A barking dog can be a frustrating problem for a pet owner. Aside from annoying the neighbours, barking can disturb your sleep and cause continuous stress for you and the animal
The good news is that you can reduce barking using a few simple techniques. I’ll discuss seven of the most effective in this article.
But before we get to the tips, keep in mind that barking is a normal way for dogs to communicate. You can’t expect a dog to be silent all the time – and having this goal is only going to cause frustration and disappointment. Focus on reducing barking to appropriate levels, not eliminating it completely.
Avoid Shouting - It Doesn’t Work
Dogs bark because they are in an aroused state. This can be caused by a variety of factors, such as the excitement of seeing another dog, anxiety at being left alone, or boredom.
Shouting at your dog when he’s in this state adds another layer of stress and anxiety to the situation. It might stop him barking in the moment, but next time the situation occurs he’ll have an even stronger response.
In other words, scolding often makes barking worse in the long-run, rather than teach your pet not to do it.
De-Sensitise Your Pet to Prevent Alarm Barking
Alarm barking is when your dog is trying to tell you something. Common examples are when there’s someone at the front door or a car has pulled into the driveway.
The key to preventing this type of barking is to combine de-sensitisation training with an alternative behaviour.
Get some treats or a favourite toy and ask a friend to quietly start making the trigger noise. Before your dog can react, give praise and reward until the noise stops. Ask the person to repeat this at gradually louder volumes, while using play or treats to create positive associations.
Once your dog is comfortable with this, ask him to “go to bed” or lay down as soon as he hears the noise. Only give the treat once he’s completed the behaviour. By practicing this regularly, your dog will learn to go to his bed when he hears the noise, rather than bark.
Tip: If you don’t have anyone to help you with training, you may also be able to record the noise and play it back at increasing volumes.
Ignore Attention Barking and Praise Alternatives
Dogs quickly learn if barking gets them attention or another reward. While it might be cute for a puppy to bark for his food, this behaviour is frustrating as the dog gets older.
The easiest way to tackle this problem is to completely ignore the dog until the barking stops. In many cases, practicing this consistently is enough for barking to reduce. If your dog is persistent, ask him to “lie down” and wait a few seconds before treating.
This is another reason why scolding doesn’t work. If your dog is barking for attention, shouting at him is giving what he wants.
Provide More Mental and Physical Stimulation
There is a trend over recent years for nearly all canine behavioural issues to be blamed on a lack of exercise. While this is clearly not the case, it is true that a lack of mental and physical stimulation can cause more barking.
The problem is that barking is more interesting than doing nothing. If your dog isn’t getting enough stimulation throughout the day, he might bark to relieve built up tension.
Fortunately, this is one of the easiest types of barking to prevent. Some ways to reduce boredom include:
- Take your dog on longer walks. This isn’t always possible, but is the best way to tire your dog and reduce barking.
- Vary the type of walks your dog gets. Ball throwing in a park is brilliant for physically tiring your pet, but it lacks mental stimulation. For this reason, vary the type and location of walks to keep things interesting.
- Avoid shutting your dog in a crate for long periods. Crates are useful training tools, but it can be frustrating for a dog to be locked up for hours.
- Use food puzzles for meals. Instead of putting kibble or wet food in a bowl, try using a food puzzle to mentally tire your pet. This is a great way to provide extra stimulation without spending too much extra time.
- Play indoor games. If you can’t take your dog for a longer walk, 5-10 minutes of indoor games may provide just enough extra stimulation.
- Games such as “find the toy” and tug-of-war are particularly effective.
- Trick training is another way to tire your dog, as it requires intense concentration.
Teach the “Quiet” Command
The “Quiet” command is one of the most useful for owners with loud dogs. It’s also surprisingly easy to train. Here’s one method:
- When your dog starts barking at something, give the “Quiet” command once and in a firm voice – but avoid shouting.
- Your dog will probably ignore you to start with. When he stops barking, even temporarily, give him praise and a tasty treat.
- Repeat until your pet starts to understand that “Quiet” means stop barking. Only stop giving treats and praise when your dog always responds.
- The timing of the reward is key to training this command. Never give the treat when he’s still barking, otherwise you could be reinforcing the wrong behaviour.
Never Use Bark Collars
There are many “no bark” tools available. These include citronella collars, which spray your dog with an unpleasant smell when he barks, and electric shock collars.
I don’t recommend these tools for several reasons. The first is that they don’t solve the underlying reason for barking. A shock collar might stop your dog barking in the short-term, but it won’t teach him when it’s inappropriate to bark in the long-term.
More importantly, negative collars can actually make the problem worse. Dogs often bark because they are stressed or anxious, so punishing this behaviour makes them feel even more stressed. Pain and other negative consequences can also cause lasting damage to the owner-dog relationship.
Contact a Professional Behaviourist for Separation Anxiety
Many dogs suffer from “separation anxiety” when left alone, which leads to barking, destructive behaviour and incontinence.
Most causes of barking can be solved at home without outside help. But if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, it’s essential to get professional advice. This is a serious problem that is only likely to get worse – and it requires a tailored training plan to solve.