One of the most common questions we are asked at Bark Busters is “what dog training method do you use?” It’s a great question! The Bark Busters dog training system is proprietary to Bark Busters so it doesn’t “fit into a box” with any other commonly used dog training methods. In this article, I’ll explain how dogs communicate, how they learn and why our system works so well. I will also dispel some common dog training myths.
Before we jump into discussing the Bark Busters dog training system, let’s first discuss how dogs learn. Canine communication is relatively simple (compared to human communication) and falls into three broad categories; posture/position, movement and sound (barking, growling etc.). Dogs don’t have a large quiver of words, gestures or signs to call on when communicating with each other or their owners. This is actually a blessing as it makes “speaking dog” incredibly easy to learn!
We have all seen two dogs meet for the first time. Typically they will approach each other and begin their conversation with a series of postures and movements. This interaction is normally relatively silent with little to no barking or growling. To us this normally looks like some form of play but to the dogs, it’s a conversation and most importantly, it always has an outcome (winner and loser). Most of these posture and movement based interactions will result in one of the dogs yielding in some way to show the other dog that the yielding dog respects the other’s superiority. This “submission” will manifest in some combination of a lowered head, lowered tail, pinned or lowered ears, lying down, rolling over and showing the belly and in some cases, urination or retreat. The dog holding a tall and relatively still posture has shown its superiority and is the victor in the exchange. This initial communication can last from a second or two to 15-20 seconds.
If neither dog yields during the posturing phase of communication, you will see an elevation in both dogs as they seek to gain the respect of the other. This elevation manifests as a bark and/or a growl that can then escalate to include snapping at the air (without biting). The message is the same as the one delivered by each dog with posture and position but with added intensity (barking and snapping). Dog owners often interpret these elevations as being hostile but keep in mind that dogs only have a few positions, movements and sounds to work with so intensity plays a major role in their communication. Dogs that are friendly with each other often growl, bark and snap during play with no intention of causing distress or harm to the other. Imagine if humans only had a few words to work with and no hands to sign with, you can bet that we’d use positioning, expressions and intensity more in our communication. Think of how many times you have seen dogs play like this and how happy they are before, during and after the interaction.
In rare circumstances, (typically when two dogs don’t know each other and are thrust together like at a dog park), the dogs will elevate the interaction to the point of engaging in a fight. This is highly unusual within a given social group but can occur between two dogs that actually like each other but are trying to work out who will run the group if the leadership role is not clearly defined (sibling rivalry). The need to exist within a defined social order drives these interactions and rests at the core of canine behavior.
Dogs have one prime directive and it will override all other aspects of their existence unless it’s fulfilled. Simply put, dogs need to feel safe and secure. They only feel safe when they exist within a clearly defined social order and there is (at least in their view) a capable leader guiding the group. Domesticated canines are far from being wild dogs or wolves but its inarguable that certain traits from their ancestors are hard wired into their DNA. The need for a clear understanding of the group’s social order and the perceived safety provided by a well organized social group with a capable leader are the by far the most important things to your furry friend. Therefore the training method used should focus on providing your dog with a profound sense of safety and security and it must come from YOU. If you provide a feeling of safety for your dog, they will be incredibly responsive to training and will do anything for you (because you fulfill their prime directive).
Teaching humans can be challenging because of our ability and natural inclination to interpret each thing we see, feel, hear etc. Its common for a group of people to see or experience the exact same thing and come away with totally different opinions and feelings about what just took place. Dogs are far simpler to teach as they are almost completely binary in nature (win or lose, right or wrong etc.). Dogs don’t suffer the complexity of “grey area” and therefore training them is very much more straightforward than training humans.
The process for teaching a dog is almost identical to how humans play he game “20 Questions”. We have a rule in mind and the dog will try to figure it out by asking us questions and gauging our answers. Just as in “20 Questions”, our input must be yes or no/right or wrong. For instance, if a mother doesn’t want its pups to leave the den while she goes hunting, she teaches the pups this rule literally in just a few moments. There are no complex commands, gestures, food, bribing or physical interventions involved. The mom simply uses binary input to get the pups to understand the rule almost instantly. The pup is right to stay in the den and wrong to try to leave. When mom leaves and the pups try to follow, mom faces the pups and growls and the pups stop. Mom then adjusts her posture showing approval and begins to depart. If the pups try to follow again, mom will once again address the challenge but with more intensity (barking, growling and sometimes even snapping) until the pups stop. This may be repeated several times but in just a few moments, the pups figure out that they should stay in the den. And stay they will, sometimes for days with no physical boundary stopping them from leaving, just a rule taught by mom as she left. We have all heard about cases where several puppies are found huddled up in a small space (drain pipe, box in an alley etc.) with no mom in sight. They are sometimes malnourished and seem to be waiting for something. They are waiting for mom to come back because she told them not to move. This was accomplished literally in few moments using very simple binary input from the mother.
The Bark Busters dog training system uses the natural postures, positions and sounds that dogs use to communicate combined with two key components. First, as discussed above, we use binary input to teach the dog rules. We simply play 20 questions when teaching a rule using a verbal input to address the dog when the dog is wrong and verbal praise when it’s right just as a mother dog does with her pups. Because this is their natural learning system, dogs learn rules incredibly quickly with the Bark Busters method. Check out our videos to see dozens of dogs that show transformative progress in just a few hours while displaying their understanding of some simple new rules taught by their owners using the Bark Busters training method. Not only does the Bark Busters method achieve rapid results, it’s a lot of fun to learn. Owners who use the Bark Busters system build deeper bonds with their dogs because the system is based on the owner helping the dog to feel safe, loved and integrated into the family’s social group.
It’s not enough that your dog understands what you want; he must also CARE what you want. This comes from you being (in your dog’s eyes) the source of its safety and security. If you don’t want your dog to react to other dogs when on a walk, your dog must feel that you have “got this” and it need not be concerned about other dogs when with you. If someone comes to your door, instead of charging the door to see if the person is a threat or is safe, your dog should feel comfortable with your ability to assess the situation and handle whatever might come. Think of it as your dog knowing that no matter what comes along “you have got this”. He can then rest easy and let you handle all of the things that used to bring him anxiety and stress.
The Bark Busters dog training method helps your dog to understand that you are a calm, unshakable, assertive and capable leader (at least in the dog’s eyes). This requires that you don’t ever give your dog the impression that he can make demands of you or prevail in any interaction with you. Remember, in a dog’s mind, a leader never takes demands from subordinate group members and is never physically bested by them. A leader loses his position the moment he loses a fight or challenge from a subordinate group member. You may think of playing tug of war with your dog as a harmless game but keep in mind that to your dog, there is always an outcome. If you lose to him in tug of war, you can’t possibly take care of him when danger looms. In fact, he must take care of you, as he now must fill the alpha role that you have surrendered. Fortunately, its very simple for a human to assume and maintain the role of leader and it requires only canine-based communication with no physical or treat based training methods.
Notwithstanding the above, the Bark Busters training method employs a holistic approach and each case is approached differently based on the subject dog’s history and behavioral issues. There are times when high value treats are used within the Bark Busters system to change a dog’s association with a particular, person, place or thing. Treats may also be used if the dog’s behavior and reaction to verbal inputs indicates that results may be accelerated by the introduction of high value treats. Studies have shown that dogs prefer social reward to treats but both can be effective (see “Awake Canine fMRI Predicts Dogs’ Preference for Praise Versus Food”). Bark Busters system is flexible enough to facilitate the use of multiple reward methods to optimize results while being focused on social rewards and organization of appropriate social structure.
TRUTH: Training a dog using physical methods may work in the moment but can cause long term issues that are far more serious than the ones you started out to fix. For instance, if you alpha roll your dog every time he tries to charge the front door, he may stop charging the door. However, as a result of the physical training he may also develop fear of humans, fear of hands and may even become aggressive. Bark Busters never uses physical intervention to change a behavior as the risks far outweigh the rewards.
TRUTH: Dogs learn through binary input, period. Any method that uses only one side of the binary equation will fail to achieve optimal results. Think of trying to write computer code using only 0’s instead of 1’s and zeros. You can try but the code will never function. Dogs will also never respect an owner that does not address challenges firmly. That said, there is NEVER a need to become physical with a dog in any way during training but addressing challenges with verbal redirection is an essential part of the dog’s learning and training process.
TRUTH: Changes within the social order of dog groups often take place in a matter of minutes. Think of a dog group in which the leader has been brilliant for 10 years. The moment he shows any sign of weakness, the next in line will step up to take his place. The new potential leader will challenge the leader and if the leader either backs down or loses in a fight, there is a new leader. This change in social order happens instantly. When the appropriate methods are used to communicate with a dog (redirections and affirmations), the owner can take over the leadership within a few short exercises. Its then a matter of making sure the new social order is maintained and that the dog understands the rules laid out by its new leader (using binary communication).