Do you have a barking dog on your hands? As a dog trainer, I find barking problems are one of the main reasons dog owners ask for help. Clients want to know how to stop their dog from barking. In this article, I’ll help you get the peace and quiet you’re looking for in your household … but first, I’ll talk about the purpose of barking. Then I’ll cover common reasons a dog barks and provide you with some solutions to curb your dog’s barking.
Barking Is Talking
First and foremost, barking is a very normal behavior for dogs. When a dog barks, he’s trying to communicate. Barking for a dog is a way of talking and trying to get his message across. To stop your dog barking, you must first find out why he’s barking. What’s he trying to say or communicate to you? Barking is a symptom of something else, and that something else is what you need to address. It’s not about just stopping a dog from barking, the “why” is the key.
Common Reasons for Barking
Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons why dogs bark. And then I’ll provide a few suggestions on how to change your dog’s behavior.
Demand barking is when a dog barks at you for something specific. It might be a demand to throw a toy, go outside, get the treat you have in your hand or just to get your attention. For example, you’re sitting on the sofa, your dog brings you his favorite toy, drops it at your feet, then barks at you to throw it.
Dogs who bark, howl or whimper when you leave may have a case of separation anxiety, a serious condition that must be addressed. If your dog barks when you leave, he may continue to get more stressed over time to the point of injuring himself.
I often think of these dogs like kids at Disneyland who are so excited about their adventure they run around screaming. Often these dogs have a few triggers that get them so wound up that they just have a hard time controlling themselves. It might be dinner time, playing fetch, or going for a walk.
Anxiety Or Arousal Around People Or Other Dogs
Dogs are emotional and complex creatures. A dog may bark at people or other dogs for a variety of reasons. These can include improper socialization as a puppy, a history of punishment based training when around other people or dogs, bad experiences leading to fear or anxiety, over-excitement, or he may be trying to warn you of “danger.” Maybe your dog starts barking when he sees another dog on his walk. Or when a stranger comes to the house, you hear barking or a low grumble coming from your dog.
Remember, the first step in changing your dog’s behavior is to identify the reason behind his bark. Then you can work on the training and improvement will come with time and practice.
Demand Barking Solutions
Demand barking is a learned behavior. If your dog has learned that barking at you gets him things, then he’ll continue to bark at you to get things. It’s a pretty simple concept. He’s learned it works.
When I see demand barking, it tells me the dog isn’t getting everything he needs. If a dog feels the need to ask for attention, he needs more attention – and probably more exercise too! This doesn’t mean giving your dog attention when he’s barking, but increasing the attention you give your dog and the activities you do with him regularly.
Once you’ve increased the attention, games and activities for your dog, you will then ignore any barking he does to get your attention. All barking for attention now equals an invisible dog.
In other words, when he barks at you, don’t look at him, don’t give him anything, don’t yell at him … nothing. Ignore him 100 percent. At first he will likely intensify his barking a bit because, remember, he learned in the past that barking works. You’ve just changed the rules and it’ll take him a little time to learn the new ones.
Separation Anxiety Solutions
Treating separation anxiety is a longer term problem. It requires teaching your dog new emotions and alleviating his anxiety when he’s left alone. It’s not about teaching him not to feel, but rather how to feel.
The feeling we’re shooting for is relaxed, safe, and maybe even content when you’re leaving.
This is not a behavior that can be cured quickly; as a matter of fact, it can be quite long and challenging. If this sounds like your dog, it’s a good idea to seek professional help. Meanwhile, here are a few tips to get you started:
- It’s important that when you come home and leave for the day, you are not overly greeting your dog. If you make a big deal about your coming and going, it encourages your dog to think it’s traumatic to be left alone. A simple, but warm hello and goodbye with a scratch and smile are best.
- Vary your daily routine. Change the time you get up in the morning, even if it’s only by 15 minutes, and change the sequence of your morning routine so your dog doesn’t anticipate your departure.
- Have an activity for your dog to do while you’re out. Try leaving him a good filled chew toy, bone or hide treats for him to find around the house.
- Teach your dog to enjoy his crate or a specific room while you’re home. Toss that great chew treat inside and let him spend five to ten minutes chewing before letting him out. Increase the duration over time.
- Physical and mental exercise is a great way to expend some of your dog’s energy. Your dog is more likely to feel calm and content if he has had ample opportunity to play, run and investigate. However, don’t amp up your dog with a lot of exciting activity right before a departure; allow an hour for him to settle back down.
Once again our invisible dog can come into play during this training. For example, if your over-excited dog starts barking when you’re about to throw the ball, just stop. Stand still. Wait. Don’t say a word. As soon as your dog stops barking, toss the ball. Your timing needs to be dead on here. Repeat this every time you play. If you only practice some of the time, your dog will never get what you expect of him.
Eventually, not barking will be the norm during play. As he gets better and better, wait one second after he stops barking before tossing the ball. Then increase the wait to two seconds, then three, four, and so on. To work effectively with over-aroused dogs, you need a lot of patience. It is definitely time to call upon your inner Zen.
For a lot of dogs, putting on their leash for a walk can be quite exciting and might elicit some barking. Teaching your dog to be quiet during this routine is actually pretty easy.
Start by not getting your dog all excited about his walk. Casually pick up his leash, and if picking up his leash causes him to bark, stop in your tracks. Don’t say anything, don’t move. Wait for him to be silent, and as soon as he is, start to walk towards him with his leash in your hand. If he starts to bark again – and he probably will – immediately stop again. No words, no yelling. You will only walk towards your dog when he is quiet, as soon as he barks, you stop. Repeat as needed. It’s a pretty simple process, and works really well, but, if you want your dog to show patience, you must be patient too.
Solutions For Anxiety Or Arousal Around People Or Other Dogs
If your dog barks at people or other dogs, you need to slowly expose him to these stimuli. I’m using a dog as the example here, but you can replace “dog” with a person, or whatever other trigger sets your dog off.
Expose him gradually to the trigger. When your dog sees another dog, he needs to be at a distance where he’s calm and can happily take food rewards and praise. You may need to cross the street or walk him away until the distance allows him to relax. Then, when your dog sees the other dog from this distance, tell him, “YES!” and quickly give him his reward (a really yummy one that he doesn’t normally get). Continue to do this while the other dog is in sight.
What you’re teaching your dog is not what to do, but how to feel. “I feel good when I see another dog” instead of “I feel scared or out of control when I see another dog.” Eventually seeing the other dog makes your dog expect this wonderful experience, not the emotional reaction it once did. Over many repetitions, he can learn that the once-upsetting intruder dog now equals “ooh, good stuff for me.”
In Summary …
A little training can go a long way in curbing excess barking. The barking itself is not the focus of your training … identifying and addressing the cause of his barking is your key. A lot of patience and a good attitude will get you the results you’re looking for. Keep in mind, you may have been the one who actually caused your dog’s barking in the first place, so give your dog a little slack and be patient as you teach him new behaviors.