Automated Differential Reinforcement of Not Barking in a Home-Alone Setting: Evaluating a Humane Alternative to the Bark Collar.

Principal investigator: Alexandra Protopopova, MS, CPDT-KA, Department of Psychology, University of Florida

Nuisance barking is one of the top reasons for dog owners to seek help from a dog trainer or an animal behaviorist. Excessive barking is reported to be a reason for relinquishing a pet dog to the shelter. Current treatments for home-alone barking are limited to the use of collars or devices that deliver aversive consequences in an attempt to punish barking. Even though past research has supported the efficacy of some of these devices, the ethics of these methods are debatable. An alternative to positive punishment for decreasing problem behavior is the Differential Reinforcement of Other behavior (a DRO schedule).  DRO schedules have been shown to be effective in decreasing and even eliminating various problem behaviors in varied human populations. The aim of the proposed study is to evaluate a more humane alternative to the traditional devices that deliver aversive consequences contingent on barking; we propose to evaluate the efficacy of an automated DRO schedule to curb nuisance barking. We hypothesize that barking may be decreased by the delivery of competing reinforcers for other behavior. More specifically, we predict that barking will decrease compared to baseline when food is delivered at preset intervals, contingent on no barking occurring in that interval. We expect the results from this study to directly benefit the dog training community by providing a humane tool to combat nuisance barking and, thus, improve the bond between dog and owner and prevent possible relinquishment of the dog to a shelter.