Barking is the number one problem dog owners face. Dog barking can disturb the neighbors, embarrass the owner and make owning a dog stressful. So, what is the best way to stop a dog from barking? The first step is to figure out what is causing the dog to bark. Dogs bark for several reasons, knowing and understanding each reason is the first step in minimizing the barking. Yelling at the dog or punishing him for barking will not solve the problem and can make the situation worse.
“Seek First to Understand”
The late Steven Covey’s said a good leader will “seek first to understand.” If we want to change, minimize or stop our dog from barking then we need to first understand what is causing the dog to bark. In some cases, barking is a symptom of something else, such as fear or anxiety. It would not be effective to treat a symptom without treating the cause. This is why bark collars rarely work in the long term. Bark collars simply suppress a symptom to an underlining cause and in most cases, a new symptom will be replaced. Betty, called me to help with her newly adopted dog. He would bark she left him home alone and when men approached him. Although her dog was barking in both situation, the reason for his barking was different for each situation. Betty’s friend recommended a bark collar (a collar that shocks the dog when he barks) and she started to use it. Betty contacted me because her dog was urinating in the house and biting her son. The bark collar was used when the dog was home, and the barking stopped, however now the dog was urinating in the house. Peeing in the house did not start until she used the bark collar. Additionally, the dog was not biting her son when he was wearing the collar. The barking at men stopped and now a new symptom, biting had replaced the barking. This is a good example of how one symptom (barking) was replaced by another symptom (urinating) by using a bark collar. In order to change the barking, we needed to treat the cause of barking when home alone (anxiety) and then change the cause of why he was barking at men (fear).
Identify the reason for the barking
Dogs bark for different reasons. For example, you may cry at a wedding, and you may cry at a funeral. Crying is the same, but the reason for crying is different. First, identify why the dog is barking and then find the best solution. Here are the most common reasons for barking:
- Excitement Barking
- Guard dog barking
- Fear barking
- Barking when home alone
- Reactivity barking
- Boredom barking
- Demand barking
- Because it works barking
- They enjoy barking
Excitement barking happens when a dog is excited. For example, it is very common for dogs to bark when they are running an agility course. Or your dog may bark when playing with another dog. And your dog may bark when you walk in the door. Typically this kind of barking stops after a few seconds or when the play is done.
Guard dog barking
Guard dog barking happens when a dog hears a person, dog or noise outside their home. The dog barks at the noise and, inevitably the noise will go away. The dog will learn that barking at the noise of the person, dog or sound, makes the noise leave. Most people prefer their dog to bark when someone is close by, but this should stop after a few seconds. If the barking continues, teach the dog to come to you after the first bark.
Fear barking occurs when a dog is frightened. The dog may bark at a person, dog, animal and so on. Usually, the purpose for this kind of barking is to create distance from the person/dog. Although it may be embarrassing for you, it’s best not to punish the dog. Barking is a form of communication and we need to listen to our dogs. Removing the dog from the situation will help. For example, if Fido barks at men, then use a crate when a repairman comes over. Removing your dog from a situation where he is frightened is compassionate. Another way to resolve this kind of barking is by counter-conditioning. Counter-conditioning is a systematic way of teaching a dog people are good. More complex situations should be resolved under the guidance of a positive reinforcement dog trainer.
Barking when home alone
Barking when home alone can become a serious problem. This kind of barking occurs when a dog barks nonstop, whines, urinate and chews furniture, etc. Some dogs become distressed or have a panic attack when separated from their human OR when home alone. This kind of barking is very sad and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Using spray collars or shock collars to stop barking will only make the panic attack worse in the long run. The best way to solve this problem is to get professional help. Working with a positive reinforcement dog trainer with specific training in separation anxiety or related issues is best. Some dogs with separation-related issues may show other symptoms besides barking. These symptoms can include urinating in the house, chewing through a door and even jump through windows.
Reactive barking is very common. Reactivity or leash aggression describe when a dog overreacts to something in the environment. The overreaction comes in the form of barking, lunging, whining and/or snapping. The dog may bark at people, dogs, bikes or other things. Barking and lunging at dogs are the most common. Owners are often embarrassed and frustrated by their dog. A common remedy is to “socialize” the dog or have the dog meet the dog/person they are barking at. Unfortunately, this is the wrong solution and will make the situation worse. The best thing to do is avoid seeing dogs. This means you may need to walk the dog during times when other dogs/people are less likely to be around. We call these people midnight walkers. Driving your dog to a school or large park may also help. To resolve these problems contact your local positive reinforcement dog trainer. Avoid dog trainers that use prong collars, choke chains or shock collars. These collars may only treat the symptom but, in the long run, make the problem worse.
Boredom barking manifests when a dog does not get enough stimulation in the form of walks, interactive toys or positive reinforcement training. This can also lead to guard dog barking or demand barking. The best way to fix boredom barking is to walk your dog more often and provide some mental stimulation.
Demand barking is one that is near and dear to my heart. One of my dogs had a horrible demand barking problem. Demand barking, like it sounds, is when the dog uses barking to get something. Typically, attention what the dog is demanding. It looks something like this, you’re petting your dog and you stop to answer the phone. Your dog looks at you and starts barking, so you reach down and pet him to keep him quiet. Or you’re sitting out the couch watching your favorite show. Your dog walks over to you, looks at you and starts to bark. You start to pet your dog to keep him quiet so you can watch your show. Bam! That is how demand barking is born. The dog barks at you while he is looking at you and you pet him. The dog has learned that to get you to pet him, he needs to bark at you a few times. Demand barking is challenging because yelling at the dog for barking makes the barking worse. Now some dog trainers may say to just ignore the behavior, but that again that will make it worse. Why? Well, your dog will continue to bark, now for a longer period of time. After 60 seconds of barking, you will reach a breaking point and either yell or pet the dog. Now you have strengthened or reinforced barking for 60 seconds. The dog has learned that he needs to bark for a whole 60 seconds to get your attention! And the endless cycle continues. The best way to solve this problem is to give your dog attention when he is not barking. We often ignore the ‘good’ behavior (ie. lying quietly) and reinforce the ‘bad’ behavior (ie. yelling at our dog for barking).
Barking works for the dog
Barking works for the dog. All dog behavior serves a function or purpose. Barking is no different. In many cases, such as guard dog barking or reactive barking, the goal is to move the object away. For example, say a dog barks when the mailman delivers the mail. The dog hears the mailman approach the house. He then runs to the door and barks and the mailman leaves. From the dogs perspective, barking got the stranger to leave the house, right? The dog doesn’t know that the mailman is going to leave anyway. The dog learns that barking makes the stranger leave. To resolve this you can move your mailbox or move the dog away from the door. You can also teach the dog that the mailman approaching means something good happens. The first step is figuring out why the dog is barking and then changing that situation. Reinforcing the dog for doing what you want him to do instead also works well.
Some dogs just enjoy barking or were breed to bark. Make sure you research the breed before bringing the dog home.
Universal fix for barking
When dogs are under-stimulated they bark more often. Walks and interactive toys can provide stimulation and decrease barking. All dogs need at least two 20 – 30 minute walks per day. Sights sounds and smells entertain your dog and provide stimulation. A great way to fatigue your dog is to let him sniff. Yep, sniffing is one of your dog’s favorite activities and it will tire him out. In fact, walking your dog in a new area or going a different route will tire him out quicker than his usual route.
Note: Young puppies and dogs should not do a lot of running or jumping. Running a young dog along side a bike or skateboard can cause damage to their growth plate.
Adding interactive puzzle toys to your dog’s daily routine are great brain teasers games. This also provides mental stimulation, which is more fatiguing than physical exercise. Dogs were designed to hunt for their food so feeding them in an interactive toy is not only fun but normal for them.
Sherry Nativo, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP
Sherry is a dog owner, dog lover and professional dog trainer. She is determined to teach dog owners the most effective training techniques so they can enjoy walks, hikes, cafe visits and life with their dogs. To get more tips visit the blog at www.allabouttrainingdogs.com/blog or sign up the newsletter here.