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BARK!BARK!BARK!BARK!BARK!BARK! and how I stopped Anthem's Anthem.

Anthem is defined in the Oxford dictionary as "a rousing or uplifting song" Colorado Mountain Dog "Anthem" takes it seriously. Beautiful soul was giving me pause.

She barks. and barks. and barks.

Colorado Mountain Dog at Fennario Kennels Evergreen CO
Anthem of the Sun, 1 year old

She can be redirected, but she will continue to bark even while she's looking straight at me. All the other dogs I have on a non-bark schedule can be redirected to quiet. They will hold eye contact quietly for about three minutes. For Livestock Guardians I've been told that's pretty darn good.

I've tried a whole bunch of different methods to bring Anthem's barking under control, including e-c

ollars, restricting stimulation, yelling at her, praising her, ignoring her (to a point). I attribute the vocal excess to a couple of different factors. Training was limited during her fear period, due to the ear infections. She spent the majority of the sessions scratching and shaking her head so I didn't push it. Genetics lends a strong barking tendency through Althea, Anthem's mom. She was a barky-barkerton too.

Colorado Mountain Dogs at Fennario Kennels Evergreen CO
Althea with four month old Anthem

Today I am so excited to say that so far, Anthem's barking has decreased by 80%. A much more tolerable volume and pitch as well. I really had to sit down and plan out some sort of strategy, or I wasn't going to be able to have her as part of the breeding program. She was driving me nuts.

The first truth I had to understand was that LGD's use their bark as a tool in their working life. I would never be able to totally extinguish the behavior.

The second truth I had to understand is that all methods I'd used thus far have yielded no less barking, and a much more nervous Anthem. I needed something totally different.

Here's what I did:

Anthem's training plan started with getting her to understand a MARK. When Anthem offers the correct behavior, I MARK it with a sound. If the sound is simultaneously or immediately followed by a high value reward, Anthem will come to understand the sound itself as reward. This is called classical conditioning in dog-trainers speak. She will also come to understand the exact moment she is doing what I want. This was a key component missing in our communication. I'm convinced she didn't even know I was talking to her. (Or yelling at her in some instances).

I chose a favorite toy of hers. I would say the name of the toy, "Wubba", over and over again until she looked at it. The I would click, and say YES!! at the same time. We repeated this for about three days, dozens of times. I used tiny bits of Stella and Chewey's freeze dried raw food as the reward. Once she would reliably look at the wubba (just look at it, nothing else) when I said the word "Wubba", I added a 2nd toy. A blue ball, named "Ball". Once again, I said "Ball" dozens of times until she was looking at the ball when I said so. On the seventh day, I began to alternate between "Wubba" and "Ball".

One of the hardest parts of MARK training is that sometimes you have to wait. A VERY LOOOOOOOONNNNGGG time. It's often these instances when the dog appears to have totally forgotten what you want, that the biggest gain in understanding is taking place. If you hold still & wait it out, eventually the dog will make a move toward what you want. Capture that moment with a MARK. At one point, Anthem made me wait a full three minutes. When she finally looked at her toy, I clicked and threw down all the treats I had. This is known as a JACKPOT.

Now this is important and its almost the whole reason I'm writing about this. The next time I asked Anthem to look at her toy, I could visually see the understanding snap into place for her. It was mostly her eyes that gained a wide spinny-glassy quality. Hard to describe but it was the lights coming on and all sorts of connections being made.

The rules of MARK training say that you have to move-on and expand as soon as your dog "gets it". It was just a natural progression to move to "Touch" .

I would start by putting the toy right in front of her nose, say "Touch Wubba", boop her on the nose with the Wubba, click, reward. Eventually moving the toy further and further away so she had to work at "Touch"ing the toy with her nose. Right around day three and about three feet away from her, I witnessed the very same spinny-glassy eyed look come over her, and from that point on she would reliably "Touch" both toys no matter where I put them within her field of vision. I added a third object for her to "Touch". A blue dot drawn on a yellow piece of paper. I named it "Target". In under five minutes she was able to add the "Target" to her repertoire, still getting the spinny-glassy eyed look within a few tries. (see video) Anthems MARK training. - YouTube

This whole process took about 9 days total.

Now I had a whole new vocabulary to use with Anthem. She clearly understands MARKS. She is now able to understand that the MARK means she got it right and is more likely to repeat that particular behavior. The more she gets it right, the more likely she is to use that to make me happy. When I'm happy she gets things and life is much easier.

Several times a day, and particularly if I saw something coming that was bound to set her off, I'd clip a long-line on her and take her outside in full view of the stimuli. She'd bark, I'd redirect, and instead of praising or whatever, I MARKED the moment she was quiet, click, reward. She sometimes went back to barking. I asked her to "Touch Wubba"

in those instances as a redirect. I would continue to click every ten seconds or so until the stimuli had passed. On the third day, something wonderful happened. I took her out on leash several times and she never made a peep. It was time to move on.

The next step was to add distance, as thats the way we progressed with the TOUCH toys game. Inside, we practiced TOUCHing the TARGET, taped to the inside of her kennel. When we had mastered that, I drug her kennel outside and periodically put her in it with a peanut butter Kong. She would bark and I'd redirect by slipping the TARGET into the kennel and ask her to TOUCH it. A couple of times I had to wait a LOOOOooonngg time. When my watch tick past two minutes, she TOUCHed the TARGET. JACKPOT with a bunch of hotdog slices. Within minutes, a person-dog combo walked by.

She got the "I'm gonna bark!" posture, I quietly called her name. She looked at me and I clicked as soon as she looked at me. JACKPOT, The next time someone came by, she looked at me BEFORE gaining the posture. I called her name and clicked. And there it is...the glassy-spinny eyed look that tells me she "got it". The next step was to be with her unconfined in the yard.

Colorado Mountain Dog in the Timbers of Fennario Kennels, Evergreen CO
Anthem - three week old puppy

We are now one month past that very happy day and Anthem will still bark, and I still call her and click every so often while holding her attention. She is right on track, learning to take one situation at a time. One day at a time. But we're knocking them out, one by one. Our relationship is so much better now that we understand each other.

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