One of the top questions from dog owners is “How do I stop my dog’s barking?” Most of you don’t mind an alert bark to let you know that someone is at the door or in your territory (your yard), but when the barking is persistent, outrageously loud or nagging, then you want to fix it. Follow the tips below to resolve the yip-yap and have a more peaceful home.
Determine what is causing the barking.
Is your dog getting enough daily stimulation? Top reasons for vocalizations are boredom and lack of mental and physical exercise. A tired dog generally offers fewer undesirable behaviors. In addition to outdoor walks, consider using more interactive dog toys, doing indoor exercise such as canine fitness training or dog treadmill work, and indoor play to curb cabin fever.
Does your dog just want your attention or another dog’s attention? Beware - even negative attention is still attention so your scowl and grumpily telling your dog to “be quiet” may fulfill his need to be acknowledged! Resist the urge to look at your barking dog or to scold him to be quiet (unless he knows a "hush" command on cue already). Yelling at your dog to stop barking actually may make your dog bark louder because he thinks you are “barking” at the same thing he is or that you are also just “happy barking” and over-stimulated.
If your dog is barking at another dog, use your body as a wall – stand directly in front of your dog - so he can no longer see the other dog. It’s not fun to bark at something you can’t see.
If your dog is barking at you or excited-barking in general, play the “only quiet dogs get good stuff” game explained below.
Play “only quiet dogs get good stuff.”
The second your dog starts to bark, you promptly:
(1) Leave the room without your dog – duck into the bathroom without your dog for ten seconds - so he loses his best friend. The dog will think, “Whenever I bark, you leave, and that is NOT what I want.” Return when the dog has been soundless for a few seconds. Repeat your departure as needed. This works well when you’re home with your pooch.
(2) Leave the stimulating situation together for a few seconds. Have your dog on leash so you can guide him to exit with you. Return when your dog is quiet. Reward and calmly praise your dog for being soundless. Leave again if your dog starts to “sing.” This works great if you have a barking dog in dog training class (leave the training room or area when your dog barks) or when you exit the car at a park or in a parking lot (return to your car when your dog barks). It may take 20 repetitions in a row of leaving to get the message across to your dog that you cannot stay in dog class (or cross the parking lot to the hiking trail) when he barks! This is worth the effort.
(3) Interrupt the barking by gently guiding your dog by his collar to his crate for a 5-10 second time out. If he will go into the crate on his own when highly aroused, give him the “crate” command to get him into the kennel for his short break. This works best at home. When the dog is silent in his crate for 5-10 seconds, let him out. If he barks again, put him back in the crate. This will teach your dog that only polite dogs get freedom around their owners and/or houseguests.
(4) Ask all guests to stop petting and looking at your dog if he excited-barks. Ask your guest to retreat (back off) until your dog is serene and muted. You can work on this version in public or at home for a dog who excited-barks when people approach or touch him. Your dog will learn that he only gets to be near people and get petted by people when he’s silent.
Be careful that real life situations and other people are not reinforcing the barking.
Perhaps your dog is barking at passers-by who walk by your front window. Your dog actually thinks he is making those “bad guys” go away. The dog thinks “I see the person or weird thing, I bark, and the person or weird thing goes away. SUCCESS! I am so good at my dog job of protecting the house!” The easiest fix for this is to block the view. Keep your window coverings drawn closed when you’re not home or when you can’t work on modifying the behavior. Modifying the behaviors means that you would reward your dog for being noiseless when he sees people (or whatever is causing the barking, such as a delivery truck or outdoor cat) through the window. You could also play the “see the dog” game (even for non-dog stimulus that are causing the barking and just play “see the stimulating thing”), which is described at the end of this other blog.
Reward good behavior.
Do not take these quiet times or offered behaviors for granted! If your dog sees another dog barking and doesn’t holler back, treat and praise your dog. If your dog doesn’t bark at someone he sees outside the front window, treat and praise your dog. You can also work to slowly increase the amount of time that your dog must be mute between treats to build silence stamina.
Consider teaching a speak command so you can turn barking on and off.
Some owners teach a dog to speak and bark continuously until the dog is released from the barking behavior. Thus, the dog learns to bark and then to stop yapping on cue with a “hush” command. This does not work for every dog, as some dogs will find the act of barking extremely reinforcing and fun in itself – not many things, even a treat, can out-trump how fun it is to be loud for some dogs.
Beware of creating the wrong pattern. If your dog barks, is quiet of his own free will or per your “hush” command, and then gets a treat every time, your dog may figure out the easiest way to get food is to bark first because barking is eventually followed by food!
Teach an alternate behavior that immediately follows an alert bark.
If you don’t mind a quick alert bark that a stranger is approaching your home (or front door), teach your dog that one quick bark to alert you is ok. Say “thank you” in a happy voice and follow it with another command, such as a “go to your bed.” Then you can have houseguests enter a quiet home instead of letting them into a home with a barking dog. Your dog will learn that when people approach the front door, he can bark once and then should go zooming to his bed for a treat. His job will then be lying on his bed. Dogs do best when they know how they are supposed to act, so give your dog something else to do (lying on his bed) while you let houseguests in the house or receive a package. For more information on mastering barking at the door, this “Fired up, Frantic, and Freaked Out” book offers a great step-by-step protocol and is written in a friendly, easy-to-read tone.
Final woofs of advice.
The longer a dog has had a “barking problem,” the longer the habit has been engrained in his brain and the longer it will take you to retrain your dog. Start your retraining now!