Why demand barking happens
Demand barking is designed to get your attention. Unlike alert barking, it doesn’t usually relate to a change in the environment. Demand barking is basically your dog’s way of saying “Hey! Pay attention to me!” It’s a kind of communication, and lets you know the dog needs something.
How to deal with demand barking
You will often hear that you should ignore demand barking. Unfortunately, that technique is not likely to work very well. For one thing, doesn’t your dog deserve to have their needs acknowledged? (Imagine if I just ignored you when you talked to me; rude, right?) It’s better to immediately acknowledge the dog (try to respond to the first bark) and redirect them to something else. That lets the dog know you are listening, and ensures the barking doesn’t go on for very long.
After you redirect the dog, try to think about what happened before the barking started. Did your dog come up and ask for your attention more nicely by sitting near you first? Have you been ignoring your dog for the last two hours? Is it 5:00 p.m.? See if you can find patterns.
Once you’ve identified the patterns, figure out how to get ahead of them. For example, if your dog always start to bark at you at 5:00 p.m., do a training session at 4:45 p.m. to fill your dog’s need for interaction. If your dog seems to want interaction every few hours, set a timer to remind yourself to play with your pup more often. If your dog asked nicely first, be sure to praise and give attention for the more desirable behavior that happened before the barking.
Why not just ignore the barking?
As I mentioned above, you will often hear that the best way to eliminate demand barking is to ignore it completely, but unless the demand barking is new, that is not likely to work. This is because dogs that have been using demand barking successfully for a long time may take a while to give up on this tool for getting your attention. In fact, the barking may get worse as the dog has what’s called an “extinction burst” and keeps trying barking over and over, as if he or she is thinking, “well, this used to work, so I must not be doing it quite right.”
An example of an extinction burst for humans is when we push a button on an elevator and it doesn’t light up. Most people feel compelled to press the button repeatedly (“I know elevator buttons light up when I push them, so I must not have pressed this one hard enough”). After a certain number of repetitions, the person will generally realize that the light is burnt out, and stop pushing the button, but it takes a little while. The repeated pressing of the button is the extinction burst.
Similarly, your dog may go through a process of testing barking over and over until he or she learns that it does not work anymore. That means it’s crucial to ignore the barking completely throughout the extinction burst to ensure it isn’t accidentally rewarded just when the dog is ready to give up on it. Extinctions bursts can last a long time, and happen more than once. Since ignoring long periods of barking can be almost impossible to do, I do not recommend ignoring demand barking unless the dog is new to your household (in which case there is a chance it will work). Instead, focus on figuring out the patterns, and either responding the a more polite behavior that always happens before the barking, or meeting your dog’s needs in advance.
NOTE: You may also find this article useful.