No mistake about it, we adore our dogs. They’re great companions, they make us laugh, they teach us about unconditional love.
But that being said, there are times when being a dog owner makes you want to pull your hair out by the roots. And one of those times is when your dog is barking himself hoarse.
Thankfully, there are ways to help control your dog’s tendency to woof. But to resolve the behavior, we must first find out what causes it in the first place.
Why Dogs Bark
Every single dog has the ability to vocalize. Even the Basenji, the “barkless dog from Africa” emits a sound (although it’s closer to yodeling than to barking). That’s because verbalization is a form of communication, used for everything from warning against danger to initiating play, protecting one’s home to asking for attention, and everything in between.
That being said, there are definitely differences among dogs in terms of how “barky” they are. Some breeds are definitely more vocal, while others seem pretty happy being silent. How often they bark may also be a function of that particular dog’s history or a call for help for an underlying medical condition.
See your veterinarian to rule out the latter.
Knowing Why Is The Key To Knowing How
Knowing why your furry buddy can’t stop barking is very helpful in determining how to stop them from doing. Here are the common types of excessive bankers.
Reflect on what triggers your dog to vocalize. He could fall into one or several of the categories below, so take note of the different approaches to curb the different kinds of barkers.
- Attention-seeking barkers know that vocalization is a good way to get you to notice them and give them what they want. The key is to teach them better ways to get your attention. Ignore completely when they bark.
Instead, teach something less intrusive, like putting their paw on a bell to signal they want to go out or retrieving their leash to let you know they want to go for a walk.
- Greeting barkers just can’t keep their excitement from showing when they see their loved ones. Teach them to do a trick that is incompatible with barking, like picking up their favorite toy and waiting at a certain spot. Once they have mastered this, ask them to do it as you ring the doorbell or open the front door.
If you can get your guests or housemates to tell you in advance when they’ll be dropping by, you can anticipate it and use their visit as a training opportunity.
- Alarm-raising barkers react to loud sounds or new objects. Desensitizing them to their trigger is key. This means that you gradually get them comfortable with whatever it is they are responding to.
If the problem is your vacuum cleaner, start by presenting them with the object from a distance and giving them treats so they know it does not pose an inherent danger.
Build up by decreasing the distance, making sure that every time it comes closer, your dog remains calm and happy with treats. The end result would be their ability to tolerate their trigger.
- Territorial barkers are saying “Don’t come in here, this is my turf” to anyone they perceive is crossing boundaries. They are usually triggered when they see someone or something approaching their home, either through a window or slats in a fence.
Draw the windows or cover up the slats to lessen the visualization. Using desensitization techniques may also help, but it may be difficult to control how gradual you introduce them to their trigger since their triggers involve people and things outside your house.
- Social barkers can’t help but bark back when they hear or see another dog. When you are on a walk, make them do a trick that they have mastered (such as “sit and stay”) whenever a dog walks by or shortly after hearing a bark. Use a treat that is of extremely high value, something they really go crazy for, to get them to pay attention to you even with the distraction of another dog.
- Compulsive barkers usually bark out of boredom, usually while doing something repetitive, such as pacing in circles. These dogs have excess energy and may be suffering from anxiety at being left on their own. Increase play and exercise time. You may also purchase mental stimulation toys (or make your own!) for your dog to enjoy while you’re away and busy.
- Frustration-induced barkers are loudly complaining about their situation, such as being put inside a cage or being left alone when you go to work. Making their situation as comfortable as possible by giving them a safe space, somewhere that is comfortable, warm, has all their favorite toys, and a piece of clothing you’ve worn to give them your scent.
You may employ the approach for compulsive barkers by spending their energy on mental stimulation, play, and exercise to get them to rest instead of barking. If the case is extreme, you may consult your vet to see if anti-anxiety medication is appropriate.
General Do’s And Don’t’s Of Getting Your Dog To Stop Barking
Getting your dog to stop barking is not so much a step-by-step process than it is a combination of different approaches, all at the same time. We’ve outlined some specifics above, but here are some do’s and don’t’s that work for any type of barker.
Your dog doesn’t understand what “shut up” means. He may be quiet for half a second, but chances are, he’ll resume barking a few minutes later. He could take it to mean that your shout is the human version of barking and be delighted that you’re joining him. He might also see it as you giving him attention, which serves to encourage rather than to punish the behavior.
Don’t Rely On Anti-Barking Devices
There are a lot of products on the market today that promise to curb your dog’s tendency to bark. Basically, these work on the principle of punishment. It could be as inhumane as an electric shock or as seemingly innocent as a spray of water, but it teaches your dog that barking leads to bad things.
It may be effective at first, but it does not address the cause of the barking. As such, your dog may resort to other problematic behaviors. And by causing your dog unnecessary pain or discomfort, it can ruin the bond between you, making them less likely to follow your commands.
Don’t Reward The Behavior
Dogs bark because they get something out of it, so it is important to remove their motivation, while at the same time teaching them a less intrusive way of getting what they want. Any reaction you give to them will seem like a reward, so the best thing to do is not give in. Instead, turn away and ignore him.
This is harder than it sounds because it means waiting for however long it takes for your dog to get tired of barking. But if he stops for three seconds, immediately turn around give him a treat and lots of pats. If he starts again, turn away abruptly, and repeat as necessary.
Do Take Time Out Every Day To Train
Training will take time and patience, but the pay-off is high. Whether it’s desensitization training, teaching a new trick that is incompatible with barking, or using a trick they’ve mastered in the face of their trigger, consistency is the key to success.
Keep your training sessions short, around 10-15 minutes, so you can be sure you’ll have your dog’s attention. If you can manage to do it more than once a day, even better. Use high-value treats to make sure their focus is on you.
Make sure to keep it fun for your dog because they learn best at play. And don’t forget to shower them with love and pats to let them know what a good job they’re doing!
Do Get Your Household Involved
The importance of consistency cannot be overemphasized. You may be doing your best to do all the do’s, but if a person in your household engages in a don’t, your dog will be confused and it will take longer to correct the behavior.
Let your family members or housemates know what you are trying to accomplish and ask for their help in providing consistent instruction. Lessened barking will benefit your whole household, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to help you out.
Lead By Example
Studies show that a dog’s behavior and personality can be strongly influenced by their owner’s behavior and personality. Your dog could pick up on the anxiety you are feeling, and one manifestation could be barking. Adapting a calm and controlled exterior during training can help assure your pet that there is no need to bark.
The principles of getting your dog to stop vocalizing can also be used to help calm yourself down.
Acknowledging your own trigger, taking time out for play and exercise, and doing something that takes your mind off your worries, can help you let go of the stress that your dog mirrors.