To continue on the Bus Stop theme, I thought I’d share how I got my dogs to stop barking like maniacs every time the bus rounded the corner. But first a little background on how I came upon the solution:

I have a friend who I aspire to be when I grow up. She is a retired Ph.D. psychologist and is well into her second career as a dog trainer. In my opinion, she ranks as one of the top trainers in the country. But she’s a private person, so if any of you live in western NC and need a good trainer, please contact me and I’ll put you in touch with her.

We were talking on the phone the other day, when a UPS truck drove up to her place. Naturally, her six dogs started barking. Instead of yelling at them to stop (which is what most people would do), she went outside and said to them, “So guys, something interesting out here? I see it’s the UPS truck. Thank you. Now let’s go inside.”

I could hear all the dogs scurry inside. Instead of continue to bark (which is what most dogs would do), I could hear them make a quiet round of muffled “mawoof” sounds. It was hysterical. They still needed to “talk” about the truck being outside, but Heide had taught them to use “inside voices.”

This stuck with me for days. Heide had helped her dogs take their natural urge and instinct to alert and protect, addressed it, and then redirected it. Instead of her standing outside yelling (from a dog’s perspective — joining in on the alert) at the dogs to be quiet, she checked out what the dogs were barking at, thanked the dogs for doing their jobs, and then let them know she would handle it from there — they could now step down, so to speak. And they did.

Which brings me back to the point of this post. Previously, when my two dogs, also very good alerters and protectors, would hear Cait’s school bus from half a mile down the road, they’d begin their race to the windows, accompanied by non-stop rat-a-tat-tat barking. My heart rate would instantly soar right along with their adrenalin rush.

Nothing I’d tried had realistically done anything to prevent this natural dog behavior. Oh, sure, I’d tried the “get them by the window and as soon as they start to bark, make them sit. And as soon as they’re quiet, treat them.” And I’d tried putting barking and being quiet on cue. With neither of those working, I tried temporarily shutting the dogs away. This wouldn’t stop the barking but rather just remove it somewhere deeper into the background noises of the house.

But I had a different motivation (Andrew) and inspiration (Heide) this time to get me to rethink this dilemma. As I mentioned, this year Cait’s bus arrival time changed from 8:50 am to an ungodly 6:40 am. Whereas, last year, Andrew would be sitting at the morning table with us, this year he hoped to still be sleeping soundly. (Since I’m an early riser anyway, I’m happy to let Andrew sleep in, for which he’s grateful.) But that meant I had to find a way to get the dogs to stop barking at the bus. Because nobody could sleep through that!

I started by naming the bus for them just before they could hear it coming down the road. “Hey guys, Cait’s bus is coming, let’s go look.”

They’d run to the window and start to bark, as expected.

Then I’d calmly say, “Yeah, I see Cait getting on the bus. Thanks. Now, it’s breakfast time. Come eat.” Since they already knew what that meant, they’d immediately shift from an alerting/barking reaction to a yay/food reaction and come running into the kitchen to eat.

I started each morning with us all going to the window and me telling them the bus was coming. Then, before they had a chance to bark, I’d immediately tell them to go to the kitchen for breakfast.

It only took a couple of mornings for them to make the connection on their own that the bus coming meant their breakfast was ready.Within a week, there was no more barking.

Now, I don’t even mention the bus coming or that breakfast’s ready. On their own, when they hear the bus, they run into the kitchen looking for their food.

In a nutshell, what I did was instead of trying to get them to stop barking at the bus (extinguish a behavior), I used the bus to cue them that something good was about to happen (teach an incompatible replacement behavior, meaning they can’t bark and eat at the same time).

And we all lived happily after.