Steps Against a Barking Dog

Excessive barking is nothing new. Dogs appear to enjoy barking, and they do so for various reasons. They bark when they want something, when they say "hello," when they are having fun, when they are startled or alarmed, when they are defending their territory or threatening someone, when they are frustrated, and when they hear other dogs barking. Unfortunately, a dog who barks incessantly can drive the family crazy-and disturb the entire neighborhood.

Many owners can identify why their dog is barking, just by hearing the specific bark. If you want to reduce your dog's barking, it is imperative to determine the dog's reason for barking. Understand that it usually takes time to teach a dog to bark less. It is not realistic to expect a quick fix or to expect that the dog will stop barking altogether. Your goal should be to decrease the amount of barking. Bear in mind that some dogs are more prone to barking than others. In addition, some breeds are known as "barkers," and it may be more difficult to decrease barking in individuals of these breeds.

The most common reasons why dogs bark:
  • Territorial or protective defense
  • Distress vocalizations due to fear or separation anxiety
  • Excitement or greeting
  • During play
  • To gain attention or to make requests
  • Frustration
  • Socially facilitated barking (hearing other dogs bark)
  • Compulsive behavior

What to Do

Prevent the dog from being exposed to the things that trigger him to bark. You should block access to windows, and cover them so he can't see out. Play background music to mask outside sounds, change the sound of your doorbell, and bring him in from the yard whenever he barks.

Counter Conditioning Instructions No. 1

If the dog continues to bark despite your efforts to block his exposure to things, teach him that when someone comes to the door or passes by the property, he is permitted to bark until you say "Quiet." Allow him to bark 3-4 times, say "Quiet," (avoid shouting), go to the dog and gently hold his muzzle closed with your hand and repeat "Quiet," call him away from the door or window, ask him to sit, and give him a treat. If he stays beside you and remains quiet, continue to give him frequent treats for the next few minutes (until the stimulus is gone). If he resumes barking right away, repeat the sequence. Go through the same steps if the dog is barking at passersby from the yard.

Counter Conditioning Instructions No. 2

If the above procedure is ineffective after 10-20 attempts, allow the dog to bark 3-4 times, say "Quiet" (avoid shouting), and make a startling noise by shaking an empty soda can filled with pennies or a set of keys. He should react to the sound by stopping what he's doing. Call him away from the door or window, ask him to sit, and give him a treat. If he stays beside you and remains quiet, continue to give him frequent treats for the next few minutes (until the stimulus is gone). If he resumes barking right away, repeat the sequence. If this doesn't work after 10-20 attempts, you will need to seek assistance from a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, a Veterinary Behaviorist, or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer.

Counter Conditioning Instructions No. 3

If the dog barks at people and other dogs during walks, distract the dog with special treats before he begins to bark. Show the dog the treats by holding them in front if his nose (soft treats are best) and encourage him to nibble at the treats while he is walking along, past the person or dog who would normally cause him to bark. Some dogs do best if you ask them to sit as the person/dog passes by, while other dogs prefer to keep moving. Make sure you praise and reward the dog with treats every time he elects not to bark. - It may help to have the dog wear a head halter during occasions when the dog is likely to bark (on walks, in the home, etc.). Your dog should only wear the halter when you can supervise him. A halter can have a distracting and/or calming effect, and make him less likely to bark. Make sure you reward him for not barking. - If the dog is engaging in territorial barking primarily in the yard, keep the dog in the house during the day and supervise him when he is in the yard. - If the dog is engaging in territorial barking in the car, teach the dog to ride in a crate while in the car. This restricts the dog's view and may reduce his motivation to bark. If this is not feasible, try having the dog wear a head halter.

Greeting Barking

If your dog barks at people coming to the door, at people or dogs walking by the property, at people or dogs he sees on walks, and at people or dogs he sees through the fence-and the barking is accompanied by whining, tail wagging, and other signs of friendliness-your dog is barking to say hello. He may very likely bark in the same manner when family members come home.

What to Do

  • Keep greetings low key. Teach the dog to sit and stay when meeting people at the door so he has something to do aside from barking. This should reduce his excitement.
  • If your dog likes toys, keep a favorite toy near the front door and encourage your dog to pick up the toy before he greets you or guests. If the dog learns to hold a toy in his mouth, he's less inclined to bark. He will likely still whine, though.
  • On walks, teach your dog to walk calmly past people and dogs without greeting them. To do this, follow the Counter Conditioning Instructions No. 3, above.

Play Barking

Some dogs are particularly noisy when they play with people or with other dogs. If you have multiple dogs and they like to bark while they play, put them outside so they don't bother you. If they bother the neighbors, bring them inside and separate them during times when you can't tolerate the barking. Encourage the dogs to play with toys so they have something in their mouths. If your dog barks while playing with you, simply play different games-if he barks while wrestling with you, teach him to play tug-of-war or fetch games. It's unfair to expect dogs not to play, so make arrangements for your dog to play (and bark) at times when it won't disturb people.