Dog barking is a complex natural behavior. They use it to communicate with humans, other dogs, and the world around them. Barks also convey emotions from excitement, fear, despair, or aggressiveness.
Interpret each bark depending on the situation, body language, and other visual cues.
By shouting at the dog each time he barks, you may be rewarding the behavior and making it worse. Dogs don’t understand human language and will think you are joining in the barking.
What do you do when it becomes a nuisance? How do you stop it? Read on to learn more.
Why dogs bark
Dogs bark in the absence or presence of stimuli. Stimuli can be rustling leaves, strangers, prey, fear, or other dogs barking.
The dog may bark at the doorbell ringing, for attention, due to loneliness and boredom. It may also be compulsive barking for self-amusement where he loves the sound of his bark. Some dogs bark more than others depending on breed and past experiences.
The list is endless. It’s vital to identify the cause to manage, desensitize, and behavior change. Incorrect assessment will only worsen barking and make the habit hard to break. You also need to identify if your breed is vocal or not for the best results.
Excessive barking does not develop overnight. It may develop due to schedule and environmental changes, a new family addition, or age.
Excessive barking due to pain or an illness needs a vet’s diagnosis and treatment.
Types of vocalization;
- Barking to alert, warn, or seek attention. Higher-pitched noises are also common in isolation or play. A lonely bark will have deliberate pauses
- Growling to warn other animals and people to stay away or possible aggression. The dog may also be suggesting that they are much bigger and more dangerous.
- Crying/whining/whimpering due to pain, discomfort, fear, or loneliness. Whimpers show that they intend no harm when approached by other animals as it’s safe to approach.
- Howling– elicit social contact or in response to other dogs and anxiety.
1. Alert barking
Alert or territorial barking is more prevalent in guard dogs such as German Shepherds. Your dog may bark at moving objects, passers-by, passing vehicles, mailmen, and so on. Barking intensifies the closer the intruder gets. It may also escalate to more aggressive behavior such as lunging.
Alert barking is self-reinforcing if the dog associates the barking with the intruder’s retreat.
From the dog’s point of view, a knock or doorbell ringing might be a risk that must back off. If he barks at the delivery guy and he leaves, the barking works and he has kept everyone safe.
How to Stop
Barking at Strangers;
Acknowledge a stranger’s presence without saying anything.
Remain calm, walk over to the dog, look around and lead him away to a chew toy and reward for calm. Disengage the dog from fixating on strangers by using your body to block his view. This shows the dog you are in control of the situation.
If he barks through the window, block his view to the outside with curtains or lead him to a back room. Then give him something to do such as an interactive toy. If you are outdoors, bring him indoors if he barks at people. Supervise and engage him during walks and walk him on quieter routes and quieter times of the day.
Then desensitize him to the doorbell or knocks by setting up training scenarios. with a friend ringing or knocking on the door, distract before he reacts, mark and reward. Use a high-value yummy treat to lure eye contact. Friend knocks, lure eye contact, YES, reward, reward, reward. If he reacts, withhold the treat until he offers calm behavior and repeat.
Repeat this will different stimuli outdoors such as joggers, marking, and rewarding each time. Be calm, consistent, patient, and fun.
Barking at other dogs;
You need to identify whether the barking is fear or frustration based on his body posture.
Frustration barking is because he cannot reach them and say hello. This will be a happy bark while jumping and wagging his tail. Distract and redirect with something incompatible with barking, mark, and reward for calm. If he barks or is pulling on a leash, stop moving and withhold the reward. Only let him say hi if he is calm.
A fearful dog will bark while growling by raising his hackles and will be leash reactive. He may also try to hide behind you. Avoid confrontations by walking him on quieter routes and at quieter times of the day.
On walks, draw the dog’s attention, walk around him in an arc and turn in the opposite.
Reward him from a safe distance once he offers calm behavior to change his emotional state. Remain calm too as your nervousness will only worsen the barking. As you do this, the distance will resolve itself and you can get closer and closer each time.
Consult a behaviorist if the dog is too aggressive.
Barking in the garden;
Most dogs, especially hunting dogs such as Terriers tend to chase a lot as they bark. This could be after squirrels, cats, or birds in the yard. This is why you should not leave the dog unsupervised in the garden.
Be in the garden with your dog in the yard, with a leash, and keep him engaged. Distract him each time he spots prey with a high-value treat. Break his focus before he reacts, mark and reward. If he barks, withhold the treats and stay still holding the treat until he stops barking to reward.
You can also ask the dog to do something incompatible with the barking. Use a reward more rewarding than chasing.
When taking him out, do not let him jolt out the door. Have him sit before opening the door and releasing him. Also, have him sit and wait before allowing him in. If he barks, make him wait, before marking and rewarding.
Stopping the barking will not happen overnight.
2. Demand barking
Demand barking is often used to manipulate resources. The dog may want to play, go outside, attention, a toy, or for food.
Many unknowing owners often reinforce the barking by giving in to the dog’s demands. Giving him any attention including looking or shouting will be rewarding. Even negative attention will be good attention.
Instead, ignore the dog, read a book, watch the TV, make a coffee, or do anything that does not involve the dog. He may go into an extinction burst where barking intensifies in desperation. Ignore it no matter what as any response will make it worse in the future. Only give attention the instant the barking stops even if it is to catch a breath.
Also, develop an alternative way to communicate such as ringing a bell to go out or bringing a toy for play.
3. Barking when you leave
As social animals, dogs feel safe within the pack and may bark in distress when left alone. Dogs may bark due to separation anxiety in an attempt to get you back. He may also bark be he hears or sees something outside.
The dog may also exhibit destructive behavior such as inappropriate elimination, drooling, and chewing.
Barking often begins as the dog anticipates your departure such as when you pick up your keys.
If you suspect your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, visit a vet or behaviorist.
How to stop
Crate train your dog as he is less likely to bark if he feels safe in his space.
Use a pet barrier to limit the dog to a central room, a crate, an ex-pen, or a playpen. Prep the space with essential supplies and make it comfortable.
Let the dog explore the space by himself by feeding, and putting toys and treats in it. Confine him at random times in the day. Only let him out when he is calm and go back to what you were doing. Do not let him jolt out of the crate.
Move out of sight as you build duration to being away. If he barks, stay off sight until he stops even if it is to catch a breath before stepping back into sight.
Leave and return without making a fuss and act like it is not a big deal you left. If your dog is often distressed, take a few steps back and repeat each step.
Desensitize him to events before. Pick your car keys, and wear your coat and cologne at random times of the day without leaving. Praise and reward for calm and desired behavior.
Also, leave some background music or people speaking on the TV or speakers. Provide interactive toys, water, and exercise to burn up pent-up energy before leaving. You can also drop off the dog in a doggie daycare if you are on a busy schedule.
4. Barking at nothing
Your dog may bark at nothing to amuse himself due to boredom. The dog will often bark with repetitive movements such as running and spinning.
Exercise the dog more and provide adequate physical and mental stimulation. Walk him more and teach him tricks such as paw, and rollover.
How to stop barking
Identify the barking trigger and change the dog’s response through counter conditioning.
Training will take time and might be messy at times depending on your dog. Keep training sessions short and fun for the dog and be consistent with your training. Work at your dog’s pace and avoid pushing him over the threshold. Reward for calm and desired habits with high-value treats and end training sessions on a high note.
Behavior Modification & desensitization
This involves changing the dog’s response to stimuli and substituting barking with desired behaviors. Expose your dog to stimuli in a controlled manner, disengage his focus, mark, and reward. Lure your dog to look at you each time and redirect to an alternative behavior. You can also teach your dog to look at you in a separate training session and incorporate it.
End your training sessions if he gets over the threshold and try again when he is less aroused.
Teach the Quiet command
You will first need to train your dog to bark on command. Find what gets him to bark such as a knock on the door or any trigger you can control. You can also trigger frustration barking by withholding something he like such as a toy or treat. Only offer a reward if he offers to bark.
Dog barks, YES, treat, treat. The dog is silent, wait, the dog barks, YES, treat, treat, treat. As you progress, add a verbal cue (SPEAK, BARK…) before you trigger the bark. Soon the dog will form an association with the cue to the barking.
From here, you can teach him to shush on command. Get him to bark then let him sniff a yummy treat on your hand and wait for him to be silent. The treat is likely to stop the barking. The instant he goes silent, YES, reward, reward. If he barks, withhold the treat and wait for him to go quiet. Repeat this a couple of times as you build duration on the silence. Soon add a verbal cue (QUIET, SHUSH…). Verbal cues should always precede any body movement or hand signals.
Alternate between BARK and QUITE as the dog improves as you use fewer treats.
Also, add distractions to imprint the commands.
Each command will take time to learn. So, teach each command separate from the other, and be firm, patient, and consistent. Don’t shout or show frustration if things are not going well.
What not to do
Do not reassure, stroke, shout or reward a dog for barking as this will reinforce the behavior. Do not give in to persistent attention-seeking barking as the dog will learn to bark more for a reaction.
Train your dog to understand what QUIET means before telling it to shush. Also, do not show frustration or get nervous when he bark, be as calm as possible.
Only use correction and punishment as a last resort or for willful disobedience. Time each correction before the dog reacts and ask for alternative behavior.
Do not use corrections that may cause physical harm to the dog such as an E-collar. An E-collar will only make barking worse, especially with a fearful dog.
A great alternative would be;
- A citronella collar
- Using verbal correction (No, NOPE, Ah-Ah…)
- Leash pressure or head halter
- A can of pebble or coins in it or other sharp noise
Corrections only inhibit barking without fixing the underlying motivation. For this use counter conditioning and behavior change training
Barking is natural and instinctual. It is impossible to have a dog that does not bark hence the tips above prevent barking from being problematic.
Stay calm, patient, and consistent, and keep trying.
If nothing works, seek professional help for further guidance and other treatment options.
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There you go, WOOF!