The Morning Bus Stop: Part 2 – Or How to Get Your Dogs to Stop Barking

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.

19 thoughts on “The Morning Bus Stop: Part 2 – Or How to Get Your Dogs to Stop Barking”

  1. I am so glad you posted this. I watched as a small terrier was tied up outside my neighborhood market. The dog was adorable, but so scared and began barking and crying immediately. Everyone walking by tried to engage him because he was so cute, but quickly walked on when he barked and lunged out of fear. As a group of kids approached I had that sinking feeling, and sure enough they thought it was a fun game to approach him and then jump back as he lunged. I waited for the owner to come out to tell her what had happened in the hope that she would understood that she was setting him up for failure here- or worse! I don’t think she took it very well.

    1. Jinggo, kudos to you for being compassionate enough to keep an eye on the poor dog until the clueless owner reappeared. While she may not have been able to hear you at the moment, let’s hope you planted a seed that can grow to help her become a better dog person.

  2. Hi Karen,

    Great post – very practical advice.

    In Natural Dog Training terms, I’d say that your dogs were looking for an outlet for the energy generated by the bus’s arrival – and that the breakfast was a perfect outlet, as it’d satisfy their prey drive with some good ol’ fashioned satiation in the belly. While before the feeling that they would associate with the bus was one of nervous, unsatisfied energy (barking with no real outlet for the tension), you taught them that what it feels like for the bus to arrive is for them to be gobbling down breakfast – which is ultimately much more satisfying for them. Just in case you were wonderin’ what the NDT filter for such a lesson would be. ;)

    Or maybe your presence just scared away all the creepy ghost-bubbles that your dogs were barking at?

    Happy to see you back to blogging!

  3. Linda, there are those days when the only thing to do is bark along with the dogs! LOL! In fact, had one of those days today. :)

    Jenny, it’s great that Max is looking to you. That gives you an immediate way to give him feedback. Much better than a dog who decides to act first and check back in later. Very glad to know that you find some of the info here helpful.

    Mary Alice, wow! That’s great. That’s what I love about training — once you know what you’re trying to train for and why, it’s usually pretty easy to back into figuring out what’s gonna work for your dogs.

  4. I read this post a couple days ago and have been trying it on our two dogs (a Corgi and a Golden) It works like a charm. I have to admit, I was surprised at just how well it worked. Thanks for the insight.

  5. I was glad to read this blog you posted and happy that this has worked so well for you. I’ve been teaching variations of this method for almost ten years now myself with much success. Its a relief to know that there are like-minded trainers out there and people willing to share this commonsense approach. Now if I could get my own critter to take a breath between barks, maybe she would hear me tell her I’ve got it undercontrol. ;-) “yeah right Mom”.

  6. Brilliant! When the mailman and ups/fedex comes to our back door max will do his thing…I go out and tell him it’s OK buddy…thank him for letting me know and that he is doing his duty well, and he immediately stops barking but he is still in the mix of it, just not as hostile and ready to wump the guy…Max is always looking at me to see how I am reacting…more than the men. I guess this good isn’t it? I have also noticed that “inside voice” now…he does this muffled grumbling guffaw sounds from his throat. I figured it was his “chit-chat” voice but from what you wrote about your friend…it’s clearer as to what this behavior is. Thanks Karen…your posts are fascinating and fun! :) ps. and I am a better dog person now.

  7. I get it but I need to work something out to make Kitsie quit barking when she hears a gate chain or the barn door being opened. I’m guity of barking along with her:)

  8. Nutmeg, something like this can work for your guys with the trains. I might use it as an opportunity for them to have access to toys or kongs, or other things they value.

    Elaine, really, be very, very happy you don’t have barking fools for dogs! LOL! Though, I can see where it would be nice to have a happy medium.

    Jenn, the trick then is to give them a way to know that you appreciate their alerting and don’t need them to go on and on about it.

    Teetotaled, I think whoever set up the school schedule this way ought to be fired! The whole educational system needs to be rethought IMHO, but don’t get me started on that. :)
    Martina, since Heide makes her living solely from dog training, she’d quickly go broke offering free advice by email. If you’re interested, I can ask her if she is open to consulting for a fee by email.

  9. I get chills thinking about being a teenager and having to get up at 5:30 in the morning. Boo!
    Great tactic with the dogs!

  10. Hmm. I may have to try some variant of this with my two. They don’t bark at cars and people, but they really go off at other dogs. Only in the house though, so we want to keep that protective behaviour without all the obnoxious barking.

  11. By the last comment, I meant that I only let the dogs greet visitors that were comfortable with the idea: it worried the dogs if people were afraid of them. Otherwise, they stayed int he dog run when we had guests.

  12. I actually wouldn’t mind if our dogs would bark a bit more. Between an elderly Dalmatian who is getting deaf and an elderly Collie who never quite saw the point of barking, I usually have to tell the dogs that something is going on rather than vice versa. I could stand for them to be a little more proactive.

    When the Dobermans (both of whom passed to their reward at an elderly age) were puppies I read somewhere that one should always praise them for barking and then tell them “it’s okay, now, guys, thanks.” They barked to let me know someone was here, and then were quiet and welcoming to guests: though only those who had assured me they were comfortable with big dogs.

  13. I wonder if this could work for our dogs who bark like maniacs at the trains that come into the station across the street – every twenty minutes!

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