Malcolm Cox•June 07, 2019•3 min read
Dogs bark; it’s what they do. But a dog that barks incessantly can be upsetting for everyone involved — you, your dog, your family, your neighbors, and any other pets you may have — and may have you wondering how to get them to stop.
“If you want to train a dog to stop barking, ask yourself what usually happens immediately after the dog barks,” says John McGuigan, a UK-based behavior consultant also known as the Glasgow Dog Trainer, and instructor at the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers. This gives you an idea as to what is reinforcing your dog’s behavior. “Concentrate on training the dog to remain quiet at these times.”
For example, “One dog I worked with would bark excitedly every time he saw another dog,” says McGuigan. “I taught him that quiet behavior accessed the dog. And when that wasn’t possible, I gave him the alternative reward of a treat.”
Barking is part of a dog’s normal behavior, and you shouldn’t try to stop it. But if you think the issue is excessive, it’s important to understand why your dog is barking, and use that to guide the strategies you use to get them to stop.
According to the International Associations of Canine Professionals, “watchdog” barking is a warning to intruders that invade the dog’s natural territory. This is a call for help to the pack, and it’s something that provides comfort and security to a lot of people.
Though, if you’re not one of them, a simple way to stop so-called watchdog barking is to block the dog’s view. This may involve something as simple as closing the curtains or blinds. Anything that obscures the dog’s line of sight into the outside world might help.
Some dogs bark at noises, objects, animals, or people they’re not expecting to see. When dogs get startled, their natural response is to bark. And the bigger the fright, the more excessive the barking is.
There’s a range of potential measures to stop fear-based barking, including wraps, acupuncture, acupressure, changes in diet, and counterconditioning, which is a strategy aimed at re-training your dog’s response to fear.
Dogs are pack animals. They like to socialize with other dogs. An isolated dog that’s lacking interaction with people or other animals may become distressed and lonely, and can even develop separation anxiety — and bark as a result.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends strategies like desensitization and counterconditioning to help reduce barking caused by loneliness or separation anxiety. Look for ways to help your dog associate temporary isolation with positive outcomes, such as treats or toys.
A lot of dogs express happiness through barking. A happy bark may not sound all that different than other types of barking. But you know your dog is happy if they’re playing and wagging their tail as they bark. On the flip side, if your dog is hungry, under the weather, bored, or ready for a walk, they may try to get the attention of the nearest trustworthy human by barking.
Try using toys that dispense treats or puzzles to preoccupy attention-seeking or excitable dogs and keep them quiet. If you’re confident that your dog is barking for attention, you can also try ignoring them until they stop barking, and reward them with a treat for this positive behavior.
Just about every dog will bark less during and immediately after exercise. A dog playing catch, retrieving sticks, or enjoying a walk isn’t often distracted by threats or consumed with the need for constant attention. What’s more, a tired dog is often a satisfied dog, so making sure exercise is a daily ritual in your home can help curb barking.
Indeed, barking is often a sign of a happy, healthy dog. To control excessive barking, start by aiming for small improvements and sticking with them. Over time, you should notice a difference in your dog’s behavior.
“If I were to give owners one piece of advice, it would be to never shout at your dog for barking,” says McGuigan. “This is like joining in, and it will often reinforce the behavior.”