The sound of Zero Tolerance

flyball dog leaping a hurdle karen wild

Does zero tolerance have to be as hardline as it comes across? The very name sounds off-putting.


I’d like to share with you my positive experience of zero tolerance!

I was just musing on a comment made to me today about flyball potentially creating incessant barking in some dogs.


If you have ever watched this incredible, fast but simple to learn dog sport, you will know what I mean. At Crufts each year the noise can be deafening as dogs become utterly absorbed in this leaping, catching, retrieving relay race of a game. Excitement is infectious, so before long you have a whole arena of it – a wall of sound.

It then occurred to me that our flyball team never had this problem! Years ago I ran a dog display team and we taught tricks and fun and games, of which flyball competition was one. None of our dogs barked, even though they adored flyball practice.

Why was this?

I recalled our trainer-in-chief urging us to adopt a zero tolerance approach toward barking. Her opinion was that if the dog is ‘yelling its head off’ how can it be concentrating?

So what did we do? Did we start a sharpened STOP THAT! course of action, to enforce this zero tolerance approach? No. As we all come to realize over time, often shouting at your dog to be quiet can make a barking problem far worse – you are joining in, right?

Instead, any dog that even made a squeak, a whine, the faintest of wuffs… simply did not get ‘their’ turn.

Any dog that began to bark whilst spectating remained a spectator, to begin with at more of a distance, and was gradually brought closer and closer as they stayed quiet (remember I said quiet – enthusiasm was allowed!)

Handlers were allowed to issue commands but again – a single command should not really need repeating and if the dogs were experienced enough, would just get on with the job in hand. This meant us handlers could remain pretty quiet, too.

Some dogs found it more of a challenge than others but the reward was SO reinforcing, they learned to control their bark impulse fast enough. And us handlers had to control our ‘Repeat command at the top of your voice’ impulse (yes, I was one of them).

The result? A quiet, slick and VERY fast team.

Zero tolerance need not be as confrontational as it sounds! Why not give it a try?


Copyright Karen Wild

The Dunbar Academy Top Dog Academy – 4 books, 13 videos, 9 seminars and workshops