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Dear Bruno…I Wish You Would Not Bark at the Deer

Do you live with a dog who enters “barking frenzy” mode when a critter appears?  Perhaps it is a squirrel, a rabbit, another dog, or even the mail delivery person. Maybe your dog even perches by the window waiting for things to come into view so he can bark and “make” them go away.

Chocolate Labrador, Bruno, on the couch watching critters.
Bruno watching critters. (Photo provided by Daniel Antolec)

When my wife and I still had Buddha and Gandhi in our lives we spent most of our free time on the porch, enjoying the wildlife that came to our feeding stations. Sometimes they came much closer, such as the four baby woodchucks that engaged in raucous play fighting just on the other side of the screen door, while our Labradors quietly watched from inside, just a foot away. On other occasions it was a family of baby raccoons, or squirrels that sashayed their way past the dogs.

Buddha and Gandhi were calm, and we liked it that way.

Training Bruno 

When we adopted Bruno in January of 2022, we hoped that he would be calm around wildlife, and so it seemed. In the morning he would accompany me as I put out the critter food and he paid no particular attention to the eight squirrels that scamper about each day, nor the hundred or so songbirds, or even turkey flocks sometimes numbering 50 or more.

So far so good!

Then one late afternoon we were in the dining room and two deer walked out of the woods and began nibbling the bird food at a feeder about 70 feet away. Bruno saw them…and unleashed a barrage of foghorn-like barks.  “BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK!” echoed throughout the house, rattling the windows and our nerves as our dream of relaxing on the porch with our new dog melted away, like November frost on a sunny morning.

Chocolate lab, Bruno, sleeping on his dog bed.
Bruno learned to stop barking on cue, then go to his bed for a treat. (Photo provided by Daniel Antolec)

Only the prospect of living with daily barking barrages was not such a sunny thing for me.

I immediately began teaching Bruno two important skills.  First, the Three Bark Rule. Bruno was allowed to bark and tell us “There are deer in the yard, stealing the bird food!” In response I walked to the window, acknowledging the presence of the deer, and then turned to Bruno and said, “That’s enough.”

That was the verbal “off” switch.  Bruno got to do his natural doggy alarm barking, but only a few times and then he was asked to stop, which he did. He did so because the next training step was to take some crunchy treats from a nearby jar, walk to Bruno’s bed in the kitchen and direct him to it with a hand gesture and a verbal cue, “Bed.”

Bruno loves food so he obliged me and when he stepped onto his bed, I delivered his reward.

The deer helped our initial training process by remaining at the feeder, and Bruno was naturally inclined to return to the window and bark again. This time after two or three barks I said, “That’s enough”, and Bruno glanced toward his bed. I praised him, walked away from the window and to his bed, and waited for him to do his job. Sure enough, Bruno got onto his bed with happy anticipation and received his treats.

Bruno is a very fast learner, so it took very few repetitions to teach him. If your dog requires a bit more practice, that is OK.  Just keep at it and you will both succeed.

Woman and dog looking out the window at deer in the distance
If you need help teaching your barky dog the Three Bark Rule and to go to his bed on cue, work with a force-free professional trainer. (Photo provided by Daniel Antolec.)

This morning 10 deer were first to arrive at the feeder and my wife and I went to the window to watch them. When Bruno joined us, he uttered a single soft “woof” and then walked away. We praised him and gave him a treat. A moment later Bruno returned to the window, gave us another quiet “woof” and received his pay.  Evidently the deer were boring Bruno and he walked to his toy box in the living room to find something more entertaining.

Encountering Deer on Trail Walks

As an added benefit to our training, Bruno has generalized his calm and quiet response to deer when we unexpectedly encounter them during trail walks. On each of the six recent encounters, including seeing five deer emerge from a White Pine grove this afternoon, Bruno has calmly watched them run off. He does not bark, does not run toward them, and does not even make his 20-foot-long training lead tight.

I do not remember at what point Bruno had habituated to deer, but it was a month or two ago or longer. We simply returned to the Three Bark Rule game whenever Bruno was in the house and deer appeared in the yard, and during trail walks when I had no dog treats with me, I offered grateful praise to Bruno.

On a side note, I recently worked with a Corgi who lives on a farm and would bark at and run after the chickens. He responded nicely to this training too. What fun!

If you need a bit of help teaching your barky dog the Three Bark Rule and to go to his bed on cue, work with a force-free professional trainer.  The small financial cost is an investment in many years of peace and quiet.

About the Author

Dan during a training session with his canine student Jackson (a large black, white and brown dog)

Daniel H. Antolec, PCT-A, CCBC-KA, CPDT-KA began teaching dogs in 2011 and founded Happy Buddha Dog Training. He teaches dogs in a way that makes it fun for pet stewards and pets alike.

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