Barking is a natural form of communication for dogs, but different dogs bark for different reasons. A dog’s bark can alert us that someone is near the house or it can scare unwanted animals from the yard. However, excessive barking can be a nuisance. The longer a dog is allowed to bark, the longer it takes to train him to stop.
Why do dogs bark?
Inherited trait – Certain breeds are more likely to bark because that is the job for which they were bred. If barking is an inherited trait it is very difficult to change.
- Learning – Dogs learn that barking will get them something. They quickly learn that barking earns attention from their owners. They also think that barking at the mailman or a passerby will make that person go away even though they had no intention of staying.
- Territorial – Dogs bark when they feel their territory is threatened by people, animals, or other dogs.
- Excitement – Some dogs bark when they are playing or excited.
- Compulsive or stereotypic barking – This type of barking is how some dogs deal with stress. It tends to be rhythmic and monotonous.
- Separation anxiety – Some dogs with separation anxiety bark to relieve tension when their owners are away.
There are no quick solutions for treating excessive barking. Training takes patience and persistence. Consistency is critically important. The earlier the training can begin the better. If you have a puppy, good socialization classes can help you prevent barking in the first place. It is vital that you discover the underlying cause(s) of the barking and treat it.
- Ignoring the barking – Eliminate the reward for barking by ignoring the behavior. Do not give in! If you or anyone else in your home gives in while your dog is barking, you have rewarded the behavior and made it more difficult to treat. Watch for the extinction burst. If barking has been rewarded with attention in the past, the dog will try harder to get that attention. Again, do not give in! Behaviors that are not rewarded will stop. Make sure you reward your dog when she is quiet.
- Response substitution – Train the dog to do a behavior that is incompatible with barking. For example, train him to go to his dog bed on command. If he starts to bark, give the command to go to his bed and then reward him for performing that behavior. If your dog barks when the doorbell rings, train him to go to his crate when the doorbell rings. For a dog that is barking at the window, allow two or three barks, call him to you and reward him with praise or small treats. Then redirect him to another activity. This says, “Thanks for alerting me to the people on the sidewalk, but now it is time to be quiet.”
- Management – This is the easiest way to stop barking. Change the environment or eliminate the dog’s exposure to the stimulus that initiates barking. If she barks outside, keep her inside. If she barks at the front door, keep the door closed. Another method is to quietly and gently take the dog to a bathroom or bedroom if she starts barking and letting her out when she is quiet. Again, you are taking away the attention she is seeking, but then rewarding her for being quiet. If you are able to train her to bark on command, give her the command and then reward her when she stops. Once she is reliably stopping, add a cue such as “quiet”, and reward her when she is quiet on command.
- Exercise – Tired dogs are quiet dogs. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise with walks off your property, agility training, or trips to the dog park. Physical exercise is important for dogs, but mental exercise is crucial as well. Trips away from their yard give them new things to smell, people to meet, and sights to see. Daily obedience training sessions at home are good for mental wellness, too.
- Anti-bark collars – We do not recommend anti-bark shock collars. Most of the time barking is more rewarding to dogs than a shock is deterring. If your dog is barking because of anxiety, the shock collar will make the anxiety worse. Even if the barking stops, anxious dogs tend to relieve their tension in other ways. If you really want to use a collar, select a more humane one that sprays citronella when the dog barks, but it must be used as only a part of a whole behavior modification program.
- Reward for quiet – Do not use punishment to treat barking. It is rarely effective and can increase anxiety. Remember that if your dog is barking for attention, yelling is still attention so you are rewarding the behavior. You are telling him to stop barking by barking at him yourself.