before you use any electronic correction device out on your dog, put it on yourself first and see how you like it."

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