Barking is one of the ways dogs communicate different emotions and information. They bark when they’re excited, when they want something, when they’re afraid or to alert others to intruders. While barking is normal dog behavior, many people find it frustrating. To reduce excessive barking, it’s important to first understand your dog’s underlying motivation and emotional state.
Let’s say your dog drops a toy at your feet and starts barking. To make him stop, you pick up the toy and toss it. Your dog learns barking works to get the toy tossed, so he’ll likely repeat it again. This is Demand Barking. To reduce it, you’ll need to stop rewarding the barking. Remove yourself from the area or put the toy away as a penalty for barking. Don’t throw the toy unless your dog is quiet. Be warned though that the barking will likely get worse before it gets better. Don’t give in, no matter what.
Dogs who bark at people walking by, cars pulling in the drive or doorbells ringing, are Alarm Barking. It’s your dog’s way of alerting you to the presence of an intruder and to let the intruder know they’ve been noticed. For some alarm barkers, modifying the environment can help. Remove his access to windows where he might be able to see passersby. Applying window film can obscure the view, while allowing light in. Give your dog interesting food puzzles or chew items to keep him busy.
Dogs who alarm bark when visitors arrive (usually triggered by the doorbell or knock) can be taught to lie down and stay on a mat in exchange for yummy treats. If your alarm barker loves to fetch, teach him to go get his toy when someone knocks or rings (it’s hard to bark you’re your mouth is full). Teach the behavior before actual visitors arrive so the doorbell or knock becomes the prompt to “get your toy”.
Another technique is a time-out for barking. When he barks, say “thank you”, or “be quiet”, and then reward with treats when he stops barking for second. If he doesn’t stop, say “oh darn, too bad” and escort him to a time-out space well away from the door. With repetition he’ll learn barking gets him removed and he’ll start to heed the warning.
If your dog is fearful of strangers or visitors, he may be Spooky Barking. It’s his way of saying, “Please stay away, I’m not comfortable.” Spooky barkers are typically under socialized and need to learn that visitors or strangers predict good things for them. This is one reason early socialization for puppies is so important. Punishing a fearful dog for barking will do nothing to assuage his fears. Working with an experienced trainer or behavior expert your fearful dog can become more comfortable around strangers and the barking will decrease.
Dogs left alone all day, can develop unacceptable behaviors including frustration and boredom barking. Dogs are highly social and don’t cope well with prolonged isolation. Consider a dog walker or daycare if you’re gone all day. Provide daily physical exercise and mental enrichment. Searching for and unpacking food puzzles are great mental exercise. Fill them before you leave and hide them around the house. If your dog must spend part of the day outdoors, install fencing he can’t see through to reduce barking at people and dogs passing by. Provide him with chew bones and other food-dispensing items scattered around the yard to keep him busy.
Dogs who bark when left alone and exhibit other behaviors including whining, howling, trying to escape through doors or windows, and urinating or defecating indoors may have Separation Anxiety. Dogs with this affliction have a phobia of being left alone or separated from a specific person and need professional help to get better.
When dealing with excessive barking, understand the motivation behind it and then teach your dog an acceptable alternative.