Being around a constantly barking dog is no fun. Barking is an instinctual response for dogs in many situations, but sometimes dogs will over-rely on barks when they feel like barking is the only way to accomplish their goals. In these situations, owners can begin to address the problem by determining why their dog is barking, what need the dog likely thinks is being met by barking, and then replacing or addressing that need with something else.
“When looking for a permanent solution, keep in mind that it is important for you, as the dog’s owner, to find the source of the behavior,” suggests the American Kennel Club. “If your dog is barking because of boredom, providing your pet with something to do may be the answer. However, if separation anxiety issues are the trigger, this may require a completely different approach.”
Recognize that some barking is perfectly healthy and normal, even for the world’s most best-behaved dogs. Having a dog bark to alert you and scare away intruders is one of the big reasons people may want a dog in the first place. The goal, then, is to have your dog feel like they don’t need to rely on barking except for certain specific situations. You (and your neighbors, friends, etc.) can then enjoy being around a quieter dog that still gets its instinctual needs met.
Determine the Likely Reason Your Dog Is Barking
There are many different reasons a dog may start barking. When trying to address excessive barking, it’s best to start with uncovering a likely reason why it happens.
Here are some of the most common types of barking trigger pet owners may encounter:
Territorial barking most often happens when a dog is at a window or in a fenced-in yard and sees passers-by. This can be people walking their dog, kids on bikes, a delivery person, or even a squirrel or bird. Territorial barking may also be triggered by sounds, such as your neighbor’s car door slamming shut.
Social barking is a response to other dogs barking, usually somewhere in the distance. You can tell this type of barking by the “call and response” back and forth the dogs will share. Social barking can also happen in close quarters, especially if a dog is trying to get the attention of another dog or enforce some sort of behavior. For example, social barking is common in dogs that feel the need to “herd” others and limit certain types of horseplay, in both humans and other dogs.
Barking related to general stress, anxiety, and boredom can be triggered by a territorial response, a social response, or pretty much any other reason listed here. The big difference is that the dog will seem to be barking as a way to pass the time or feel as if something is happening. They may bark while laying down, for example, or they may pace compulsively while barking.
A Demand for Attention
Barking is loud, and it gets a human’s attention pretty easily. If their owner is prone to giving the dog what they want when they bark, a dog will quickly figure out that barking is the best way to order their humans around. This can mean being fed, being led outside, being let out of the crate, going on a walk, or even just getting some kind words and pets.
Overexcited barking usually happens when greeting another person, dog, or animal. The dog will typically have happy, excited body language and will bark in quick bursts followed by playful body language or physical affection.
An alarmed bark is similar to a territorial bark, but it is distinguished by the fact that the dog was caught off guard and feels in danger. They may bark suddenly and loudly and quickly move into a defensive position. They may also move forward with each bark while showing signs of aggression like raised hackles.
4 Tips to Resolve the Source of Excessive Barking
The tips below can address some of the needs listed above that are currently being met by barking. These tips have a lot of overlap, meaning they will potentially address several needs at once in order to reduce the overall likelihood that your dog will bark. However, know that you may need evaluation from an animal behavior specialist to determine the exact reason your dog is barking and how to best address it through training.
Like a human kid yelling on the playground or a child throwing a tantrum in public, some dogs will realize that life seems to get better when they are being vocal about it. In some situations, the barking may get their owner to give them that thing they wanted. In others, barking seems like the perfect way to address an anxiety-inducing situation. In other words, barking can start to feel like a reward — something pleasing in itself.
Your goal is to train your dog to think the opposite: calmness is rewarding. Start by withholding attention or any sort of response other than a calm-yet-firm “no!” or “quiet!” when your dog is barking. Avoid giving in to their demands or giving the dog praise or physical attention when they bark. Instead, wait until they stop, wait at least 15 more seconds, and then reward them with praise or treats.
Speaking more long-term, try to move to a lifestyle where your dog knows that being calm is the accepted norm. Be firm but distant when they are overexcited or actively barking. Give them more attention and bonding when they are calm. Try to maintain calm in your household in general — which can be difficult given your situation, such as if you have several young children, but remember you are aiming to set a positive example.
For instance, if you were about to take your dog on a walk and they start barking, immediately stop what you were doing and wait for them to calm down before you resume the activity.
As another example, teach your dog that a calm greeting is what is expected when someone comes onto your property.
“Don’t allow your dog to greet people at the front door, at your front yard gate or at your property boundary line,” advises the ASPCA. “Instead, train him to go to an alternate location, like a crate or a mat, and remain quiet until he’s invited to greet appropriately.”
Over time, your dog will begin to associate calmness as the preferred mode and the attitude that is more likely to get them love, treats, attention, and general approval.
Make Sure Your Pet Gets Lots of Exercise and Stimulation
Excessive energy is a major culprit behind pretty much any form of barking listed above. When a dog is feeling like it has excess energy and a lack of stimulation, nearly any situation will seem like it calls for a good barking.
Giving your pet long walks and play sessions daily is the solution. Try to play fetch or chase or some other physically engaging activity on a regular basis. Provide them with toys to keep them mentally engaged when they are on their own. Interact with them regularly so that they don’t feel that the most likely time they’ll get attention is when they start making noise.
The Humane Society puts it best: “Make sure your dog is getting sufficient physical and mental exercise every day. A tired dog is a good dog and one who is less likely to bark from boredom or frustration.”
Provide a Quiet Space
Dogs that are territorial, anxious, or easily overexcited will need to be provided with a space capable of removing all sources of overstimulation. A spacious crate with a blanket to partially cover it is one of the easiest solutions. The dog should have easy access to the crate and be encouraged to go “lie down” in it when they seem like they need time to calm down and cool off.
Whether in a crate or a laundry room or a part of a room they have all to themselves, the space provided should not have any uncovered windows or easy visibility into the more active parts of the house. If the dog is easily triggered into barking by noises, a white noise producer like a fan or wind machine may be needed to dull the sounds coming from outside.
The dog’s personal quiet space should be a place where they feel rewarded, independent and secure. It should not feel like a punishment, since this will lead to more anxiety and a tendency to avoid the least-stimulating part of the house. Also, never leave your dog in a crate or room unattended for long periods of time, as this will contribute to their overall anxiety and lead to excess energy — both of which tend to produce more barking.
Work on Desensitization, Socialization
For territorial barking, overexcited barking, greeting barking, and other forms of barking that seem to be triggered by other people or animals, desensitization training is the best response. Desensitization involves not only getting the dog used to being exposed to the thing that normally makes them bark, but it also means reprogramming the dog’s instincts to feel rewarded for being calm rather than for barking.
The California ASPCA provides a hypothetical response for a dog that barks every time a neighborhood kid rides by on their bike: “If you know what time that bike rider is making their way down your street, sit with your dog and wait. As they just come into view, reward your dog with a treat and talk to them in soothing tones. As they get closer, reward them again. Once your dog does bark, stop the treats.”
It also helps for you to model calm behavior around other people or dogs while giving your dogs lots of exposure. If, for example, a dog tends to yap a lot at the dog park, its owner should keep it leashed for the first 15 minutes or so, allowing the dog to greet other dogs while being made to “sit” or generally be calm. If the dog responds with calmness in turn, it can be rewarded and let off the leash. Otherwise, the dog will have to sit leashed with its owner on the bench until it can sufficiently calm down.
These sorts of exercises are not likely to produce results their first time, so they require patience, repetition, and commitment on the part of the owner.
Get Help With Stopping Barking From a Professional Trainer
The best way to identify why your pet is barking and how to address it is to work with a trainer or behavior specialist. They will be able to help you better understand the likely triggers, read your dog’s body language, and then understand the commands and model behaviors needed to improve the barking problem.
Greenlin Pet Resorts provides dog training in a group setting, and one-on-one classes are also available. Our goal is always to help both you and your pet reach a mutual understanding and work towards a new life where everyone can feel happier and have their needs met in a healthier way. We also provide dog daycare to prevent daytime boredom, as well as pet boarding for those long-time stays.
All of our trainers are professionally certified and eager to help you and your furry family members! Find out more about our services, or book an appointment, when you reach out to a Greenlin Pet Resorts location near you.