Barking is one of your dog’s most effective means of getting your attention and communicating with the world around them, and it’s a totally normal behavior under certain circumstances. For example, we’ve all seen our dogs bark out of excitement in anticipation of playtime or a tasty treat!
But if your dog is barking nonstop, it can be frustrating for everyone in your house (not to mention annoying for your neighbors).
If you’re dealing with a dog that can’t seem to stop barking, here’s what you can do about it.
Why do dogs bark in the first place?
Your dog uses both verbal and nonverbal cues to communicate, and barking is its main means of verbal communication. Your dog might bark for a variety of reasons, including:
- To get your attention
- Expressing excitement (like for playtime or treats)
- Out of boredom
- Reactively, like if he sees another dog while he’s out on a walk
So, if you’re looking to tackle a barking problem, it’s important to first figure out what is making them bark in the first place.
Something important to remember is that yelling at your dog is probably not going to help the problem. In fact, all that noise might actually just rile up your dog and encourage him to bark even more.
Instead, you’ll need to figure out a way to solve the root cause of the issue, whether that means training your dog to stay calm in a triggering environment or dealing with more deep-rooted feelings of anxiety.
Try teaching them to bark on command.
This might sound a little counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to get your dog to stop barking is by teaching them when it’s appropriate to do so!
Figure out what causes your dog to bark. For example, some dogs are prone to barking when they hear the doorbell ringing or someone knocking on the door, while others can get excited enough to bark when they see a treat or a favorite toy. When you figure out what works best for your dog, try getting him to bark naturally with one of these cues, then reward him with a treat and pair it with a verbal command (“speak!”) until he can do it consistently on command.
From there, you can also teach your dog a command to stop their barking (i.e: “quiet”). As soon as they quiet down, reward them with a treat and pair it with the verbal command of your choice.
While this isn’t a cure-all for all excessive barking behaviors, mastering these training skills can then help you figure out the best way to approach the barking problems moving forward.
Desensitize your dog to specific stimuli.
A common reason that your dog might be barking is in response to a certain stimulus, like neighbors or other dogs walking by your house, people knocking on your door, et cetera. If this is the case with your dog, figuring out what this trigger is the first step in training them to be comfortable with it.
If you can, try simply removing that particular stimulus or avoiding it. However, this isn’t always a feasible course of action, and it doesn’t really address the root of the behavior.
So, if that’s not possible in your situation, you can also try to desensitize and counter-condition your dog with some positive treat-training. For example, if your dog is triggered by people ringing the doorbell or knocking on the door for a visit:
- Have a friend or family member knock on your door.
- Immediately give your dog a treat before it has a chance to bark. Repeat a couple of times.
- Don’t give your dog the treat if it starts to bark. Instead, wait a moment, then have your helper knock again and repeat the process.
- Eventually, your dog will begin to associate the knocking with a positive reward (their favorite treat).
- Repeat these short training processes several times a week until your dog gets comfortable with it and doesn’t immediately bark upon hearing the stimulus.
Make sure your dog is well-exercised and entertained.
If you find that your dog is barking incessantly for seemingly no reason at all, they may just be bored and using barking to release pent-up energy. This can also be paired with other negative destructive behaviors like chewing or digging up your yard.
To prevent this, make sure that your dog is getting enough exercise for its breed and personal activity level. In addition to walking your dog, you can also try keeping them entertained with mental exercises like more complex training or puzzle games to keep them too busy to start barking.
Managing separation anxiety barking.
If your dog is barking a lot when he’s left alone, he might be dealing with separation anxiety. This can be a hard behavior to train out of dogs, especially if you are unaware that it’s happening to begin with.
To manage the separation anxiety behaviors, start by practicing leaving the dog alone for very short periods of time. Don’t carry on with the goodbyes or make them super-emotional. Simply wait for your dog to calm down, then leave the house for a minute, wait, and re-enter. Again, don’t make this too emotional. Ignore your dog if he barks at you when you get into the house, but reward him briefly with attention as soon as he calms down.
Then continue repeating the process, leaving for longer and longer periods until your dog can comfortably stay alone for longer stretches of time.
Important: Don’t reward barking by giving your dog exactly what it wants.
For example, if your dog is barking because you’re currently crate-training, don’t give the dog attention when it starts making noise. While this may be a quick solution, it’ll probably stop the barking! It actually reinforces the idea that barking is the best way for your dog to get what it wants, which can encourage him to repeat the behavior.
Instead, wait until the dog quiets down on its own, then reward him with your attention or with a treat. If you stay consistent with this, the dog will eventually learn that remaining quiet is a “good” behavior that gets rewarded; and that the barking won’t help him.
When in doubt, talk to a trainer.
Unfortunately, some dogs’ barking behaviors are much harder to break. If you’re struggling to get your dog to quiet down after consistent training on your own, it may be worth talking to a professional trainer to determine the next course of action.
Another note: If your otherwise-quiet dog starts barking uncontrollably seemingly out of nowhere, it might be a good idea to take him to the vet as it may be their way of communicating pain.
Getting your dog to stop barking excessively can be a major undertaking in its training, but it pays off in a big way when you can all relax at the end of the day without your dog barking its head off and causing a racket the whole neighborhood resents you for. With a little patience and consistency (and a lot of high-quality dog treats like Farm To Pet’s single-ingredient treats) you’ll be well on your way to making progress toward a quieter, more peaceful home.
Treat you Barking Beauties next week!
Photo by Lucas Andrade: https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-white-siberian-husky-on-water-13084930/