How to stop a dog from barking
The best and most humane methods of training your dog to stop barking
Barking is a natural canine behaviour. It is how dogs communicate and how they vocalise what’s on their mind, whether they’re in a good mood or they’re stressed/uncomfortable. This article will cover:
- Your dog’s reasons for barking
- How to tell whether your dog has a barking problem
- The best methods of stopping this behaviour
- What to do if you need further advice
It is important for owners to understand that without removing the vocal chords surgically, which is illegal in the UK, no dog will stop barking altogether. Success depends upon understanding what is causing your dog to bark and following a consistent training plan to alter their underlying motivations for this behaviour.
Why does my dog bark?
Dogs sometimes learn that barking is an effective way of gaining human attention. They are naturally very sociable animals who rely on other dogs or humans for company. So why is your dog so desperate for your attention?
If no external factors are causing your dog to bark, they are most likely barking out of boredom. This is particularly common in breeds that were specifically bred to work – they need a lot of physical and mental stimulation and if they don’t receive this, you can expect to experience the fallout.
Remember that with a lot of dogs and especially working dogs, if you do not give them a job to do, they will find one. You might not like the job they find – this clearly applies to barking and destructive behaviour.
Dogs also bark when they’re excited. The main examples of this are at meal times and when it’s time to go for a walk. Owners endorse their dog’s barking – they take them out for walks when they bark and they feed them when they bark – and endorsed behaviour becomes repeated behaviour!
Dogs are naturally alert to activity outside of their territory and when there is a potential territory invasion, they communicate by barking. This is normal canine behaviour but can become excessive. Generally, territorial barking is reinforced when the potential invader moves away – the dog learns that barking is a successful method of getting intruders away from their home.
Stress or anxiety
Barking is most commonly a problem when your dog is doing it because they are anxious. They could be anxious, stressed or uncomfortable for a number of reasons, some more serious than others:
- In response to unfamiliar people
- In response to unfamiliar dogs
- They are experiencing separation anxiety
If your dog is barking because they are worried by something, or if the barking seems excessive, you will need to seek the help of a behavioural specialist as this is behaviour you won’t be able to correct on your own.
Remember: many people advertise that they can help with dog behaviour but their qualifications and methods can vary enormously. You should choose and research who you see carefully. Sometimes, the wrong advice can make things worse.
So you’ve learnt to recognise the distinction between a natural level of barking and plain barking mad. What can you do to kerb this?
The most common mistake owners make is to try to stop their dog from barking by shouting at them. This usually doesn’t work because when a barking dog hears you shout, they may assume you are joining in the fun as opposed to telling them to stop. However tempting it might be, you should avoid shouting and opt instead for positive reinforcement methods.
You should NEVER use harsh training methods, such as:
- Bark collars or shock collars
- Correction air-spray cans
- Any kind of harsh physical punishment e.g. hitting or pinching your dog
Keep them mentally stimulated
If your dog is barking out of boredom, one of the most effective remedies can be upping their daily exercise.
This will help them feel suitably worked and nicely stimulated. Increase the length of their walks, play games you know your dog will enjoy and you should see them begin to appear calmer.
Another popular technique is to turn their mealtimes into puzzle time. Puzzle feeders can be great for stimulation as they make dogs work for their food and add an extra element of fun to feeding time. Toys can also help to keep your dog entertained.
Read more about games you can play with your dog here.
Teach Them Not to Bark
If your dog is barking out of excitement and you think this is more intense than it ought to be, the best way of dealing with this is to gradually teach the dog that barking will not get them what they want. This can be a long process but once they have learned what you will and will not respond to, it can be really effective.
Note: if your dog is a territorial barker, the first step is to block visual access so they can’t continue rehearsing the act of scaring others away by barking.
We advise that you start slowly, and keep in mind that the benefits will not come straight away. If your dog barks when you go to fetch their lead or their food bowl, stay still, ignore them and do not perform the rest of the task until they stay quiet. Reward the dog with small pieces of food for any calm, quiet behaviour and then proceed with the task.
The first few times you try this, the dog might not stop barking and you might give up. It’s important to keep trying however; eventually the dog will learn that they can get what they want sooner by staying quiet.
Helpful hint: practice these exercises when it is NOT actually walk or dinner time; you might need to start with picking the lead up and putting it back down, rewarding the dog for remaining calm and quiet.
And if these methods don’t work?
If you suspect that your dog is stressed too easily or too often, you will most likely need the assistance of a professional canine behaviourist. If you need more advice, it’s best to contact your local vets.