Barking is a common problem that plagues many dog owners and not all barking is the same! Most find it annoying, not to mention difficult to put an end to. Luckily, a lot of barking that occurs is fairly simple to address and help lessen.
One of the biggest factors in figuring out why your dog is barking is looking at when it happens most. When and where it happens will shape how one trains their dog to be more quiet. Keep in mind that there can be more than one reason your dog barks, and all problem areas will need to be worked on to achieve a quiet house.
Barking is inherently self reinforcing. That means that the longer it has gone on the harder it is to retrain the dog to be more quiet. Additionally it often feels good to the dog and they get enjoyment out of the activity. Barking problems therefore aren’t the type of issue that gets better over time, and are most effectively addressed before they’re a deep seated behavior.
By far, much of the unwanted barking problems that people face starts out as boredom. Dogs that don’t get sufficient exercise, both mental and physical, will make up their own games; whether that’s chewing up your shoes or barking at noises. The amount of stimulation a dog requires will vary by individual, but all dogs require walks and exercise. Barking problems are one of several common issues that come up with bored dogs, but a quick fix over time.
To help your bored dog there are quite a few things that you can do to make your dog’s life more enriched. Treat balls, puzzle toys, and other things that require your dog to work for reward are a good start to making things more exciting. Walks are also very valuable since they allow your dog to do normal dog things, like explore their environment and sniff around. Longer walks, new places, adding variety can greatly help with dogs who are bored.
Interactive games like tug and fetch are excellent energy burners as well, plus do double duty by allowing your dog to have fun with you, which is important to any strong relationship. Additionally, training of any sort is beneficial to dogs that suffer from boredom. Trick training, obedience, nosework, or dog sports are top tier boredom fighters, and you don’t have to be a dog trainer to get started! Many simple behaviors can be taught using some treats, a clicker, and of course patience. Having your dog go through a simple obedience routine a few times a day can help tire them mentally and combat their boredom, not to mention deepen their attentiveness to you.
Attention seekers are just what they sound like. These dogs feel like they need attention and will bark to solicit it. Many of them train their owners to give in to their tactics with treats or affection because their owners feel that that’s the only thing that will make their dogs quiet, if only for a few minutes.
Although annoying, the great news is that this type of barking is easy to combat. In the simplest sense it’s a matter of changing the outcome of what happens when the dog barks. The dog should no longer be getting affection, treats, attention, or any other sort of reward when they bark. Instead, ignore them, put them in a different room, or walk away from them. Act aloof to them when they bark at you as if there is no dog. The barking will lessen over time as they realize that it’s no longer a strategy to get rewarded.
These dogs are prone to barking and it is their first reaction to a variety of stimulus either in or out of the home. Strangers can make them uneasy, unexpected noises, other dogs, really anything unpredictable that has surprised them can elicit barking. These dogs can seem to be random with what they bark at because they don’t necessarily react to their triggers with 100% responses. Many times these dogs are at home dogs with little outside stimulation, or dogs that have little to no other entertainment than staring out their window.
The bad news is that their barking can be reinforced by their environment. If they feel that they have chased away what was making them nervous they will be more likely to try it again! Barking, growling, or other vocalizations can then be used by the dog to self soothe as well as continue to ‘chase’ away their boogeymen. For those that want a quiet home, this isn’t ideal.
These dogs can benefit from training and can learn to become more quiet. Training helps teach effective coping strategies to help them with their fears. Building their confidence with positive reinforcement and going slow is key. Reducing their exposure to things they are reactive to during their training phase is also a major component. In the home this means that the dog should be disallowed to be present during the situations that make them reactive, usually by keeping them in a separate room in a covered crate. After all, the more practiced a behavior, the stronger it becomes.
Reactive dogs require work building their confidence, which is helped by teaching basic obedience, or tricks. Alternatively, ensuring positive experiences in new, safe environments will boost confidence. Confidence building is absolutely necessary for these dogs; without it any training to reduce barking permanently will be stymied. Likewise the dog’s environment will need to be altered so that they no longer can see or hear the things they bark at. Helping reactive dogs is a process with many steps that should be worked on incrementally and needs consistency over time.
All dogs will bark when they are excited. Some dogs become overly excited and just can’t contain themselves. The sight of other dogs, new people, children, or other animals may send them into frenzy. Frequently they strain to get the object of their excitement and their barks turn into squealing, screaming, or yodeling.
Excited dogs are similar to attention seeking dogs in that the training plan is the same. Barking and over-excited behaviors must become a losing strategy. This means that if they can’t contain themselves, they do not get to participate in the greeting or other fun activity they were excited about. On walks this means leaving behind the thing that excites them and moving on. In the home, this means that they don’t get to participate if they are not able to be calm. The reward of attention or greeting others should only happen when the dog is calm.
There can be an element of frustration as well with these dogs and you may notice your dog’s behavior getting worse before getting better. This is normal and akin to a child throwing a tantrum as a last ditch effort. Behavior like this actually is indicative that the training is working for these dogs!
Generally frustrated dogs started out as bored dogs. The barking started as one thing and over time developed into them venting their frustration. This could be coupled with fence fighting, racing the fence, or other barrier aggression. Frequently these dogs have been strictly house pets their whole lives and have only a window or fence to look out for entertainment. Frustration as well can easily morph into reactivity, whether in the home or on leash.
The first step to helping these dogs is to change the structure of their life. Their environment should be expanded beyond just their yard or home, which means walks. Other activities should also be added, but depending on the commitment of your dog to barking, you may find it hard to get them to choose the alternative activity you’re trying to provide. So sometimes the easiest thing to do is to get the dog into a different environment. Exercise is also important, a tired dog will have less energy to burn on fence fighting, reacting on leash, or being a maniac
With frustrated dogs there should also be an element of strict management. If you have blinds that you can shut, or a way for your dog to not see passersby, implement that as a step in your training plan. The goal is to get the dog to a baseline where they are functional enough to be trained. This is much easier if they have less chance to practice unwanted behaviors.
Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety often have a plethora of other destructive symptoms. One of which is excessive barking, howling, or other vocalization. For these dogs there is no simple fix as the barking is a symptom of a deeper problem that has to be rectified. Helping your dog cope with their separation anxiety must be addressed first in these cases.
Unfortunately there isn’t a way to effectively and humanely train these dogs not to bark or otherwise vocalize without addressing the root cause. Trying to suppress the barking can actually make the other problems worse. The good news is that training plans that are designed to help with separation anxiety ultimately solve any associated barking. So if you know your dog suffers from separation anxiety, solving that issue should be your starting point.
Believe it or not, dogs can suffer from many of the mental ailments that humans experience as we age. One that can cause barking is doggy dementia. These dogs often can be confused and not themselves, which can lead to barking, odd behavioral quirks, and even aggression. For these dogs there is no training that can be given to help; really the only thing that can be done is try to work around their triggers and quirks and try to keep them as comfortable as you are able.