Why Your Dog Barks and How To Stop It
Dogs bark for a plethora of reasons, whether it’s to alert of a looming threat or if they saw the shadow of a leaf fall one hundred feet away. Regardless of why your dog is picking up its pitch, it’s important to be able to get these barking outbursts under control. Excessive barking can become a bad habit quickly but can be squashed with proper training. And lots of patience.
To get your dog to stop barking, try to figure out why they are barking. Is it only at strangers? Any weird noise? Doorbells? Other dogs? Or, all of the above? Make note of when barking outbursts occur and what brought them on. This will help you determine the best course of action to take. Attention barking is treated very differently than territorial barking, so understanding your dog’s reactions will make the process much smoother.
Remember, yelling at your dog in an attempt to get them to stop barking will only rile them up more. Either ignore the loud behavior, remove the upsetting stimulus, or redirect their attention to something else, such as a toy or new environment, while in the beginning stages of training. Below, I will break down the most common types of barking outbursts as well as reliable solutions you can integrate to manage these behaviors.
Let’s start with one of the most annoying of the barking behaviors – attention barking. This looks like the moment you sit down for dinner, and your dog looks directly at you. Before you know it, they are barking their head off at you, hoping to catch some scraps. This demanding behavior is often inadvertently rewarded when dog owners give their dog any attention, even in the form of a verbal command such as “stop.”
The best way to handle attention barking is to absolutely ignore your dog when these outbursts occur. If possible, go into another room and shut the door. This sends a message to your dog that they will not get what they want from barking. Barking to be let outside, receive food, or be given physical attention are some of the most common instances where you will see demanding barking. Problem solve these individually by figuring out what your dog wants. Once the barking stops, wait a few minutes before letting them outside, giving them dinner, or giving them affection. The goal is to teach them that loud communication with you will not produce the reward that they are looking for.
For barking that occurs in the crate, it is highly important to never reward this behavior, either by verbal attention or being released from the crate. While crate training, there can be many situations where your dog thinks barking is likely to gain your attention or grant their release. Ignore the barking and when there is even the shortest amount of silence, reward them by letting them out, if applicable. Otherwise, toss a treat into their crate or verbally praise them.
Fear barking occurs when your dog is stressed, anxious, or fearful of a situation. They are using their voice to tell you or the stimulus that they are not interested. The best way to handle situations like these, especially in the early stages, is to remove your dog from the situation. Let them know that you are going to protect them and that you have their back by helping them get out of the situation that they no longer want to be in.
Moving forward, it’s important to work on counter conditioning with your dog to get them to the point where the upsetting stimulus is less threatening to them. This takes a significant amount of patience, practice, and persistence. Let’s say your dog is absolutely terrified of bicycles. Take them to a park that is known to have a lot of bike traffic and choose a place to sit far away from the bike lane or area. Reward your dog for even looking in the direction of the bike and not reacting. Slowly decrease your distance from the bikes as your dog becomes more comfortable with their presence. Depending on the aversion, this can take numerous training sessions to build up your dog’s confidence and desensitization to what they fear.
When working with barking of any sort but especially with fear barking, using high-value treats is key. You want to offer your dog something highly valuable so that their attention is directed solely on you. Placing the treat close to their nose in the initial stages will help move them from the distraction they are barking at. This is another great time to integrate “Look at me” during distraction training as you are getting your dogs to focus on you and not the stress-inducing stimuli.
For barking outbursts that occur while walking, you will need to exercise even more patience as your dog could be either afraid of something in the environment or being territorial of you. I’ve covered steps on working through impulse control and leash walking in the respectively linked articles as well.
Nothing can be more irritating than dealing with a barking dog when you are trying to answer the front door or bring a guest into your home. Granted, barking from knocking on the door can be both territorial or excitement driven but both can be circumvented through practice. The best solution I have found for barking at the door or when people are near the entrance of the home is to have a special “place” for them to go until they are released. When someone knocks on the door, Ember will go to her “place” and wait for me to tell her to “Go say hi” if someone is coming into our house. Her place is within eyesight of the door so she can be aware of who is entering and how I greet them.
For many people, it’s important to have a dog bark at strange noises or unknown people coming to the door. I have no problem with my dogs going ballistic over an unknown person banging on my door. The key is getting them to settle down and listen to me when I ask. A knock on the door is always going to sound the same, whether it’s someone I know or don’t know, so I have them all trained to either “place” if I’m opening the door or “Hush” if it’s not something I’m concerned about.
Beyond situational barking, a very useful tool to have in the obedience “toolbox,” as I like to call it, is the command “Hush” or “Quiet.” These words can be taught alongside “Speak,” so you can both reward your dog for using their voice on command and using controlled silence on command as well. I will warn that once you teach “Speak,” some dogs can become more vocal (Sheltie owner right here!!), so be mindful of your dog’s current barking behavior.
For me, I have found the most success with waiting for a barking outburst to end, then rewarding with treats as soon as the dog is quiet. Repeat this and add the word “Hush” when the dog is not barking. You can work towards this during barking by bringing the treat close to their nose as dogs can’t sniff very well while in the process of barking. The brief break in barking is the moment you are looking to reward.
For the most part, I have found that anti-barking methods are a great short-term solution but do not present long-term results. Dogs either outsmart these devices or become desensitized to them over time. The goal with training is to get your dog to understand what behaviors you want (silence in this case) and helping them realize that when they comply, they will be rewarded.
The only tool I continue to rely on is an old “penny can,” which is an old can full of coins. I don’t use it much for barking, but I will occasionally, just to get my dog’s attention and get a moment in where I can use the “Hush” command. I’ll shake the can very loudly for a moment during a barking outburst and interject the moment there is a break of silence. I’ll also use the penny can to interrupt play sessions that are getting too aggressive or discourage puppy biting on my older dog. She is learning to “Leave it,” but it’s still a work in progress.
The first step to fixing a bad barking behavior is to identify what is causing the behavior and the situational factors surrounding outbursts. Then, begin managing the behavior by shaping preferred “quiet” moments or instances where you can get your dog’s attention on you, even if for a brief moment. Work up to things such as a door knock equals place all the way across the room. Always know your dog’s threshold for distractions and what type of environments will be challenging enough but not overwhelming.