I have a nine-month-old Australian Shepherd. I am trying to teach her agility. I have gotten her to run with me and not bark by dropping a clipboard when she barks, and rewarding her when she is quiet. But she screams all the way through the tunnel. It is her first obstacle. Any ideas about how I can avoid having one of those Aussie's that scream all the way around the course?

Set up short sessions with very brief obstacles. For example, 1/10th of a tunnel. Give the dog a treat just before you send her to it (to keep her mouth busy). When she gets through quietly – which she should – reinforce her again with praise and another treat. You might also say "Quiet" just as you give the command to send her to the obstacle and then say "Good Quiet" (so she knows what she did right) when she has been successful. Stephen C. Rafe, B.S., M.S., Doctorate in progress, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, IAABC, #393

I know many Australian Shepherds who get arisen/stressed and are barking when in the Agility course. Don't punish her for barking = e.g. dropping a clipboard. Teach her what you want: being quiet. Click and treat her when she is quiet. Put this on cue. Teach her that the sound she is making is barking: barking one, (two or three) times is o.k. Click and treat for barking! Put it on cue. Train the discrimination between bark and quiet. When she is quiet, she is allowed to run, AND she gets a click and a treat at the end of the tunnel when she did a quiet run. No click and treat and stop the training when barking. Most Aussies are learning very quickly that it is much more fun running through the obstacles without barking than stopping the session. BUT: the owner must be consistent.Doris Vaterlaus

Best way is to create a task that a dog has to do to take their mind off the undesirable behavior. In this case, training the dog to carry a ball or something on an exercise. If it opens its mouth to bark or make noise, it drops the ball and doesn't get a reward on the exercise. Make sure the object is large enough to not go down his throat, but at the same time easy to carry. Use highly desirable treats that the dog likes to get it started, like bits of hot dog. Once things start working, treat at irregular intervals and sometimes not at all so it becomes a learned response. You can gradually stop using the object so the dog understands that silence is indeed golden and gets a hardy vocal reward from you. Mark Wadsworth

I have witnessed many Springer Spaniels wash out of competitive field events because they became barkers. In England "giving tongue" it is not tolerated under any circumstances. Some circles consider it to be hereditary, but I have not seen anything strongly support that it is. Regardless, it is definitely brought on by becoming overly keyed up due to the adrenaline that the competition creates.
The one thing I am not sure you clarified is, does he do it in training, or does it take the rush of competition to draw it out? I know of people who have gotten some results from using a "No-Bark" in training to recondition the dog. Obviously, dogs will become "collarwise." Still another idea is to use the water bottle rattle, where you drop about 15 pennies in an empty plastic bottle and slap it against your thigh any time he acts out near a training ring, followed with a stern Quiet.
You can progress to tossing it at the tunnel, jump or anything else that elicits a bark while he is running. I have seen people go as far as have helpers who more or less bombard the dog while running when he gives tongue. There is a risk of creating another problem, but these types of dogs tend to be pretty motivated and resilient. I would also tend to disagree with attempts to reduce the stress, desensitize, or otherwise calm this dog.
I would start off using the tunnel in a folded down version, so the tunnel is shorter then the dog’s body length. Lead the dog through and reward for doing it silently. After a few times, and all is going well, expand the tunnel a foot or two more and repeat the exercise. After a few times through quietly with rewards, expand the tunnel again a few feet, and repeat the exercise. Keep it up till the tunnel is fully open. If at some point in your exercises the dog begins to bark, go back to the last exercise and work on that some more, you may be proceeding too quickly. You could use these approaches with other obstacles as well. Susanne Frederiksen

If you want a silent agility dog, you need to choose a different breed. The clipboard thing is a bad idea and one that won't work for long: either she will become habituated to the sound and resume her barking, or worse, sensitize to the sound and become fearful of the agility ring/obstacles/you. You have "one of those Aussies that scream all the way around the course" because it is a breed characteristic and there's nothing wrong with it when she's in the ring having fun! Relax, worry about your obstacles and timing instead and let her bark. It would be a different story if she were doing this at home or in the obedience ring. In the agility ring it's wild with a crowd cheering most of the time. Let her cheer too and get over it. Jennifer Collins

You cannot run a course as smoothly carrying a clipboard so I'd encourage you to wean yourself and her off of that negative reinforcer and resort to using quiet or enough command to stop the barking. Furthermore, as I state in the following paragraph at the end, if she does start give her a time out and try again later. Quiet runs get lots of positive reinforcement and the barking gets her nothing at all. I'd keep her on the obstacles that she is least likely to bark over and slowly add in an obstacle that she gets excited about. If it's too much, back off again. Save the hardest (like the tunnel) for the last piece of equipment that you add.
Here are two suggestions on the tunnel: the tunnel is a piece of equipment dogs really don't have a problem with after some training. What I've learned is if they are in doubt that is where they run to. Either eliminate the tunnel for now until your barking problem is better for a full course or shorten the tunnel to a minimum of say, 12". That would give her a lot less time to bark inside. She's in and out before she knows it. If she starts barking I'd just quietly take her somewhere and give her a time out. If there is no barking lavishly (but quietly) praise her and give her really yummy treats.
An ultimate reward would be to put her barking behavior on cue and let her go crazy, per your request, when she does great things. I'd be careful on this one because it could backfire. You know your dog best. If you think she'll be able to handle it and ENJOY it then go for it. If you think it would get out of control then forget I mentioned it! Tiffany Huebner Princeton, MN

Teaching her to bark on cue and to shush on cue may help. Also, keep the tunnel as short as possible and only reward the silent executions. If she barks, ignore it and send her through again. Make a big fuss as she is coming out of the tunnel if she hasn't barked. Ann Mandelbaum Woodbury, CT

First thing to consider is that this is typical of Aussies, you chose an Aussie and she is enjoying her work. That said, if you are set on changing her behavior, it could be done. Your first task will be shortening the tunnel so that you can reward her for short passes without barking. Be sure the reward needs to be significant for successful non-barking passes. Only you know what she works for. Gradually increase the length of the tunnel for a complete quiet pass. Be sure to mix in short successful passes so she knows what you are looking for. Didi Clement

Why do you want to extinguish you dog’s enthusiasm with a negative response? Go to an agility trail and you will see a lot of dogs barking their way around the courses and finishing in record times. Agility is all about having fun, so let your dog enjoy himself. Michelle O'Neill

On the issue of barking, since I own two Aussies, my best guess for the barking would be twofold. The first is due to heredity and linked to this is frustration for late owner commands. By nature Australian shepherds are herding breeds, which are bred to work. If you watch agility on television you will notice that many of the herding breeds bark, this is in their nature. The more fun it is the more they bark! I have also found that much of the barking is caused by frustration, the owner not getting out commands quick enough for their highly motivated and quick brains.
To test this have your instructor try and run the dog and see what happens. I would guess when commands are given at the right moment directing the dog where to go, the barking will stop. On the comment about dropping the clipboard, this I think is detrimental to a positive training experience. The agility ring should be a place where only positive experiences occur.
Most trainers will always ensure that you do not use no or wrong or any other negative type of marker. By dropping the clipboard (negative punishment) it could potentially make a dog sensitive to that particular noise in that particular setting and develop into other settings. If you are a trainer who uses operant conditioning I would challenge this type of training tool.
Typically if you use negative punishment you must apply it at the first bark so the dog knows exactly which behavior is undesired. And if you must repeatedly use this type of punishment, it means it is not working, and the dog is unclear of what you are asking of him. I wonder whether the dog stops barking because the noise actually frightens him, rather than associating the noise with stopping the undesired behavior. I say this because I have seen many Australian shepherds who are noise sensitive, (including my own) and using this may develop into later years into something that is very hard to change.
A possible solution to training the tunnel without barking may be to shorten the tunnel so it is only a couple of feet long or whatever length the dog can complete it without barking. Gradually increase the length of the tunnel, always beginning each session at an easy length that you are sure won't cause the dog to bark. This method ensures the dog is successful so he really knows what you are asking. If at some point the dog starts barking, then back track to the length where he stops barking while going through until you have a full tunnel without barking. Tania Costa Toronto, Ontario

How much shaping has been done with this dog? Does the dog bark when it is confused? Doing more free shaping and rule out games will tell you if the dog is prone to bark when frustrated and you can teach it that barking doesn't get it the reward it wants. I have a red Border Collie who is a rescue and she was never free shaped as a puppy and really has NO idea how to be operant. I have been working with her for three years now and she is finally getting close to being ring ready as the barking and no impulse control was a big problem at first. She will repeat the same error over and over. She does not understand that if you didn't get the reward for the first or second try then changing something about the behavior.
I spent a LONG time doing one tunnel and only praising quietly when she did it with a bark and rewarding with the toy and much celebration when she did it quietly. She did a lot of tunnels for no toy initially. Some dogs will try to change the whole behavior if they don't get a toy. Like they may run around the tunnel, or run out and stand in front of it thinking the tunnel is not the correct behavior. If you are not sure how to deal with this then you need to work with a trainer that understands operant conditioning.
Now if my red Border Collie does any obstacle or sequence and barks and I don't reward with the toy and we try again, she immediately or at least on the second attempt drops the bark as the first thing she will change. As for the Aussie, it sounds to me like they are trying to train this dog WAY to fast. If the dog cannot do one obstacle without barking then the handler should NOT be running with the dog. I never run with a dog until it can do every obstacle on an agility course perfectly, without me, from at least 15 feet away. Then I add in short sequences with 90-degree turns and I stand in the middle sending the dog. I am looking for the dog to open up and look in front of him and take what he sees and does not look back at me between every obstacle. I will put the looking back at me on cue later.
When the dog can do any sequence with little or no motion from me (I just say "go on" and support the line with my body much like you lunge a horse) I will start to add in my handling cues and footwork cues on ONE obstacle. The barking may reappear at this time for dogs that are prone to this so no reward for the bark. Then I do short sequences of look ahead and then when I give a handling cue I see if they respond. All my handling cues are taught on body language first and I add in the verbal cue later.
I would not encourage this person to throw anything at the dog for barking. It is a training issue and somewhere along the line the dog has learned that barking is acceptable and it must be being reinforced somewhere in the training. The handler will not be able to run the course with a clipboard (or anything else) in her hand so the dog will most definitely learn the stimulus of the clipboard. Kim Collins Prince George, BC

So many dogs just love this sport but unfortunately excessive barking and even possessive issues can creep up with the newcomers! I would recommend doing a "Communication Only" course of E Collar Training with this dog, such as ETouch, GEM (gentle electronic motivation) or one of the other gentle courses. By using the collar in this method, we are able to transfer it from initially an attention tool, to a gentle prompt or reminder if the dog should start to bark.
In the beginning the owner might tap on her particular dog's communication level and say "Quiet" simultaneously. As the dog progresses in training, if it should start to bark, the owner would be able to tap on the correct level, and the dog should focus back on the owner immediately. Gina Lyn Hayes Dennisport, MA

I am a veteran of many agility events. I have seen excited dogs bark their way through the courses. The owners seem embarrassed when their pets bark while jumping, climbing, and running up and down and in and out of every obstacle. My impression is that the barking demonstrates the dog's excitement and exuberance for the task at hand. The barking may even help the dog maintain the required speed to finish the course on time. My advice is to bite the bullet and allow the barking. Any introduced corrections may serve to squelch your dog's enthusiasm for the sport. Don't worry, after a minute or so, the run will be over, and hopefully a qualifying score will follow! Barbara Cohl, Ph.D. Laurel, Maryland

I believe that you are on the right track by having her walk/run with you and rewarding her for NOT barking. Adding a clicker and clicking and treating when she is quiet will make it very clear to her what she is being reinforced for. If she will walk quietly but not run, start there. If she will only run two steps quietly, that is fine, start there. Click for two steps of quiet. Gradually you can extend the time/distance that she is running quietly. If she barks stop running and ignore her for a few seconds, then begin again, click for quiet. Initially you may be clicking every second or two.
My suggestion for the tunnel is close the tunnel down to the smallest size. Encourage her to walk through, click and treat. Continue to have her walk through as you gradually lengthen the tunnel, click and treat for quiet. Make sure that she will walk through quietly before you ask for speed. When you are ready to ask for speed, shorten the tunnel again and click and treat for quiet. Gradually lengthen the tunnel while you continue to click and treat for quiet. Melinda Berger, PA

Why in the world would you want to stop this behavior? You have an Aussie... they bark when they are herding and having a great time. She is not nuisance barking – only when she is truly happy running the course. Realize this is the breed you chose and relish in the reasons you chose an Aussie and know its because she is having a blast. And stop the dropping of the clipboard... that's old school corrective stuff. Relax and let her enjoy herself. Its like getting mad at a Lab who jumps in the water or getting ticked off at a Jack Russell who chases the cats... ITS WHAT SHE WAS BRED TO DO... you chose it now find a way to love her for it.

Maybe this sounds too simple but I would teach him a quiet or hush command. I did this by teaching my Aussie first to talk, then to hush. Now he will hush whenever I tell him to and has even learned not to bark or cry in certain situations. It was easy for my dog but we haven't done any agility yet. Lisa



©2007 Off-Lead & Animal Behavior
Barkleigh Productions Inc • 970 W. Trindle Rd. • Mechanicsburg, PA 17055 • (717) 691-3388 • Fax: (717) 691-3381