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  • Writer's pictureMedha Murtagh

Intention, expectation and the case of the adorable barking dog

When we first bought Gus home, he was a tiny little puppy and super quiet. It took him a while to build his confidence and find his voice.

But when he found them, he started barking. A LOT.

My immediate impulse was to correct him. But the Sailor Boy corrected my correction, arguing that we shouldn't stop our little man from 'expressing himself'.

I gave in.

A year on, the adorable Mr Gus ‘expresses himself’ at every damn opportunity.

His favourite pastime is sitting on a chair in the backyard barking incessantly until either Nelson (my other puppy) or I go outside.

His barking was getting so bad that I began fearing the wrath of my neighbours.

So I took matters into my own hands and invested in a high-tech Bark Prevention System.

By which I mean I bought a Nerf Super Soaker so I could squirt Gussy when he barked.

Did it work?

Nope. The opposite. It made the situation worse. MUCH worse.

After some confused and defeated googling, I discovered that the best way to manage ‘demand barking’ is not to ‌correct it, but to ignore it.

Which is what Nelson - in his infinite puppy wisdom - had naturally been doing for months.

My intention with the Super Soaker was to distract Gus mid-bark and to give him an immediate negative consequence.

But every time he barked and I came out to squirt him, I was reinforcing the idea that if he wanted me out there, all he had to do was bark.

We often take action with the best of intentions. But when you don't see the full picture, our efforts to ... I don't know... curb your adorable puppy's interminable barking for example... can accidentally produce the opposite result.

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