No matter how much we love our dogs, there are times when we just don’t want to hear them barking – and our neighbors don’t want to hear it either!
A dog barks as a natural way of communicating. It’s just what dogs do – even if sometimes we really wish they wouldn’t bark so much, or bark at the wrong time and place. When you understand what makes him bark, you can learn how to train your dog to be more quiet. There is no way to stop your dog from barking completely – that would be weird! – and some breeds are naturally more vocal than others, but it is possible to change some of his barking behaviors so you can live more peacefully together.
Why is Your Dog Barking?
Does he bark to tell you he needs to go potty? That can be a good kind of barking!
But if your dog yaps at you every time you’re trying to talk on the phone, that is a behavior you will want to find a way to change.
Watch your dog to see when and where he barks, and what’s happening at the time. What is he looking at? Who is nearby? What sounds and smells are there? You’ll find there will be certain times, places, or “triggers” — for example, when your dog is behind a fence or window he may see another dog walking past.
Some of the causes for a dog to bark too much include boredom, fear, stress, the urge to warn off “threats” to his people or property, or – believe it or not – very often it’s simply because barking has become a habit that gives the dog pleasure.
Make a list of all the specific barking situations that are a problem for you, and figure out what you can do to prevent them from happening.
Dogs Bark When They’re Over-Stimulated
Sometimes, it’s simply too much excitement that triggers a prolonged barking episode. Dogs who are restrained in a house or yard where they can see a lot of action, but they can’t take part in it, can easily get wound up emotionally – and barking is a natural outlet for that frustration.
At times it can be a way of warning off all the strangers they see walking by their windows or on the other side of the fence, but for other dogs the barking can be an invitation to come and play, or just a way of releasing energy that’s pent up from the arousal of all that activity they can see but not take part in. We often see this with dogs in cars, too.
Crating a dog briefly can help to calm him down (assuming he has been trained to love his kennel), if fear or arousal are the cause of too much noise. Even something as simple as closing the drapes or blinds so the dog can’t see out the window all the time, become over-excited and “practice” that barking reaction when you’re not around to work with him, helping him learn to stay calm and quiet.
Lately we’ve been using with fair success a simple piece of gear called a calming cap in helping an over-aroused or fearful dog to “chill out” – it’s a semi-see-through hood that slips over the dog’s face and limits his vision, much as “blinders” have been used for centuries to calm a skittish horse. This has worked especially well for us with dogs who bark incessantly while travelling in a car.
Dogs Bark When They’re Afraid or Aggressive
Some dogs are what we call “reactive” dogs, either just by nature or as a result of something in their previous life.
It can be hard to tell the difference between fear and aggression, as the two emotions can be closely related and the associated behaviors can look a lot alike – barking, growling, lunging – so “reactive” is usually the preferred term. In both cases, the approach we take to problem-solving are very similar, too. Have a look at this video for one very effective approach.
The best and most complete walk-through I’ve found for the highly successful BAT training technique is in the book Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT for Fear, Frustration, and Aggression in Dogs by Grisha Stewart, but you’ll also find wonderful resources at the official site for BAT training, FunctionalRewards.com.
Dogs Bark When They’re Bored
Barking isn’t always a sign of a major behavioral problem, however. Boredom is one of the most common reasons for otherwise well-behaved dogs to bark excessively – especially if your dog has a habit of barking at the worst possible time, like when you’ve got a guest or an important phone call you need to pay attention to. Dogs are living, thinking creatures and they can get bored just like people do!
Give your dog lots of active play and loving attention when you are able to, and make sure he has lots of great puzzle toys to keep him entertained when you’re not free to train and play. Most importantly, be sure that you’re not actually making the barking problem worse by your own reaction to it!
Has Your Dog Been Trained to Bark?
Another very common reason for out-of-control barking behavior is that barking “works” in the dog’s experience. When he mouths off, he gets what he wants – the scarey delivery man goes away, the dog down the road barks back (or runs away), the startled child drops her ice cream cone and Rover gets a sweet treat – well, you get the idea. And if your dog barks to get you to pay attention to him, and he gets the attention he’s looking for, what does that do? It teaches him to bark even more!
Now, it’s important to realize that any kind of attention can act as a reward for barking – looking at your dog, pushing him away, talking to him (even if you are using a stern tone of voice or telling him “No”), any kind of attention – it all counts as A Good Thing to a dog. And since our dogs want nothing more than to interact with humans, even a negative kind of attention for barking will just train your dog to bark more to get you paying attention to him!
It is far better – faster, easier, and more effective – to learn how to prevent the barking behavior to start with, to help your dog learn to relax physically in all kinds of circumstances. Physical relaxation is key to mental and emotional relaxation, and a relaxed dog is unlikely to be a problem barker.
Where do you start?
Let your pooch know what it is that you do want from him.
Train Your Dog to Settle and Be Calm
Question: when your dog is lying quietly in his place, what do you do?
Answer (for most of us) – “let sleeping dogs lie”! We pay no attention to the dog when he’s quiet, lying still, maybe having a little nap or playing quietly with his own toys – and that’s understandable, you have things to do and you don’t want to rile him up! But if we ignore a good behavior (like being quiet, instead of barking), how is the dog ever supposed to know that’s something we like him to do?
Toss your dog a treat or give him an occasional smile and word of approval when he’s being quiet. Let him know you like it when he is quiet. And if he gets up off his bed, or he starts barking with excitement, just turn your back and go about your business, ignoring the dog completely until he is quiet again. The very minute he settles down, reward him for it.
Repeat this for a few days, and odds are that you’ll soon see a big difference around the home!
Here’s a terrific introductory video to show you how to help your dog learn to be calm and “settle” as a default behavior, using the clicker training method.
“A tired dog is a good dog.” That means to make sure your dog gets lots of exercise and entertainment, so he doesn’t find something to do with all that excess energy and boredom.
“Dogs do what works.” And if barking is what gets your dog what he wants, he certainly will have all kinds of incentive to bark more and more, instead of barking less.
Naturally you can’t expect your dog to be totally silent – he is a dog, after all, and most dogs do bark – but you can learn to reduce the amount of barking and train your dog when and where it is okay to use his “outdoor voice” – most of the time.