Have You Got a Dog Barking Problem?!!
“How do I stop my dog barking?” This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions to any dog trainer. A better way to look at it though is “ Why is my dog barking all the time?” If you address the cause, rather than just suppressing the symptom, you are likely to have more success, whilst reducing the chances of the cause later manifesting itself in a different way.
Barking, obviously, is a natural behaviour for a dog and to expect them to never bark would be unreasonable. Some dogs however, bark excessively and knowing why is crucial to changing the behaviour.
So, why do dogs bark? It can be for a number of reasons including:
- Territorial/Protective: When a person or another dog enters what your dog perceives to be their territory they can ‘alert’ to the potential threat.
- Attention Seeking: Dogs will bark when they want something from you eg play/treat/go outside
- Greeting/Play: It’s not unusual for dogs to bark when greeting people or other dogs, but should subside quickly.
- Alarm/Fear: Some dogs will bark at any sound that catches their attention.
- Boredom/Loneliness: If left for too long, some dogs will bark.
- Separation Related Disorder/Compulsive Barking: Dogs with a separation related disorder will often bark when left alone. This is usually accompanied by some form of behaviour eg chewing, pacing, elimination. Compulsive barkers seem to have just formed a habit of barking. They may also have developed other habits such as running in circles or along the fence-line.
So, how are you going to modify your dog’s barking behaviour? Well, it will take time and consistency.Dog Barking Tips:
- Make sure they get plenty of exercise. There is a old adage: A tired dog is a quiet dog. However, there is also a school of thought that exercise amps your dog up and hinders calm rest. You will also benefit from draining prey-drive using ball-chasing games or by playing tug-of-war (these need to be played correctly though!). Most people don’t differentiate between exercise (walk) and drive balance (draining prey-drive primarily) and it is entirely possible to have a tired but restless dog.
- Don’t leave your dog outside. There are many more distractions for them to react to and they will feel more insecure, therefore potentially more reactive.
- When you go out and leave them, give them a Kong stuffed with frozen goodies (search the internet for recipes). If you can smooth over the transition as you leave, they are less likely to bark.
- Don’t shout at your dog to shut up! Most dogs will think you’re barking ‘with them’. Be calm and firm, but don’t shout.
- If you do shout ‘shut up’ they probably won’t understand! A good place to start is to teach them to bark on cue and then to stop barking on cue.
I know teaching your dog to bark seems counter-intuitive but it means that you can then practise the cue for ‘stop barking’ whenever you want instead of relying on outside distractions. It also means that you are practising when your dog is calm, not excited/alerted/fearful because of the distraction.
Teaching ‘Speak’ and ‘Quiet’ On Cue
Ask a friend to help you and get them to stand outside your front door. Tell them to knock on the door when they hear you say the cue word (“speak/woof/alert” etc) as this will set your dog barking. Praise your dog for barking and then after a few seconds get a treat out and hold it in front of their nose. As they go to sniff it (and consequently stop barking) say the cue word (“shush, quiet, leave it” etc) and praise them for being quiet and give them the treat.
Repeat this 10 or so times every day until they bark when you say the cue word, but before your friend knocks on the door. By now, your dog should also have learnt that the cue word for ‘quiet’ will produce a treat, and they should stop barking without having to sniff the treat.
Once you have reached this stage, gradually extend the amount of time they have to remain silent before they get the treat. Start with a couple of seconds then 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30 sec etc
Remember to be calm when asking them to be quiet and once they are waiting patiently for the treat, praise them with a really quiet voice/whisper as that will help maintain their attention.
Once your dog has this skill, you can move on to teaching them what movement/noise is appropriate for them to alert to.
Teaching Your Dog To Alert
Invite some friends over on consecutive days for a couple weeks or so and ask them to walk past your house. As your dog barks, ask them to ‘quiet’. This may take a while the first time, but don’t give up and remain calm. Eventually they will calm down and you can praise them and reward them with the treat. Ask your friend to walk past again and repeat. The amount of time it takes for your dog to ‘quiet’ should reduce as you practise. Once your dog learns to remains quiet as your friend walks by, praise them and offer treats.
Next, ask your friend to walk up the path and as they do, ask your dog to ‘speak’ and reward them. Make sure you ask in an enthusiastic manner. Once your friend rings the doorbell, ask you dog to ‘quiet’ and wait for them to calm down. Ask them to ‘sit’ and then open the door. As you open the door, your dog may break their sit and/or start barking. Just close the door and calmly ask for quiet/sit again. This may take a few repetitions but they will eventually work out that to interact with your friend and receive the treat, they must first remain quiet and hold their ‘sit’.
This whole process should get easier and quicker with every new visitor but it will require practice, so be patient. After a week or two your dog should alert to only people who step onto your property and then wait politely to greet them.
Need more help?
If you have tried this method but still have a dog barking problem, you should seek professional help to ascertain the cause. It could be because you haven’t adequately addressed the underlying origin of the barking, or your timing with the praise/treats is off and your dog isn’t learning/associating the desired behaviours to the reward. Whatever the cause, a professional trainer will be able to help and advise.