Have you become desperate to figure out how to get a dog to stop barking? It’s in a dog’s nature to bark. They enjoy barking, and they bark for many reasons. They will bark when they want something, when they are playing, when they are establishing their territory, when they are frightened, when they are annoyed, and when they are just saying “Hi!” Too much barking, however, can drive a dog’s family–and their neighbours–crazy!
The first step towards controlling excessive barking is to understand the specific reasons behind it. Even after you know the why, don’t expect to wave a magic wand and stop your dog from barking. Training your dog to bark less (you will never stop it altogether) is a time-consuming process. Also keep in mind that some breeds are more apt to bark than others and these could prove more difficult to train.
Generally, there are eight reasons why dogs bark:
- Territorial or defensive barking
- Excitement, or happiness at seeing you
- Play and exercise
- To get your attention or to signal you (i.e. “I have to go potty!”)
- Aggravation over not being able to attain something (such as your pork chop).
- Social barking in response to other dogs
- Separation anxiety and trepidation
- Compulsive behaviour
A List of Don’ts:
- Don’t encourage your dog to bark at strangers or people walking by the door. Asking your dog “who’s that?” in a querying tone will excite their curiosity. Looking out the window or door will encourage him to do the same, and once there, he will bark.
- Don’t use inconsistent rules. If you yell at him for barking at some sights or sounds, such as the kids leaving for school, and encourage him to bark at others, like the salesman at the door, he will be hard-put to distinguish between the two events. The result will be a still-constantly barking dog.
- Don’t punish your dog if the barking is due to fright or separation anxiety. You may have the opposite effect of increasing his anxiety, and therefore, his barking. A Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist or Veterinary Behaviourist can give you specific directions for correcting this behaviour.
- Don’t use a muzzle as a substitute for training, or while you are absent. Your dog regulates his temperature through the mouth by panting and muzzles prevent your dog from doing this as well as drinking water and eating.
- Don’t attempt to make your own muzzle using rope or rubber bands. Not only is it cruel, it can be dangerous for the dog.
Please note that there are instances of excessive barking for which it is a good idea to seek the advice of a Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist, a Veterinary Behaviourist, or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer first.
- Over-protective behaviour in addition to the barking, such as growling, snapping, lunging, etc.
- Extreme separation anxiety or fear of objects, sights, sounds, people etc.
- Obsessive/Compulsive barking which is identified as excessive barking for no apparent reason or at things that wouldn’t bother other dogs. This may be accompanied by other compulsive behaviours such as spinning or jumping.
Territorial or Defensive Barking
This barking response is also known as alarm barking. It can be in response to people coming to the door, people or animals walking by your house, or other sights and sounds that alert the dog to the presence of someone or something crossing their territory. Territory can be your house, your yard, or even your car while you are driving.
You should be able to tell from your dog’s body language and behaviour whether he’s barking to say “Oh, boy! Visitors! I love visitors!” or “You best be moseying along!” The first example is a greeting bark, covered later in this article. If your dog seems to display more aggressive behaviour, he believes he is protecting his territory and/or defending you and your family from intruders.
In order to reduce this type of defensive barking, success depends on your dog associating strangers at the door and passersby with positive things like treats, praise and attention.
To start, you can remove any stimulus from the dogs environment.
- Block your dog’s access to doors and windows while he is indoors so he cannot see outside.
- Play music or the TV to mask noises that trigger barking.
- Change your doorbell ring so as to disassociate him from the ring he is used to accompanying with barking.
- Call him inside from the yard at times he is prone to barking, such as when school lets out and kids are noisily making their way home.
If the dog continues to bark after you have taken these steps, it is time for some counter-training.
Counter-Bark Training Method #1:
When your dog barks at people passing by or at the door, you will allow a limited number of barks, three or four, before giving the command “quiet.” Call your dog to you or go to him and gently hold his muzzle. Repeat the command “quiet” in a calm definitive voice. Release his muzzle and call him to you and ask him to “sit.” Praise and give him a treat if he complies. If he doesn’t, repeat the steps. Continue to give him praise and treats until the people are have passed by completely or come inside your home. Use these same steps when he barks at people from the yard.
Counter-Bark Training Method #2:
If Method #1 isn’t working after at least 10-20 sessions, add a startling noise to the “quiet” command, such as a can of pennies, a bell, even a loud single clap of your hands. This should gain his attention and you can then go through the remaining steps of calling him over, asking him to sit, and giving praise and treats until the person or noise is gone. If he begins barking immediately after you release him, repeat the steps. If after 10-20 more tries the barking hasn’t diminished you may have an obsessive or anxiety situation and should seek the advice of a professional.
Counter-Bark Training Method #3:
If barking is a problem on your walks, using some of the same methods utilized in loose leash training may help. Hold treats in your hand, giving some out as you walk along. The idea is to encourage your dog to focus on you and not any distractions. Let him sniff and see the palmed treats from time to time so he knows what you have. Use a special treat that your dog doesn’t normally get and keep the pieces small so your dog can chew and swallow them easily while walking. Train your dog to “sit/stay” while people pass, allowing him to say hello only if the other person wants to. Praise, reward, and consistency are very important to make this work, but after a few days or a week, you should see a marked difference and can start spacing the use of treats farther apart.
All three of these methods are designed to condition the dog that people outside are associated with good things–treats, praise, attention.
If you have problems with your dog barking while riding in the car, you must enforce stillness and/or movement restriction. This is also good for the safety of both you and your dog. A loose, excited dog in a car is a distraction and can be trouble waiting to happen.
Place your dog in a travel crate which restricts both movement and his vision of the outside distractions. Use a seat belt safety lead if you can’t use a crate. Begin training good car manners by making your dog sit and wait before jumping in the car. Play the radio to distract from outside noises.
While barking at people outside or at the door (including you and your family), if your dog is also wagging his tail, crying, and jumping, this is a greeting bark, and must be handled differently than territorial barking. Greeting barks are friendly, but can still be annoying to you and your neighbours. Here are a few tips to help control the barking.
- Try to keep meeting and greeting under control. When you or a family member comes home, ignore your dog for the first couple minutes. When people come to the door, teach your dog to sit and wait until the person comes to him; this will bring control and anticipation to the greeting rather than barking.
- Keep one of his favourite toys by the door and train your dog to pick it up when a guest comes. He will be less likely to bark with a toy in his mouth.
- When walking, a “sit/stay” command until people pass will help. The command “wait” is good for gaining his attention and control.
You don’t want to discourage your dog from playing, but play barking can get annoying at times. If you have more than one dog and they bark when playing together, build a set routine of times and places where it is okay. When you are playing with your dog, encourage the use of toy-based games to decrease the amount of barking.
Attention Seeking or Request Barking
This type of barking is a form of expression which often developed through positive reinforcement from the owner. If your dog barks to let you know he needs to go relieve himself, this is usually a good thing. When he barks because he wants your dinner or to play or go for a walk, this is less positive.
However, it’s unlikely that he became a noisy, insistent pest on his own; your family likely had a hand in this during his upbringing. For example, perhaps you thought it was cute when he barked at you while you were cooking chicken and you slipped a piece to him. Dogs are pretty good associative learners and if they make the connection that barking equals food, they won’t stop just because you no longer find it cute.
To bring attention/request barking under control, you need to start by stopping–stop rewarding the barking and stop paying attention to the barking. For this, borrowing a training method that helps to stop jumping up is good idea. When your dog barks for attention or for food, cross your arms and turn your back on him. If he continues, walk out of the room.
Once he stops barking, call him to you, praise him, and fulfill his request, as long as it’s reasonable. However, if he is barking for food, do not reward him with food, treats, chews etc. This will simply reinforce begging and instead of barking, he will switch to pawing at you or some other attention getting behaviour.
If your dog only barks to let you know he has to go potty, you need to change the behaviour. Train him to ring a bell hung on the back door, or install a dog door which allows him to go when he pleases. However, you go about it, changing behaviour is much tougher than preventing it in the first place. With a puppy, start off on the right foot and don’t encourage or reward barking behaviours.
Excitement or Frustration Barking
Many dogs bark when they get excited or when they are frustrated by an inability to get at or do something. For example, the dog who runs through the backyard barking and whining when he hears his buddy out in the yard next door, or the dog who barks at the ball that rolled under the sofa a bit too far for him to get.
The best way to reduce excitement/frustration barking is through basic and intermediate obedience training. “Sit/stay” and “down/stay” are commands that say to your dog he must wait until you release him to go play, for a walk, or to meet his buddy. Animal intruders, such as cats or squirrels can be curtailed using motion-activated devices or other forms of discouragement.
Dogs are pack animals and social barking is just part of that fact. Dogs bark in response to other dogs barking, whether around the neighbourhood or even on the TV. You will never stop it, but you can control it somewhat. Start by changing your dog’s environment, minimizing sound from the source of the barking. If he can still hear it, try using a radio or TV to drown it out.
Head Halters: A Potentially Useful Tool
One tool that may help with this training is a head halter. It looks somewhat like a combination collar/muzzle, but it allows the dog to breath and drink. Used with supervision (never leave it on the dog when he is alone), it may have a controlling and calming effect on your walks and at home, reducing the likelihood of barking. A head halter does not replace training, rewards and praise, but is a tool to help you in your counter-bark training.
Anti-bark Collars And Your Dog
Anti-bark collars are punishment devices that shock, make an ultrasonic noise, or spray citronella when a dog barks. They are not good first choices for solving barking problems, especially when the barking is based on fear, anxiety or compulsion. Before using an anti-bark collar, you should consult with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist, a Veterinary Behaviourist, or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. These should only be considered when all other methods have failed.
Studies have shown that the collars that make a noise do not work with most dogs. One study compared the citronella spray collar and the electronic shock collar and found they are equally effective for eliminating barking. Some collars use a microphone to hear the dog’s bark. If you have more than one dog, the second one could set off the collar with his barking. Anti-bark collars are not designed to be left on all the time and your dog may learn not to bark when the collar is on, and then resume the barking when the collar is off.