WOOF! WOOF! WOOF! Seemingly for no reason your dog just starts barking his head off. It can make you crazy. Especially when the neighborhood canine chorus joins in.
Sometimes it seems like there is an endless number of dogs that just won’t stop barking. Maybe your dog is one of them. Living with a barky dog can be incredibly frustrating for you and your neighbors. I actually live next to a barky dog whose owner says she has “tried everything” which, upon further inquiry, turned out to be a citronella bark collar followed by throwing her hands in the air when the spray collar didn’t fix the problem.
For the record, citronella spray collars are aversive and very likely made the poor dog even more stressed out and barky.
If you have a barky dog, you don’t have to use an aversive method, give up and live with it or, worse, rehome your dog. This is a fixable problem.
Dogs bark; it’s an important method of communication for them. However, your dog doesn’t need to bark incessantly and you can train your dog to be quiet on cue.
Barking is a form of communication for your dog and a natural activity for a healthy dog. You can’t and shouldn’t want to completely eliminate your dog’s barking. What you can do is teach your dog to be quiet on cue which means that you can limit necessary barking (like alert barking) and stop unnecessary barking (like demand barking).
The first step is to understand the reasons your dog barks because different types and sources of barking require different solutions.
Here are 7 Common Reasons Why Your Dog Barks and Ways to Stop It
- Boredom – Your dog likely spends a lot of time on her own. If you don’t provide enough activity, your dog will invent her own fun which includes barking. Eliminate boredom barking by providing more enrichment and/or exercise for your pup.
- Anxiety – Separation distress and anxiety can also cause barking. In this instance, you’ll want to teach your dog to be OK with being alone rather than address the barking directly. This can take some time but is important for your dog’s well being and your peace of mind at being able to leave your dog on her own. Read this article for more help with anxiety barking.
- Warning – Dogs bark to warn you about potential or perceived threats. Dogs define “threat” differently than you so your postal carrier may provoke the same warning as an actual intruder. I’m glad my Jake barks to alert me to potential danger. When he barks at something that isn’t actually dangerous, like a dog walking past our house, I’ve taught him to stop when I thank him for warning me and tell him everything is fine. It’s worth it to me to hear a bark or two at something not dangerous from time to time to also get the loud barking at midnight when an intruder is trying to break into my home (this actually happened and Jake scared away the would-be intruder).
- Demand (also called Attention Seeking) – Like children, dogs can be persistent when they want attention. Demand barking is akin to a child’s relentless “mom, mom, mom, mom” while you’re on the phone. Your dog may want a treat, belly rub, walk or just to have your attention on her. I don’t recommend giving into this type of barking because you will reinforce it. If barking works to get your attention, your dog will keep on barking whenever she wants something. Ignoring demand barking or teaching your dog the “quiet” cue will make you both a lot happier in the long run.
- Startled – Some dogs will bark when startled (some will growl). For example, if a loud noise wakes your dog suddenly, he may bark until he realizes there is no danger. This typically doesn’t last long and I usually recommend just letting it happen. You can reassure your dog that all is well to calm him faster as well. Note that some dogs may bite when started awake so never let small children play near a sleeping dog.
- Playfulness – Barking is a normal part of play and I would normally just let it happen unless it causes problems such as stressing out the other dogs. Note that dogs will attention/demand bark at other dogs as well as people and I usually do intervene with this type of barking as it isn’t considered appropriate play.
- Plea (asking for help) – Some dogs will bark to get your help. Perhaps a favorite toy has gone under the couch. Jake barks when he can’t reach something he wants. This is different from demand barking because your dog is asking for help, not just attention or an on-demand treat. I help Jake when he plea barks because it only happens occasionally. Plea barking can turn into demand barking so watch for that but otherwise, I would help your dog if you see that they are asking for help with something specific (and appropriate).
Ultimately, some barking is necessary to the well-being of your dog. Excessive barking or barking intended to control (demand barking) can be effectively dealt with through training. You can reduce the amount of necessary barking and eliminate demand barking.
The amount of barking that is acceptable is up to you based on the needs of your family (and close neighbors) and your ability to tolerate noise.
A positive trainer (one that uses zero aversive measures) can help you figure out why your dog is barking and choose the best option for changing unwanted barking behavior. Training should consist of teaching your dog an alternative behavior such as being quiet using treats and praise.
Training an alternate behavior (like “be quiet”) is preferable to just telling your dog “no” because your dog has a need to do “something.” In appearance, learning to be quiet on cue looks like what you want by saying NO but it makes more sense to your dog.
Please don’t yell at your dog to be quiet though as this will most likely make your dog bark more, not less. Make training sessions fun for your dog so he is eager to do as you ask.
Be consistent with how you deal with unwanted barking and reward behavior that is desirable (like quiet). You can teach your dog to bark less on your own or by working with a trainer. Barking can be tricky to stop so be patient!