Do Cavaliers Bark? Tips For Quieting Anxious Barking
Do Cavalier King Charles Spaniels bark? Short answer: yes. Do they all bark? Probably not. But ours does, and because it got past the point of being cute, we decided to seek the help of a trainer to get the anxious, reactive barking under control.
A few months ago, we never thought that Henry would ever be able to ignore a flying leaf and walk beside us without pulling his leash.
But guess what, now he can!
Want to know how we did it? Keep reading.
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DISCLAIMER: I am not a trainer, nor a professional in the pet health space. Every dog is different and has different training needs. Different training methods work for different dogs. What worked for Henry may not work for your dog. If you’re having similar behavioral issues, reach out to a trainer whose methods line up with your values. In the case of excessive barking and extreme behaviour, it may be a good idea to visit your vet.
HENRY THE SMOL
We really just thought that’s “how he was” and he’d “get over it with time”. Anxious barking never crossed our mind.
Why We Chose A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
When we were first doing our research on the breed, we found that Cavaliers made great apartment dogs: they’re sweet-natured, gentle, affectionate, calm lap dogs that are eager to please and adapt very well to any environment.
Basically, we chose a Cavalier because they didn’t bark.
Although very gentle and affectionate, Henry is by no means calm. And come to think of it, he never really was. Ever since he threw his first punch in the pen with his littermates, we knew this dog was full of personality!
When The Anxious Barking Began
As a puppy, Henry barked for attention; he barked when he played; he barked when the doorbell rang; he barked for a bit when we left. At the beginning, we never thought it was anxious barking. We really just thought that’s “how he was” and he’d “get over it with time”.
Truth is, as time passed, his anxiety and reactive behavior got worse.
Growing up, he became increasingly reactive on walks, barking at almost all moving distractions and pulling the leash. Leaves and birds were the worst triggers. And windy days? Forget it. As you can imagine, at this point, walks became unbearable, and with every walk, we became increasingly frustrated and embarrassed (imagine having non-dog-people judge you or bark at you…I wish I were making that up).
We tried a few training tactics we found online, but nothing was working. Feeling hopeless, we started to seriously consider bootcamp, until we came across an excellent positive reinforcement trainer in Montreal.
Concept Dog Training
Vanessa Paré (@edu.concept.chien on Insta!) is a trainer who promotes canine education by concepts: instead of teaching your dog while you’re in a given situation, she teaches you and your dog to prepare for that situation.
Visit educonceptchien.com for more dog training info!
This method works very well for us, because Henry is an anxious dog. Just like anxiety in humans, anxious dogs can be triggered by expectations. For instance, the anxious barking will start when the phone rings and we answer with “Yes, hello”. Henry is triggered by those words, and barks thinking someone will come to the door.
Thus, he’s learned to expect a delivery when we answer the phone. When we’re out on a walk, he’s learned to pull the leash to try to chase something like a leaf. He gets frustrated when he doesn’t get what he wants, so he barks. The same reaction ensues when he sees a bird he can’t catch.
Initially, we thought that Henry just had “too much energy”, so we tried to fix this by going on more walks. Turns out, for an anxious dog like Henry, this was not the best idea. In fact, our trainer explained that for Henry, his “stress bucket” was overflowing with stimuli and triggers due to all these extra walks.
So, before we could tackle the walks, we had to take a step back and look at the general “issue” at hand: calm. It was impossible to tackle every single little trigger at once; Henry had a difficult time being and staying calm.
For our list of essential city dog walk items, click here.
“Ditching The Routine”
You’ll never guess the first piece of advice given by our trainer! This made me laugh because we always thought dogs thrive on routine. But, to reduce the anxious barking, our trainer suggested we “ditch the routine”, or in other words break down his triggers and expectations.
Easier said than done! Everything we normally did, we had to do at a different time or in a different way, and reward Henry without him expecting it. For example, we started randomly answering the phone and throwing treats on the floor, or feeding Henry at a different time in the day, or spreading out his meals throughout the day, etc.
In this way, Henry could associate the usual triggers with things that are just “normal” mundane activities. The idea was that eventually he’d learn not to get excited or anxious about them.
Establishing A Calm Place
Another aspect of this training was self-control. We were given a couple of games to practice a few minutes a day to help with calm. But before jumping into these, we had to establish a calm place.
This calm place can be a blanket, a bed or a crate. For us, it’s his bed (literally the only bed he hasn’t ever tried to destroy or play with! Thank you Maxbone!) To reinforce this idea, we reward Henry with treats, filled Kongs and chews on his bed. Over time, he’s learned that his bed is a place where he can relax. Now, he just goes there on his own to hang out. Keep reading for links to shop these items!
In a few months, we’ll start working on changing the location of the bed to another room. This may help with Henry’s separation anxiety and foster independence; he’ll learn how to be calm without us having to be in the room. Right now, we’re at the stage where we can work in the office, while Henry relaxes on his bed. This is a huge win for us!
Quieting The Anxious Barking Before It Happens
Once we were able to get things a little more under control at home, it was time to understand why the anxious barking happened on walks. Henry pulled the leash, barked at birds and leaves and wanted to greet every human that walked by. With all these triggers, it felt impossible to get anything under control.
We carry treats on every walk. It’s important for us to be preventive and set Henry up for a successful, stress-free walk.
To do this, we had to choose a word that would be our “magic keyword”. Before using it on walks, we had to start off by saying this word, in a neutral tone, at random moments, followed by an immediate treat. This word would get his attention and prevent him from barking at a trigger.
Part two of the walk training: stop the pulling! Our magic keyword reduced the leash pulling a lot already so adding the word “yes” everytime the leash wasn’t “tense” or whenever Henry looked at us, really reinforced the behaviour we wanted!
The toughest part of the training is finding the right moment to reward him; it requires a lot of attention on our part. Coordinating it all is pretty funny: spot the little “alert” moment, say the keyword, reward, repeat, the leash is loose, say “yes”, reward, repeat. Every. Walk.
Yes, training takes consistent effort.
Take-Aways From Our [Ongoing] Training
Dogs will bark, they need to, it’s their way of communicating or alerting us. It’s up to us to figure out why, without taking their voice away.
Yes, it can get annoying. Yes, we can get angry. That’s why training is an everyday, ongoing process that takes effort and patience. Long term results require long term efforts. I don’t really believe in quick fixes: we would never consider removing Henry’s vocal chords (which I’ve read actually causes increased anxiety) or making Henry wear a vibrating collar (which doesn’t solve anything, because it doesn’t actually get to the source of the barking), for example.
In sum, with Henry, there is one big “umbrella” concept we’re working on improving, so that other behaviours that fall under this umbrella start to change, like the anxious barking. Our general concept is calm (because he’s so reactive) and within the calm, we have several games and training tips to apply in different scenarios. If you follow us on Instagram, you’ve probably spotted a few examples already (like Henry lying on his bed, or his work with self-control).
We were surprised to see that many dog parents in the community struggle with barking. Our hope is that by sharing this experience, we can help shed some light on your barking situation as well. Finding the right trainer is key: Vanessa has helped us so much with Henry, and we’re super grateful! She’s is so great and is always cheering us on when we share one of our little wins on social media. Thank you!!!
Shop Products Mentioned in This Blog Post
I’ve included some more links below that I found helpful myself in understanding the sources of anxious, reactive barking. These training ressources, toys and other goodies will help you along your barking journey!
- Training guides, ressources, online classes with Vanessa Paré (she’s our trainer and helped us SO much with Henry!): www.educonceptchien.com
- Ressources for reactive dogs: careforreactivedogs.com/ & reactivedogsoftheworld.com/
- Positive reinforcement training videos with Zack George (great videos for puppy training!): www.dogtrainingrevolution.com
- Tips for reactive dogs (Hannah, blogger extraordinaire behind maggielovesorbit.com, shares her experience and resources on helping her reactive dog Maggie) maggielovesorbit.com/resources-for-reactive-dogs and maggielovesorbit.com/one-year-after-i-realized-my-boston-terrier-is-reactive
- Kong-stuffing recipes to keep your dog busy on their bed (I love Wear Wag Repeat and Proud Dog Mom Blog! So many fun DIYs, recipes and helpful ressources!): wearwagrepeat.com/kong-stuffing-recipes and prouddogmom.com/healthy-treats-stuff-kong-toy/
- Kongs, interactive toys and games (itmes we’ve tried and tested in my Amazon.ca shop here and Amazon.com shop here)
- More product recommendations here!
When dog mama needs a break from all this training:
- Pretty Fluffy: the leading online lifestyle destination for dog lovers (my fave and basically dog blogger goals): prettyfluffy.com
- Gal’s Best Friend: the modern-day dog moms (love these ladies, also the co-founders of thepetsummit.com!): galsbestfriend.com
- Lindsey & Coco: the curated dog mom lifetyle (My blogger bestie! Everything dog mom lifestyle. I just love her style and shopping posts): lindseyandcoco.com
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