How To Train A Dog To Stop BarkingApril 1, 2021 2021-10-04 13:29
Is your dog one of the really vocal dogs? Does he drive you crazy with incessant and constant barking? The good news is that while it is very frustrating to have a barking dog, you can usually make good improvements with the right training approach.
It is important to consider why the dog is barking in order to adequately and effectively address the problem. In this article we will discuss the most common causes for barking as well as how to resolve them.
Table of Contents
Why does my dog bark?
Dogs bark due to a variety of different reasons. If you want to stop your dog’s barking, you need to address the underlying cause of the barking. The barking is “just” a consequence – if we want our dog to be quiet, we have to find out what made him bark in the first place.
You can think of it like a rash. If you go to the doctor because you have a rash, he will not only treat the rash – but try to find out what caused it in the first place so that you can avoid it. Perhaps it was caused by a food allergy – in that case you should refrain from eating that particular food. Or it was caused by a new detergent – then you need to switch the detergent. If you only get a cream for the rash but don’t address the root cause of it, it will not improve.
The same is true for a barking dog! Scolding the dog for barking won’t do much. You need to find out what makes him bark in the first place and work on that issue.
Dogs often bark at noises, especially doorbells, knocking, footsteps or loud sounds from the TV. This is a startle response that can be resolved by getting the dog more used to those sounds. An effective way to address it is:
- Record the sound that your dog barks at on your phone
- Play the sound to your dog at a very low volume and feed him treats as you are doing so
- Repeat this every day, increasing the volume just a little bit every day
- Eventually the repetition and positive association will enable your dog to hear the sound without startling
The most noise-sensitive dogs are the ones that live in very quiet households. Every sound is especially impactful because it is so quiet otherwise. If you can provide some background noise for your dog, he will improve even faster.
Turn on the TV or radio or use a white noise machine to help your dog get used to random sounds.
Barking during play
Many dogs bark especially if they are happy and excited, such as during play. This can be both during play with other dogs or with the owner. There is actually not a lot you can do to influence how vocal your dog is during play – other than to tone down its intensity. If your dog barks very loudly while romping around with another dog, stop their play and give them some time to calm down.
Dogs are much more likely to bark when playing with toys than when doing food games.
If you live in an apartment and are worried about your neighbors’ reaction if your dog barks during his nightly game time, you should use treats in your games. Hide them, toss them for him to catch them or put them into a food puzzle.
Many dogs bark due to reactivity. This is especially prevalent around any kind of boundary or barrier, such as on a leash or behind a fence. In order to stop a reactive dog from barking, you need to address the underlying reactivity itself and help your dog change his so-called “Conditioned Emotional Response”. In this process he learns to “feel differently” about his triggers. Once his excitement and stress subsides, so will the barking.
If your dog does not get adequate exercise and enrichment, he is likely to bark simply because he is bored. There is no way to stop a bored dog from barking other than to provide the amount of activity his breed needs.
Some lap dogs such as Cavachons need little exercise and will be happy with a ½ hour walk and some playtime. If you own a high energy breed like a type of Husky or Shepherd however, you should plan on providing activities for your dog for 2-3 hours every day. These activities should be both mental and physical challenges – walks, playtimes, training and brain games tire even high-energy dogs out nicely.
If you are unsure whether your dog is barking due to boredom, try to increase his exercise and see if you notice a difference. Note that it can take 1-2 weeks for the change to show results.
Many dogs bark when they want to have something – for example when they want you to serve them their dinner. Demand barking is best stopped by interrupting the behavior chain that the dog has ingrained.
Owners often give in to demand barking because it makes the dog quiet. This is only a short fix however – because it actually teaches the dog that the more he barks, the faster he will get what he wants.
The best way to deal with demand barking is to ignore it completely and not do what the dog is demanding you do. Let’s look at specific situations:
How to stop demand barking before feeding times
If your dog barks incessantly before his feeding time, you need to switch up the feeding times. Do not feed your dog after he has been barking at you – this will only encourage him to bark more and more.
Dogs do not actually need to have the exact same feeding times every day. If your dog e.g. expects you to feed him at 6pm and he starts barking at you at 5:45pm, then you should not feed him at 6pm after 15 minutes of barking – because this would only teach him that barking eventually results in being fed.
Instead, surprise him with an early dinner at 5pm one day. The next day, you could feed him a small meal at 2pm and a late dinner at 7pm. By switching it up, you prevent your dog from anticipating when you will feed him and barking in expectation.
Demand barking during training
Is your dog barking at you during training? This is usually a combination of demand barking and frustration. If you hold a treat in your hand and want your dog to perform a certain behavior to earn it, he could easily get frustrated if he doesn’t get it right quickly. He wants that treat so badly – and not getting it is disappointing.
In this case, it is best to help your dog succeed by luring him with the treat or asking him to perform an alternative easy behavior such as sitting. Dogs are not defiant in training – if your dog is barking, chances are he truly has no idea how he can get it right!
You should not ignore demand barking in training, or your dog’s frustration will grow. It is much better to help your dog succeed and not let him ingrain the habit of barking at you while you work together.
Demand barking during quiet times
At night we like to set down and relax – perhaps with our favorite TV show, a good book or a glass of wine. Dogs however like to ramp it up again at night, much to the dismay of their owners!
Right before bedtime, nearly all dogs get active again. Puppies in particular have this trait. We dog trainers call it the “witching hour” when puppies become crazy somewhere between 6pm and 9pm ever night.
If your dog wants to try and motivate you to play with him or even take him for a late night walk, he may be barking at you. In this case, it is easiest if you can provide some sort of other enrichment or activity for your dog. The need for some sort of engagement or entertainment at night is strong, however we can easily fulfill it by giving the dog a food puzzle, lick mat, snuffle mat or chew toy.
How to train a dog to stop barking in your absence
Many owners need their dog to stop barking in their absence. This is a very tricky problem as – once more – we need to know why the dog barks in the first place and then adequately address this specific issue.
Many dogs bark when they are left alone in the yard and their owner is at work. The fastest and most effective solution is to not leave them unsupervised outside. This is because when a dog is alone in the yard, there are so many different reasons for him to bark, such as:
- At passerbys
- At traffic
- At other dogs walking by
- At neighbors
- Out of sheer boredom
- Out of frustration when he cannot get to something he wants on the other side of the fence
Many dogs develop a habit of incessant barking outside over time. Once this becomes an ingrained behavior, it is nearly impossible to completely stop it again. The more time dogs spend outside unsupervised, the worse this will become.
Should you use corrective collars to stop barking?
Some owners choose to use corrective collars to stop their dogs from barking. This is not the best solution as it does not take into account why the dog barks. As explained above – we cannot “just” stop the dog from barking. In order to solve the issue effectively, the root of the behavior needs to be addressed.
If you live in an apartment, you should plan to not acquire a dog breed that is known for barking a lot. There is a lot of variety in how vocal different breeds are. It is not fair to purchase a vocal dog breed such as a Husky and then use corrective collars to prevent your dog from making any sounds.
Instead, consider your breed’s tendency to bark before committing to a puppy. Planning ahead and choosing a dog whose barking matches your tolerance for noise will go a long way to having a harmonious relationship with your pup.
The Bottom Line
In order to effectively stop barking in the long run, we need to first determine why a dog is barking. Barking itself is only the dog’s reaction to a specific feeling or stimulus – by changing the root of this behavior, we will also be able to stop the barking itself.
You should not simply put a bark collar on your dog to keep him from barking. Underlying causes such as reactivity, boredom or noise sensitivity will not be fixed by this! If you want to stop the barking not just in the moment but as a long-term change, you need to change what causes it in the first place.
Demand barking has a special importance among the different types of barking. Many dogs are demand barkers and tend to bark incessantly when they want to have treats, be fed or go for a walk. It is important that you do not let your dog “tell you what to do” with his barking, or he will quickly train you (not the other way around). If your dog barks during training, he might feel frustrated or uncertain how to get it right. In that case, you should make the task easier and reward him generously for every correct response, so that he does not associate feeling frustrated with the training setup.