Barking it out - More Harm than Good

Barking it out

Of all the bad advice that owners are flooded with, barking it out seems to be one that I get asked about the most. Barking is always a symptom of a larger issue and doesn’t go away on its own. Knowing the type of barking that you’re dealing with is always helpful, and is the information you’ll need to have when you want to address a barking problem. 

Although letting your barking dog bark isn’t a good thing in any case, this article will be focusing on barking while your dog is crated or confined. There are tons of types of barking, check them out here. 

Barking in the Crate

This type of barking is very simple and most often is because the dog was never taught that their crate is a place to rest and relax, and so the experience for them is negative. 

Picture if without explanation you were tricked, forced, or pressured into going into a room that you KNEW you’d be locked in. You have know idea when you’d be let out, and sometimes you can hear your friends and family outside of the room. You naturally try to call for help or otherwise protest your confinement. In fact it would be Weird if you didn’t. 

Over time you recognize the patterns leading up to you imprisonment, you try to resist, and then end up spending time in your room pacing and frustrated. Now imagine you have no freedom of movement and are in a box big enough only to lay down in. Shouting seems like the most viable option for venting stress.

Why would this be different for dogs?

Above is the average experience that dogs might go through when being “crate trained”. I put this in quotes because frankly I’ve never seen any free resources on training your dog how to use a crate, or tolerate isolation, that are fully supportive of the dog, not damaging psychologically, or methods that I’d be comfortable using with my own dogs.

The resources aren’t there, and it’s not as simple as “put dog in crate, only let out when barking stops”. Yet this is the still very popular advice that is slung about left and right to new owners looking for relief from whining, barking, and general carrying on by their crated dogs. Yes it is true that after a few weeks of barking your dog will be so dejected that they won’t bark any longer, but that doesn’t mean at all that they enjoy their crate or want anything else but to escape it.

Barking it out is Damaging

Imagine being left to scream yourself to sleep in a cell each night. For reasons you don’t understand you’re forced into isolation by your family and left alone in the dark in a cell. You can hear them, why can’t they hear you? How loud do you have to be? How long will you have to yell before someone comes and yells back? At least they finally heard you. 

From a mental health standpoint this is very traumatic. And it is a trauma that dogs go through repeatedly each day without a choice. The only choice or control the dog has in the matter is to bark or not. They’re not supported through their feelings of isolation, so now they’re more likely to develop over attachment problems. They’re not taught the behavior expected of them in the crate, and many dogs will spin, dig the crate, bite the crate, or just stand the entire time they’re confined. They don’t know how to relax in a place they’ve only ever been shown is a stressful experience. 

This stress doesn’t magically disappear when the dog comes out of the crate. The stress hormones need time to dissipate from the dog’s system, and since this is happening daily, they generally build up instead. The process of putting the dog in the crate is not building trust in you as a partner, but instead forcing you into conflict with the dog. Even if your dog goes in with reluctance, they are not doing it because they trust you. Just like the stress will affect things outside the crate, so will the mistrust. 

This trauma is not a normal part of crate training. Trauma is not a part of good training at all. Nor is it the mark of a good relationship. 

Crates and pens are great tools

They are useful in SOOOOO many ways in training, and are a valuable travel safety too. Dismissing them because your dog was never trained how to use one properly, or because you don’t know how to do so yourself, this is what I see many owners do. A direct result of this are dogs who have severe issues with confinement, have separation anxiety, and god forbid they need to be put on crate rest to recover from an injury.

These dogs often have issues with boundaries in general in the home too. It is very common that they steal food or other things they shouldn’t have, spend a lot of time being hyper, are easily frustrated, and don’t know how to settle or relax easily. They may have impulse control problems, bolting out of doors, getting over excited about other dogs or guests. 

How crates are helpful to me

These are some of the ways that I (and many other trainers) use crates and pens in training. This isn’t an all encompassing list, nor do I use crates for each of these things with each individual dog. All cases have their own unique details! 

  • Teaching and enforcing boundaries
  • Teaching control at doorways
  • Strong recalls
  • Potty training
  • Safe alone time and separation training
  • Relaxation training
  • Managing multiple dogs
  • Teaching polite greetings
  • Safe introductions 
  • Safe vehicle travel
Without the use of crates or pens some of these things would not be possible in the same way. They may in fact be several times more difficult and potentially out of the skill level of the average owner, which makes it a very hard to get a training problem fixed! It’s true that crates are not the only way to get things done, just like a plane isn’t the only way to cross the US, but it certainly makes it much easier!

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