Before starting her full-time writing business, Sarah worked with a top pet food company as a consultant to veterinarians conducting weekly classes on canine and feline nutrition for the doctors and staff.
Latest posts by Sarah Hansen (see all)
- Training a Labrador to Walk to Heel - March 30, 2017
- How to Stop a Dog from Excessive, Nuisance Barking - January 25, 2017
- How to Teach Your Labrador to Fetch and Retrieve - December 3, 2016
One of the main benefits of the human-canine partnership is a dog’s natural ability to alert. You could say the talent for barking and guarding earned that first furry friend a place by the fire with our ancestors.
However, we can always have too much of a good thing! What do you do when your dog moves from alerting you to someone knocking on your door, to barking every time a leaf falls?
Nuisance barking has a few different definitions. It can be considered any barking from your dog that you consider excessive and unable to control.
It is also a term outlined in many city ordinances as a dog that is barking so much that they disturb the peace and quiet of your neighborhood.
Your pup’s constant barking may just be an annoyance to you; but if it starts to encroach on other people’s sanity, you may have some fines to pay for your dog’s gift of gab. This is why it’s critical for both pup and pocketbook that you learn how to find your dog’s vocal off switch.
Contents & Quick Navigation
- Humans Speak and Dogs Bark
- Learning the Reason Behind the Bark
- Don’t Dismiss a Legitimate Need
- Noticing the Location of the Bark
- How to Correct Bored or Frustrated Barking
- How to Correct Attention-Seeking Barking
- How to Correct Barking Due To Stimulus
- What Not To Do With a Problem Barker
- Noise Correction
- Calming Agents
- Curbing Barking in Puppies
Humans Speak and Dogs Bark
In dog training, before we can fix any issue, we need to understand it. Barking is a very natural way that dogs vocalize. It’s a dog’s main form of communication, along with growling, grunting, yelping, whining, sighing and howling.
Puppies begin vocalizing as soon as they’re born. As they get bigger, just like a human baby, their vocabulary and volume grows.
Just like you wouldn’t ask a person to go through life without talking, you can’t expect your dog to take a vow of silence. However, you can train to set some limits.
Learning the Reason Behind the Bark
Before you can address nuisance barking, you have to identify the reason behind it. After all, you handle a dog barking out of fear in a much different way than a dog barking to play with you.
To be successful, you have to understand what the dog gets out of barking.
Remember, animals don’t engage in any behavior unless they get some reward. Believe it or not, they aren’t barking to annoy you. They’re getting a positive stimulus by engaging in the activity. Your job is to identify it, and then give them an even greater reward to be quiet.
Here are a few main reasons dogs bark.
- Play: If you’ve ever gotten your dog involved in an intense play session, you’ve probably heard them bark at you. Like kids yelling on a playground, dogs bark to communicate their willingness and excitement to play.
- Giving Warning: Dogs bark to warn their pack of danger and to keep intruders away. Most creatures will think twice before approaching a dog that comes running up making loud barking noises. In nature, the bigger the sound, the better.
- Anxiety or Fear: Dogs also bark when they are unsure or scared. They may use barking as they run away the same way a human would scream. They may also use sound as a defense mechanism to keep their attacker at a distance. Dogs learn early that the best defense is often a good offense.
- Response to Stimulus: Dogs also bark when they hear or see something interesting. For example, if your dog barks or howls when a fire truck siren screams by, it isn’t necessarily to guard you. Some dogs just want to join in or let you know something different is happening.
- Guarding: Dogs will often bark and growl when they are guarding. This bark is more aggressive. The dog may also have a stiff or wagging tail with their hackles raised. The bark is used as a warning not to come closer or they may attack to defend their space. While dogs don’t always bark before they bite, most give some kind of warning.
- Boredom: Do you ever sing or talk to yourself when you’re bored? Your dog may do the same thing. The reason we often see the boredom bark is when dogs are left outside for long periods of time. We all know that dogs are pack animals and want to be near you. When they are left alone, they often occupy their time by barking.
- Self Identification: Dogs also bark to say, “Hey, I’m over here!” They usually do this in response to hearing their owner or when they notice another dog barking in the distance. Like wolves, they may also do this to let other dogs know that this house is their domain and to stay away. Or, they may vocalize to call other dogs over to them.
Don’t Dismiss a Legitimate Need
Before we get into how to eliminate excessive yapping, remember that you don’t want to correct all barking. After all, if someone knocks at your front door when you’re not home, wouldn’t you rather your dog bark to deter a break in?
Dogs may also bark to let you know they need something from you. They may alert you that they need to go to the bathroom, that their water bowl is empty or if they feel it’s time to eat.
While I wouldn’t reward a dog barking to boss you into getting their dinner, I would respond to an empty water bowl or a request to go to the bathroom. Part of being a good dog owner is learning to understand your dog’s barks, and to respond to genuine needs.
If your dog is barking for the right reason, don’t punish them for alerting you. Simply meet their need.
Noticing the Location of the Bark
After you’ve figured out why your dog is barking, you also need to observe where they bark. Sometimes, just addressing the location will solve the issue.
- Kennel Barking: Some dogs only bark when they are confined in a kennel or back room. Most of the time, this type of barking is attention-seeking or frustrated barking. Your dog often wants you to let them out, and will continue to bark until you walk over and open the door.
- Outside: Dogs that bark only outside are usually displaying territory barking, anxiety, frustration, or guarding behavior. They will often bark at the edge of the fence if anyone comes near or because they are bored.
- Certain Location in House: Does your dog bark at a certain window or at the door? This is also often guarding or anxiety behavior. They are responding to something they see outside.
How to Correct Bored or Frustrated Barking
If your dog is just barking because they are bored, this is a fairly easy problem to solve. Just give them something to do.
Dog’s need both mental stimulation, often found in the form of training, and also physical exercise to tire them out. If these needs aren’t met, they may entertain themselves by singing the song of their people… loudly.
So what if you’re at work all day? You can also leave toy puzzles for your dog to work on while you’re gone.
If you really want to tire them out, you can even employ services like doggy daycare or have a pet sitter stop by your home to play with your pup or take them for a walk.
How to Correct Attention-Seeking Barking
Does your dog walk up to you and just bark at you? Do they bark when they are in a crate or put up in another room?
If so, your dog is barking to get your attention. The worst thing you can do is reward them by giving in to them when they bark. Remember, even negative attention is still attention.
If your dog barks in a kennel to be let out, and you know they don’t need water or a potty break, it’s best to ignore them until they have shown you that they can be quiet.
It may be time to get some earplugs for these first few sessions, especially if you’ve let them train you to come when they bark. Completely ignore them and let them bark until they take a break. Then, when they are quiet, treat and reward them or let them out for quiet behavior.
You must also carry this same tone in all of your interactions. If your dog barks to get your attention, and it isn’t to address an immediate need, you must learn to ignore them until they are quiet.
Consistency with this concept is key. You have to train your dog to understand that being quiet results in a reward. This means only letting your dog out of the crate when they are calm. It means only petting your pup when they are exhibiting relaxed behaviors.
If your dog has trouble getting the message, you can also put a Kong filled with peanut butter in the crate so they have something to do besides bark. After they are quietly licking out the peanut butter, you can then let them out and praise them.
If you ignore attention-seeking barking, eventually the dog learns they get better rewards by doing quieter activities.
How to Correct Barking Due To Stimulus
This problem takes a bit more work because you are trying to change a dog’s natural reaction to seeing something in their territory.
Let’s say your dog barks at the fence when left outside. The easiest way to correct this is to bring the dog inside when they begin to bark with the come command.
If you must leave them outside, you can give them puzzle toys to keep their mind on something other than barking.
If your dog barks at windows or glass doors, the easiest remedy is to remove the stimulus by closing off a curtain or door. If they can’t see it, they won’t be as inclined to bark at it.
If you are unable to remove their visual stimulus, you can train them to respond to either the quiet command or redirect them away from the excitement with a place or come command.
Remember, most people actually do want their dog to alert them that something is going on outside. It’s like the doorbell. You want to be able to hear it and know something is there, but you only want it to ring once.
When your dog alerts you to something, take a moment to go look at what they’re barking at to show them you are willing to acknowledge their alert. Then, you can redirect them to stop.
Training the Quiet Command
To train the quiet command, it’s best to train your dog on marker or clicker training. This way, you are able to mark the behavior so the dog understands why you are rewarding them.
Pick the right moment to introduce the quiet command. Try to catch your dog where they aren’t specifically riled up, but where they will bark a bit.
What do I mean by this? Don’t pick the time to start your training where your dog’s archenemy saunters by the fence, causing a 10-minute vocal tirade. Find an occasion where the dog may just bark a few times, but won’t get overly excited. You want them to still be able to focus on you.
Many people can get their dog to bark by mimicking a visitor. They can ring a doorbell or knock against a wall. Use whatever stimulus triggers your dog enough for a few barks.
Once your dog barks, get their attention on you. Once they stop barking to look at you, say your command. It can be “Quiet,” “Enough” or “No Bark.” The phrase doesn’t really matter as long as you are using it consistently.
Then, wait for your dog to stop barking. Once they have stopped for a few seconds, click and treat. You can say “Good quiet,” if you’d like to associate the command more firmly in your dog’s mind.
Practice this daily until your dog associates the command with being quiet. Gradually lengthen the time they have to be quiet after the command before giving them a treat.
Once they understand the concept under less-stimulating circumstances, gradually ask them for silence in more challenging scenarios. Eventually, they will work up to even ignoring the archenemy at the gate.
Changing Their Focus
Another way to get your dog to calm down is to get them focused on training instead of barking. You can teach them the place or come command to redirect them. Dogs have a harder time barking when lying down.
I like the place command, as it’s so nice to have them go to a place out of the way and lie down if you need to answer the door. You can find step-by-step instructions on training the place command here.
For the come command, you can call your dog to you and ask for a down. When your dog is focused on you, they are less likely to bark at something else. You can find instructions on how to train your dog to come here.
Basically, the point is to redirect their focus away from barking to an activity that you can reward. You can also redirect them to a toy or a game of fetch. After all, it’s tough to bark when engaged in a fun tug session.
What Not To Do With a Problem Barker
We’ve examined some things that you can do to correct a nuisance barking, but what about some things that most people do that often don’t work or worse, damage their relationship with their dog?
Yelling at Your Dog
Your dog may think that you’re barking along with them. Even if yelling does work to quiet them, there are much more positive ways to reward your pup for good behavior instead of punishing the bad.
Using a Shock Collar
I realize that shock collars can work to correct a barking issue. However, they’re a negative Band-Aid people employ instead of training their dog. It’s much better for both parties to address the underlying causes of the barking instead of shocking them for unwanted behavior.
If you have to utilize the concept, at least use something less severe such as a spray collar. These collars simply mist a citronella spray into the air when the dog barks to deter them.
Remember, collars won’t always address the problem as many dogs chose to accept the correction instead of stop barking. They will also make dogs that bark due to anxiety even more stressed.
Dogs are also smart enough to know that they can bark when the collars aren’t on.
Giving Praise During Barking
Some people don’t recognize that petting a dog in the middle of barking, in the dog’s mind, is rewarding their behavior. You may think that you’re calming them down, but you’re really reinforcing that response. Remember, don’t reward what you don’t want repeated.
The best thing to do when your dog is barking is ignore them, if they are barking for attention, or redirect them with another command if they are barking for other reasons.
One horrible practice that used to be more widespread was surgically removing the dog’s voice box. This practice is now outlawed in many areas, but some vets will still do it.
This surgery is cruel because it deprives the dog of expression. How would you like it if someone took away your voice instead of taking a few minutes each day to teach you to be quiet?
Also, even after the invasive surgery and cost, it really doesn’t work. The dogs still attempt a raspy, hoarse noise that is often more annoying than the original bark.
What if your dog completely ignores you when you try to redirect them with a command? With some dogs, you can utilize a strange noise to help them refocus on you. Make sure the noise isn’t your voice, but an outside source.
For example, some people find success by keeping pennies in a can and rattling them when their dog begins to bark. If the dog stops barking when you make the noise and looks at you, you can then follow up with a come command or quiet command and give treats for compliance.
If your dog is barking out of frustration or anxiety, and doesn’t respond to exercise and training, you can also employ some herbal supplements to calm them down.
There are several great choices on the market, and it’s a good idea to check with your vet before giving them to your dog. I’ve always had great success with Rescue Remedy to treat dogs with anxiety.
Some dogs are just more tightly wound, and they may need some help relaxing.
Curbing Barking in Puppies
Remember, to a dog barking is often an escalation of other forms of communication. Therefore, just like you don’t want to reward a puppy for barking to get your attention, you also don’t want to reward them for lesser forms of negative noises like whining or growling.
Give your puppy attention when they are being relaxed and quiet. Ignore them when they are being whiny or pushy.
Introduce training early, and start the quiet and place commands as soon as they can understand them. This type of early positive conditioning will help ensure that your dog never becomes a problem barker in the first place.
Also, remember to socialize your puppy. Most dogs bark at unfamiliar things that they don’t understand or feel may be a threat. If your pup has grown comfortable with a wide range of scenery and sounds, they will feel less of a need to bark as they will be more confident.
Barking is just one of the many ways dogs communicate with us and with each other. It’s a natural behavior, but like anything it can become annoying if it gets out of control.
Luckily, most dogs will quickly learn that being quiet will result in more rewards and attention through training and positive conditioning. While it may take a bit more effort on the front end, your ears and neighbors will appreciate the investment in training your dog to embrace their inner peace and quiet.
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