Cocker Spaniels can be quite vocal due to their hunting dog ancestry. Some are noisier than others but not all bark a lot.
They get stimulated by triggers to yip, whine, whimper, and bark. The trigger can be prey, noises, boredom, fear, excitement, and so on.
It begins from a young age with sweet and cute barks. The barking worsens with age, especially in adolescence due to physical and hormonal changes.
Since barking is rewarding and self-reinforcing, it becomes incessant if not managed. This will make for a bad experience for you and your neighbors.
For the best result, barking should be controlled through management and training. This requires knowing the reason as seen below. Read On.
Why Cocker Spaniels bark a lot
There is always a cause for barking some of which are invisible or benign to us.
Dogs communicate by barking in an attempt to avoid/prevent discomfort and gain pleasure. They do it out of frustration, boredom, excitement, fear, demand, and alert.
Some also bark due to an illness/pain that requires diagnosis and treatment. These barks are continuous, low-pitched, and sound more like a please for help.
By observing what the dog does after barking, you can make a close guess of the cause.
1. Alert/Territorial barking
Alert barking occurs within the dog’s territory to warn off or alert of an intruder or anything odd. This can be a mailman, a guest, a bird, another dog, a squirrel, etc.
The barking intensifies as the intruder gets closer. The bark is usually deep with a growl and slight wag of the tail. If the intruder leaves, the dog learns that barking is right, reinforcing the habit.
How to stop
The first step is limiting the dog’s access to the stimuli until you are ready for training. He is less likely to bark at what he cannot see or hear.
For instance, if he is barking while looking out a window, draw the drapes or lead him to a back room to block the view. You can also play background music to block outside noises or bring him indoors if he is outside.
If you are outside, go indoors or stand between the dog and the stimuli facing it as you lead him away. You acknowledge the intruder and show you are in control of the situation so he does not have to take charge. Never leave your Spaniel outside unsupervised.
These are temporary solutions. You need to change the dog’s response to stimuli through desensitization/Counter-conditioning. Counter-conditioning is behavior modification training to build a new association with the trigger. For instance, if he barks at strangers, give him a treat every time he eyes the stranger before he reacts. Use high-value motivating treats such as salmon, chicken, and so on. With repetitions, the dog learns to associate the trigger with something good. Stranger= Tasty Treat.
You can also distract him with a food lure to draw eye contact before he gets over the threshold, mark, and reward. Tell your dog what to do and not to do.
Teach the dog to watch in a separate training session to make it easier in later training. Draw eye contact, GOOD, 1,2 treats. Repeat until the dog learns to follow your hand movement without a treat name the cue. The verbal cue should always precede any hand or body movement. WATCH, draw eye contact, GOOD, 1,2,3 treats.
2. Alarm/Fear barking
This is barking at things the dog finds scary whether indoors, outdoors, or during walks. Fear may be due to a previous traumatic experience or may develop as a pup gets older.
A fearful Spaniel will be tense with his hanging low and tail between his tail as he backs away. He may get ready to fight if he holds his ground and barks with an intensified growl, raises his hackles, or lunges. Walking a nervous dog is difficult as he may be leash reactive as he feels trapped and tries to escape.
The dog barks to drive or scare off the threat whether it’s a person, another dog, or an unfamiliar situation. If it works, the dog learns that barking works reinforcing the habit and making it likely to repeat.
How to stop
Managing a fearful dog is everything in the beginning. Correcting or asking him to sit will not work.
Instead, prevent any confrontation and don’t force him to face a threat before he is ready. Walk in around the neighborhood on quieter routes and when he is less likely to meet fear triggers. Use a head halter (Gentle Leader, Head Halti, etc) during walks, and do not jerk or yank on the leash.
Engage him outdoors and be on the lookout for triggers such as other dogs, people, etc.
Use his body language to tell when he is about to get heightened and diffuse the situation before he reacts. For example, if he fixates on another dog, walk around him in an arc to block his view and turn away. Reward for calm and for being quiet with treats and a lot of praise.
Cocker Spaniels are quite intuitive and can sense nervousness and worsen barking. Stay calm to gain the dog’s trust as a leader for a better relationship so he does not have to take charge.
Avoid crowded places such as dog parks and classes.
Barking at Visitors
Lock your Spaniel in a back room before letting in visitors and only let him meet if you can keep him under control. If you can’t, keep him locked up and provide interactive toys such as a stuffed Kong.
For meets, ask the visitor to ignore the dog and act like he does not exist. He/she should not pet him as you can’t tell what he is thinking and how he may react.
Ask the dog to sit next to you with a leash on, reward for calm, and let him initiate interactions himself. Use small yummy treats to change his emotional response and dispense the treats yourself.
If he makes a fuss, lead him to the back room. Only let him out and reward him when he is calm and quiet. Lock the dog away when visitors are about to leave.
Alternatively, let the dog meet the visitors outside and take a short walk into the house. Stay calm and reward for calm to build a positive association with the visitors. If the dog barks, lead him away from the guest
This is associating scary stimuli with a positive experience to change his response. The key is working from a distance your dog is comfortable with.
He should be able to spot the stimuli but only elicit a mild reaction. Ask the dog to pay attention to you and reward with a high-value treat to build a positive association. The food reward should be more interesting than the trigger to keep your dog’s attention. Repeat in different locations and with other triggers. The distance will resolve itself as you put in more work and get close to the trigger.
If the Cocker Spaniel barks or lunges, you are too close and should increase the distance. He should focus more on you than scanning for what is out there
Cocker Spaniels are social and dislike being alone for extended periods. He is likely to bark when lonely, bored, and without physical and mental stimulation.
He will also exhibit other destructive behaviors such as;
- Excessive chewing
- Escape attempts
If your Spaniel seems to be barking at nothing, he is likely bored.
What to do
Increase the amount of physical and mental stimulation to burn pent-up energy. Provide more walks, play with and provide puzzles and interactive toys. Also, make him work for his food to keep mealtimes fun.
If your Spaniel bark in your absence, set up a doggie or baby cam to watch him and establish why he barks. Outside noises and sight may be stimulating the dog to bark. Block his view outside and leave background music for the outdoor noises.
Also, make his alone time pleasant by meeting his needs and providing interactive toys. Choose an area he can call his own and have him settled for about 20 minutes before leaving.
Do not charge the dog’s emotion as you leave and arrive. Instead, be nonchalant and don’t make it a big deal.
Make the dog feel safe alone or at least tolerate it by letting him learn that you will return as it’s not a big deal.
Have him sit behind a pet barrier or playpen, start in front of him without saying a word or giving a cue. Take a step back, wait and if he is silent, mark (YES) or click and return. Take 2 steps back, repeat, 3 steps back repeat, and work to increase the distance with more steps.
Make the steps random; 4, 7, 2, 10, 5 steps, etc until you are out of sight. Work to increase duration out of sight by waiting longer and longer. Only mark and return if he is calm and silent as a reward. Keep the duration random; 3, 1, 5, 10 minutes, etc.; repeat this in different rooms as you work outdoors.
With time the dog learns you will be back each time you leave and his silence brought you back. If he barks as you return, turn away and repeat. Reduce distance and repeat for distress.
Also, desensitize him to signs you are about to leave such as wearing your coat, picking up your keys, and wearing cologne at random times. This is because dogs are quite good at picking patterns. It’s good practice not to leave the dog for more than 4 hours unsupervised.
For severe anxiety, contact an animal behaviorist or vet for guidance and treatment.
Crate train your Spaniel as a safe den where he can feel safe when you are away. Use a large enough crate, ex-pen, playpen, or a gated room so he has space to roam.
Having the whole house to himself will not board well as it increases his feeling of isolation.
To begin, open or take off the crate door, put treats and toys inside, and let the dog investigate on his own. If he offers to get into the crate, give a lot of praise to let him know what he did was right. Feed him in the crate and make it comfortable for him to be in it. As you progress, begin to close the door and only let him out if he is calm. Do not let him charge out. don’t rush the training, especially if he is anxious.
Increase the duration in the crate as your progress and don’t rush training as it takes time.
Put the crate in your bedroom if he barks or whines at night to make him feel safer.
Don’t use the crate as punishment. Ignore if he barks in the crate and only gives attention the instant he stops even if it is to catch a breath. Let him out and continue with what you were doing.
4. Demand barking
Cocker Spaniels can be quite insistent with demand barking. The bark is usually relaxed but may involve frustration jumping. The dog may bark at you for attention, a belly rub, play, to go outside, or any unfulfilled desire.
You should not give in to demand barking. Instead, completely ignore the dog and do something else such as making a coffee. Don’t look at the dog or yell as any attention is good attention. If you yell at him, he will think you are joining in on the barking. The dog may go into an extinction burst with intensified barking to get his demands met. Be resolute in ignoring the barking. Avoid building chain behaviors where the dog barks and stops to meet his needs.
Only give attention the instant he stops barking even if it is to catch a breath. Soon the dog will learn that attention-seeking behavior does not work.
Also, teach the dog what to do instead such as ringing the doorbell to go out or bringing a toy for play.
5. Excitement barking
A Spaniel is likely to bark with excitement and charged adrenaline and allowed to some extent. She may be happy to see you, go outside, for a meal, play, or when he meets someone he likes.
An excited bark will be high-pitched, intermittent with;
- Perked-up ears
- A happy face
- Feet tapping
- A wagging tail
What to do
If the pooch barks during play, stop and turn away or take him indoors. Only re-engage when he stops barking and offers calm behavior.
When going outside, have him sit at the door as you open it and allow him out. If he attempts to jolt out, close the door and repeat.
Distract with a food lure to draw eye contact and stand in front of him without moving when he spots a trigger. Don’t let him steal the treat and only offer it the moment he sits or stops trying to get it. The dog looks, YES, treat, treat, treat. Give treats one at a time and build duration on eye contact.
With repetitions and consistency, the dog will offer to look at you each time he spots something. As he improves, name the action with the LOOK or WATCH ME command. The verbal cue should precede the hand movement.
Repeat this with decoys that excite the dog and make yourself more interesting.
Greeting other dogs and people should be low-key and calm.
6. Frustration barking
Dogs bark out of frustration when not heard or due to an unfulfilled desire. He may protest his inability to reach what he likes, confinement, failed attention-seeking behavior, and so on.
Have a clearer way to communicate with your Spaniel by teaching him what to do when he wants something.
What’s more, don’t let him say hello to others he likes when aroused or without your permission.
7. Social barking
Dogs bark and howl in response to other dogs as a social cue or similar sounds.
You need to catch this type of vocalization before it happens to distract him. After distracting, ask the dog for an action incompatible with barking such as fetch.
Also, desensitize him to other dogs’ barks, howls, and other sounds.
8. Compulsive barking
Cocker Spaniels can turn into barking demons outdoors to self-amuse since it’s rewarding. Compulsive barker may be at his own shadow, rustling leaves, a flapping plastic bag, and so on. The barking is often accompanied by repetitive movement, running along the fence, and spinning.
Do not ignore a compulsive barker as the dog enjoys it making it worse. Instead, correct and ask him to do something more rewarding than barking such as fetch. The correction can be gentle leash pressure, a squirt of water, or a correction marker (NO or NOPE).
If you cannot distract him outdoors, take him inside and reward him the instant he stops barking.
How to stop a Cocker Spaniel barking
Your Spaniel is likely to listen to you if he trusts you as a pack leader. Also, have a proper reward system such as grilled salmon, cheese, peanut butter, etc. Make it more rewarding to focus on you other than a trigger as you build his confidence.
Work with the dog when he is hungry and likely to listen to you more.
Tell your dog what to do instead of having him figure it out himself. Manage the environment and interrupt the dog each time he is about to bark and redirect. The circumstances for barking will determine whether to ignore or interrupt the barking.
Additionally, socialize your dog with all sorts of people, animals, and environments. Build positive associations as you broaden his horizon.
Also, keep training sessions short (3 to 5 minutes) and fun and be consistent. Have your dog in the right mood for training and end sessions on a high note.
Train the Quiet command
You will first need to train your Spaniel to bark on command. Find what gets him to bark such as a knock on the door or any trigger you can control. You can also trigger frustration barking by withholding something he like such as a toy or treat. Only offer a reward if he offers to bark.
Dog barks, YES, treat, treat. The dog is silent, wait, the dog barks, YES, treat, treat, treat. As you progress, add a verbal cue (SPEAK, BARK…) before you trigger the bark. Soon the dog will form an association with the cue to the barking.
From here, you can teach him to shush on command. Get him to bark then let him sniff a yummy treat on your hand and wait for him to be silent. The treat is likely to stop the barking. The instant he goes silent, YES, reward, reward. If he barks, withhold the treat and wait for him to go quiet. Repeat this a couple of times as you build duration on the silence. Soon add a verbal cue (QUIET, SHUSH…). Verbal cues should always precede any body movement or hand signals.
As the dog improves, alternate between asking your dog to bark and being quiet as you reduce the number of treats. Also, add distractions to engrain the commands.
Each command will take time to learn. So, teach each command seperate from the other, be firm, patient, and consistent. Don’t shout or show frustration if things are not going well.
Barking correctors are a last resort or for disobedience. Correct the dog to interrupt barking and disengage him from the stimuli. Use corrections for territorial, excitement, frustration and compulsive barking.
- A sharp unpleasant noise such as a metal can with coins in it, an air horn, your voice, or clapping.
- Applying leash pressure
- A spray of water directed at the dog’s mouth or muzzle. You can add lemon or vinegar to make it more unpleasant but avoid his eyes.
- Reinforced correction markers such as NO or NOPE with the same effect as a physical correction. To teach it, say the marker (NO, NOPE, STOP…) followed by a harmless physical correction. The dog learns to associate it with a physical correction.
- Bark collars for emergencies. This can be an ultrasonic collar (an audible beep), a citronella collar, or a shock collar triggered by remote or barking vibrations that a mic picks. The collar delivers an unpleasant deterrent whenever the dog barks. Bark collars may not be effective as some dogs learn to bark at a low intensity without triggering them. Other collars are triggered by other sounds or other dogs barking other than your own pooch. Don’t use an E-collar on a fearful Cocker Spaniel. Citronella and ultrasonic collars are milder and more humane.
Let your dog learn that barking causes unpleasantness but don’t correct it after barking has stopped.
It’s crucial to determine why your dog bark for a good solution and clear communication.
The key is to manage the barking other than completely stopping it. You can do this through behavior modification that requires time and consistency. Also, build a better relationship with the dog to make him likely to listen to you.
Consult an animal behaviorist for advice and help if you are struggling to progress.
There you go, WOOF!