How to Stop a Barking Dog
Animals vocalize in different ways: birds chirp, cats meow, and dogs bark. No doubt, we get to acknowledge, tolerate, and sometimes, appreciate how our dogs communicate naturally.
Tolerance has a breaking point and if Rover is barking too often or too long or at inappropriate times, it can be nerve wracking for you, friends and family around, and neighbors. Heaven forbid he starts one of his episodes late at night and triggers other dogs in the neighborhood.
The lack of sleep would prolly be the last thing you’d have to worry about as it’s almost certain a neighbor would want to have a word with you at dawn.
It can be tough to prevent excessive barking and even tougher to put a kibosh on it after your dog starts barking.
However, it is not impossible to do either. Regardless of size, age, or breed, you can effect a change in obsessive barkers and put an end to their barking nuisance.
Common reasons why dogs bark
Dogs bark to communicate with humans, other animals, and to express themselves. Thus, dogs bark for several understandable reasons (and not simply because they can or for spite).
In general, the pitch of your canine’s barking would depend on the trigger. If you keep your ear to the ground, you’d be able to make out the different bark types and associate them with specific causes.
The common causes of dog barking include:
- To warn, alert, protect, or exhibit territoriality
Dogs typically aren’t big fans of strangers and intruders, and they do not hesitate to make that abundantly clear. When many dogs sense something fishy or that poses some type of threat, they’ll instinctively bark.
This form of barking is often high-pitched, loud, and authoritative. It serves the dual purpose of alerting you (if you are around) whilst warning the intruder. This type of barking is desirable to help protect your home and family.
- Anxiety or distress
Between the two, distress is milder and more manageable. It reflects in the form of barking, as anxious barking is often high-pitched and sometimes coupled with whining.
The difference is even more significant between separation anxiety and separation distress.
When we are startled, we vocalize the sudden surprise with a scream. Dogs would typically bark in this situation. This form of barking is often brief.
Dogs have different types of phobia (although the diversity of phobias is not as extensive as human phobias). Certain objects, some people, other animals, or loud noises like thunder are the most common.
A dog barking out of fear may actually sound menacing, and might be misunderstood. But fear barking is often accompanied by non-verbal fear cues such as its posture and behavior. Usually, the dog’s ears would be extremely pinned (in a back position) and the tail is lowered.
This type of barking signals powerlessness or irritation, such as when a ball rolls under the couch and getting to it is not possible for the dog.
Dogs can get bored, and when they do, they would self-soothe or self-entertain by barking. This form of barking sounds repetitive and the dog is mainly trying to exude pent up energy from being lonely or under-stimulated.
- Excitement or playfulness
Young dogs and puppies typically engage in this type of barking more often compared to older dogs. It could be in anticipation of going for a walk or car ride. Or it could be a running commentary when your canine is playing with people or other dogs.
This form of barking often sounds upbeat.
- To seek attention or make a demand
Barking is the primary form of communication for dogs, and it’s how they let you know that they want something that you could help with whether it’s access to the outdoors or a toy. It could also just be a means to get your attention for some petting strokes.
You’d almost always know when your dog is engaging in attention-seeking barking. Sometimes, whining may also accompany this form of barking.
- In response to other dogs
It may sound like an anthem when the whole block responds to one dog barking, and your dog joins in. At other times, it could sound like an unintelligible conversation when your dog meets or is hanging out with his pal(s).
- Health Issues
Sometimes, your dog many be barking because all isn’t well. Certain pooch health issues could be the underlying reasons for barking. Some of them are Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, age-related dementia, or deafness.
Your vet should help offer tips on how to cope with health-related barking as well as medications. You would also have to be patient with your dog and not make frequent changes.
You may also have to be creative while training your dog. For instance, rather than vocalizing a “hush” or “quiet” command to your dog, you may have to resort to non-verbal cues such as hand signals, a vibrating collar, or a flash of light.
Now that you understand the varied reasons for dog barking, you know it is unreasonable to stop your dog from barking entirely. Chances are you really do not want that because of select benefits.
Still, while you understand that your dog communicates by barking, you want it to be moderate and for you to be able to exercise control. The first step to take is to identify why your dog barks, then address this trigger with a customized training solution.
The common triggers are listed above, but the hard part could be the identifying the trigger for your canine’s barking. As you may have to become an ad hoc spy or do some clever detective work, especially if excessive barking occurs while you are out.
You may have to
- inquire from neighbors as to what they observe,
- listen and watch from around the block, or
- start a video camera or tape recorder on leaving the house
How you can control dog barking
After identifying the causative factor of your dog’s incessant barking, you can mix and match the following seven management solutions, with varying levels of difficulty, to put together a customized training solution that would limit your dog’s barking and put you in firm control.
- Eliminate the trigger
Your dog barks for a reason. He gets some kind of reward; otherwise, he wouldn’t be bothered to bark. You’re in luck if the trigger is something that you can control access to.
Say, the trigger is a passerby or animal walking by the window or noise from outside activity. Then the first course of action is to axe visual access or mask the noise.
You could do this by for example:
- Closing curtains or blinds,
- Installing a temporary privacy window film (and gradually adjusting its height over time until your dog loses substantial interest in staring),
- Moving your dog to another room, if your dog is visually motivated to bark
- Using a white noise machine to mask outside noise, if that is the motivation
Unfortunately, if your dog’s reason for barking is more abstract like fear or separation distress, you may be better poised to control the trigger by using pheromone-based treatment.
What you do is to plug in a diffuser, which gives off substances that mimic “calming chemicals” that female dogs exude with the desirable effect of soothing your dog.
- Keep Fido happy
This technique is perfect for barkers whose triggers are attention seeking, boredom, or separation distress. You want to keep your dog busy and happy while you are going about your day or leaving the house.
A great way to do this is to give your dog hard rubber toys that dispense treats. But just about any toy would do.
- Shut your ears to the barking
Use this technique if your dog is an attention seeking, play, or frustration barker. It would be uncomfortable, but you’d have to tough it out and not give in to your dog, by turning away, walking out of the room, or doing anything but look at your dog. Until he stops!
That means you do not even yell at him or give him stern reprimands, as that counts as attention. At least, until you teach your dog the “hush” command, he’d take your shouting “quiet” or a synonym at him to mean you joining the barking game.
This is important, as giving him attention when he is barking reiterates that it is a successful strategy and gives him the incentive to do it next time.
Now, how well this technique works depends on your discipline and consistency. Do not give in at any time once he starts barking, whether it takes your dog fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, or even an hour to stop barking. Because, if you respond out of frustration, say after 40 minutes, he’d take that as a cue to mean that if he barks long enough, you’d eventually respond. As such, the next time he barks, he would go on for more than 40 minutes if you do not respond.
What you should do when he stops
When you ignore, eventually he’d stop. When he stops, you want him to foster the habit of stopping on his own volition and quicker. A reliable way to foster this habit is to reward him when he stops. This reward may be in the form of a treat, praise, or a pat; or getting your attention or you getting him what he wants.
Once he starts receiving rewards after he stops barking, steadily lengthen how much time he must remain quiet before he receives a reward. Start small; say after a few seconds, and then work up to longer periods of quiet. You do not have to be rigid, you could vary the time he has to stay quiet; say 15 seconds one time, then 31 seconds, then 22 seconds…
- Accustom your canine to the stimulus
If your dog’s barking stimulus is tangible, say other dogs. You want to condition him to the stimulus, so he doesn’t bark because of the trigger. This process is slow and methodological.
- First place the trigger (you could have a friend with a dog stand) far enough way that your dog would not bark at the stimulus (the other dog)
- Then move the trigger a tad closer, by a few inches or feet to start, to come into view of your dog and feed yummy treats
- After wards, move the trigger back out of sight and stop feeding treats; you want your dog to relate the appearance of the trigger to something rewarding (treat) rather than an urge to bark
- Repeat this three-step progress multiple times and endeavor not to progress (bring the trigger closer) too quickly
Furthermore, if you notice that your dog did not bark in a typical situation when he would, do not brush it aside. Make a big deal out of it and acknowledge the behavior. You do not only have to correct bad behavior, you also have to positively reinforce good behavior.
For example, if your dog plays with his pal without barking, which he would typically do, give him a treat and/or praise him. If he sits and wait for you when his ball rolls under the couch when he’d typically bark in frustration, reward his patience with a pat and fetch him his ball. The bottom line is to reward actions/behaviors you want your dog to repeat.
- Teach the “quiet” command to your dog
To have ultimate control over your dog’s barking, you should be able to get him to stop barking on your command. After all, you aren’t opposed to the dog barking at all, you only want it to be controlled and not excessive.
Steps to follow
- Get your dog to bark on command. No, this is not counter-intuitive. The point is that you want your dog to associate barking to your command as a precursor to teaching the “quiet” command, you want to exert more control, and you want to teach the “quiet” command at your own pace without having to wait for your dog to bark first.
- Say your verbal command is “speak,” say the word and wait for your dog to bark for two or three times. Then tempt him with a tasty treat by placing the treat in front of his nose.
- Typically, he’d stop barking to sniff the treat. When he does so, praise him and give him the treat directly or toss the treat a few steps away from him.
- Repeat this three-step process multiple times until he is accustomed to barking as soon as you say, “speak.”
- Once that is set, you can then use the “quiet” or “hush” command and repeat step two and three to get him to stop barking on command.
- Demand an incompatible behavior while barking
Earlier on, you learned that yelling at your dog while he is barking is not a good idea as he could misinterpret it as a sign of encouragement. This technique thrives on the same principle but for a different effect.
You want to introduce an activity/action that inhibits your dog while he is barking.
For instance, if your dog’s stimulus is a person at the door, you may want to ask him to go to his mat when he starts barking. You can sweeten the request by tossing a treat on the mat.
Once he can reliably head to his mat to earn a treat, you could move on to opening the door while he is on his mat. Close the door immediately if he gets up. Keep at it until he stays on his mat while the door opens.
You can increase the difficulty further by getting someone to ring the doorbell while he is on his mat. If he stays in his place, reward him.
- Keep Fido active
You want your dog to have sufficient physical and mental exercise daily, especially for boredom, frustration, and attention seeking barkers.
A good physical exercise is a game of fetch or walks, while a good mind teaser is hide-and-seek or “find the toy.”
- This has been reiterated twice, but it deserves a repeat—do not yell at or hit your dog when they bark.
- Be positive, upbeat, and patient during training sessions.
- Consistency is the key to get desirable results. Inconsistency breeds confusion and would impede the efficiency of your training solution.