I heard a tip some years back about how to handle dog barking. It made sense, and so I’d always planned to go with it if I got a dog. Trying it with just one pet isn’t much of an experiment, but it seems to be working, so I thought I’d describe it.

The basic thesis is this: You cannot teach your dog not to bark. Your dog has 10,000 years of evolution saying that an approaching stranger is a potential malefactor who must be barked at. You cannot train them out of this.

However, you can train them that they only need to bark until the pack leader has been made aware of the intruder, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.

When Ashley spots someone who needs to be barked at, I hurry over to where she is and praise her profusely: “Good dog! You have alerted us as to the presence of a potential malefactor! That is exactly what you’re supposed to do! You’re the best! Have a treat!”

During the time that I’m praising her, Ashley will quit barking. She’ll also not bark while she’s eating her treat. Usually by the time the praise and treat are over the potential malefactor will have moved along, so there’s no need for more barking.

Occasionally (especially in these days of cell phones) the potential malefactor will still be in view outside the window, and Ashley will go on barking, but I try not to respond further. The essential lesson here is that she only needs to bark until I have been alerted, and that further barking is pointless.

Ashley has barked at any number of potential malefactors, but she has not barked so much as to be annoying to us or our neighbors. So, it’s looking like a win so far.