Dogs bark for a number of reasons, be it for communication or warning or general excitement. Sometimes, it is very easy to tell what your dog is barking at. For example, when the mail person comes up to the house to drop off the mail, your dog may bark in order to greet them or because they are excited to see them. Or, when a new dog approaches, your dog could bark as either a form of saying hello, or to defend their territory. Sometimes it can be very confusing to try to figure out why they are barking.
Why is my dog barking?
The first thing you should do is to try to figure out why your dog is barking. According to Rover, there are a number of different causes of barking:
- Territorial barking
- Alarm barking
- Attention seeking barking
- Greeting barking
- Compulsive barking
- Social barking
- Frustration barking
Territorial barking is generally excessive barking that is in response to people or other animals who they sense are impeding on their territory. Alarm barking is a dog’s way of alerting their family to noises and sights. Attention seeking barking is generally when dogs are asking for attention from someone. Greeting, of course, is your dog’s way of saying hello. Compulsive behavior is apparent when barking is accompanied by pacing, such as when dogs are suffering from separation anxiety. Social barking generally happens when dogs hear another dog barking and then are compelled to bark back. Frustration barking happens when your dog is annoyed at being kept away from something.
If your dog is one that tends to bark at everything they see, the quick and easy fix is to simply close the curtains and remove the distraction. Of course, this might not be ideal for your living situation, especially if you really enjoy having natural light in your home or if you have house plants that need a lot of sunlight. It might also be helpful to put on the television or play some music for your dog, especially while they are at home alone. This will help minimize the amount of distractions, and can help desensitize your dog to different types of noises.
If you cannot figure out why your dog is barking, it is likely that they are bored and have a lot of energy to spare. Puppies are especially prone to barking for seemingly no reason, because their energy replenishes very quickly, so a short nap can restore her energy. If you take your dog out first thing in the morning for half an hour or an hour can make a big difference in helping to minimize the barking. A few hour long exercises throughout the day can really help your dog calm down and be less bored.
There are also a number of toys that you can use that can help keep your dog from being bored. Kong toys can be especially helpful. These are puzzle toys that you can stuff with treats and are designed to make your dog work at the puzzle in order to get the treat out. This can keep your dog busy for hours as they try to get the treats. Hollow rubber toys are also great for filling with treats so that your dog can see and smell the treats and will need to figure out how to get to them.
When your dog starts barking at an inappropriate time, most owners feel that they should reprimand their dog by yelling at them. Of course, your dog cannot understand your human language, so yelling at them to be quiet will not be effective. Instead, think of your attention as a treat, and only reward them with your attention when they are being calm and not barking. It is also very helpful to teach your dog a cue for being quiet.
How to teach your dog a cue to stop barking
First, you need to figure out what type of treat your dog loves more than anything else. It needs to be something that your dog will want more than they will want to keep barking. When your dog starts barking, simply wait for her to stop. As soon as she stops barking, reward her with a treat. As you continue this process, slowly increase the amount of time that your dog must be quiet for before you give her a treat. When she starts to bark, take a step back and make her wait a little less long before giving her a treat. Then, work up to it again. If she starts to understand, teach her a word such as hush or quiet.
It is also very helpful to desensitize your dog to the stimuli that is triggering them to bark. Choose one thing at a time, and start with the one stimulus far away, so far away that they do not see it from where they are sitting. At this phase, give your dog lots of treats. Then, move the stimulus a little bit closer, and give your dog a treat. If the stimulus moves out of sight, stop giving treats. This is so that they will start to learn that the appearance of the stimulus is a good thing and results in treats.
For example, if your dog often barks at other dogs, ask a friend to stand with a dog out of sight and away from your dog so they will not bark. Then, ask your friend to move closer, coming into view. As they come into view, start feeding your dog lots of treats. As soon as they move out of view, stop the treats. It is helpful to go through this process multiple times, to reinforce the difference between the positive experience of seeing a dog and getting a treat, and not seeing a dog and not getting a treat.
Teaching the “quiet” command
As silly as it may sound, the most useful thing you could do is to actually teach your dog to bark on command. When training your dog to do this, say “speak,” and wait for them to bark two or three times, and then give them a treat. Repeat this process until your dog barks as soon as you say “speak.” When you and your dog have this command down, it is time to teach them to be quiet. When they are calm and there are no distractions, tell your dog to speak. When they speak, say “quiet” and show them a treat. When they stop barking, give them a treat.
Barking control tools
If your dog is still struggling to control their barking, there are a number of tools that you can use in order to help them calm down and prevent stress.
Ultrasonic anti-bark birdhouse
These tools are very useful, in that they actually emit a sound that is very unpleasant to dogs, and it can startle them enough that they do not bark. Of course, the effectiveness of this tool depends on your dog’s sensitivity to the sound. These tools are generally effective for up to a 50-foot radius and have multiple levels and sounds. These sounds are not designed to be harmful to dogs, rather they are designed to distract them enough that they are not inclined to bark.
Citronella spray collars
These spray collars are viewed as a more humane alternative to shock collars. These bark collars shoot out a spray of citronella with the goal of eliminating barking. Generally, dogs do not like the taste of citronella and so they are distracted from barking. When the collar senses a bark, it will emit the spray.
Stress reducing collar
These collars are also a very humane way of helping your dog to calm down. They are generally filled with herbs that can soothe your dog, which can be especially helpful for anxious dogs. The effectiveness of these collars is on a dog-by-dog basis, and it may not be effective for all dogs. If you have a dog that is fearful of thunderstorms, fireworks or stressful situations, this collar could come in handy.
Thunder jacket wraps have been shown to be quite effective in helping your dog calm down. They are helpful for helping dogs who are prone to anxiety, over-stimulation, or compulsive barking. Thunder jackets work by applying gentle pressure around your dog to help them calm down.
Training is key
Training is very important, and taking advantage of obedience classes is a great way to help your dog learn how to control their barking. This also a great first step to take if you are considering bringing your dog to a dog park. Time in the obedience class will allow them to learn how to behave around other dogs without the pressure and stressful sensory experience of being at a park full of unfamiliar dogs, which will help eliminate the likelihood of them barking for unnecessary reasons.
Obedience classes are especially helpful for puppies, who needs the most amount of training on controlling their barking. Many cases of unwanted barking happen because a dog is inappropriately stimulated, and going to obedience classes will desensitize them to the stimuli. Your trainer will also have some extra tips and tricks to help you work with your dog to eliminate the stressful barking.
At the end of the day, your dog is an animal and communicates through barking. There are many situations in which it is entirely appropriate for your dog to bark, and you should allow them to do so. If they are communicating with another dog, or alerting you to a danger, that is perfectly acceptable behavior. It is when they start to bark for seemingly no reason, or during inappropriate times, that owners should work on training their dogs not to bark.
Fortunately, there are a number of tools, tips and tricks that you can use in order to help your dog better express themselves. First and foremost, it is important to give your dog plenty of exercise and outdoor stimulation. Exposing them to lots of sights and sounds will help desensitize them to anything that could stress them out or cause anxiety. Many dogs, as they age, will start to experience fear that they did not have previously. Senior dogs start to experience deafness, blindness, or random aches and pains that can cause them to bark.
If you have been working with your dog for a long time on controlling the barking and learning the commands and your dog is still struggling with excessive barking, you may want to consider visiting the vet. A visit to your vet could help you rule out any medical issues that could be causing your dog to need to bark a lot. This is especially important if you have a dog who has been particularly good at not barking, but has recently started barking a lot. Generally, that means your dog is experiencing discomfort.
It is important to remember not to give your dog any attention, such as petting or hugging, when they are barking for attention. Your attention is a reward to your dog, and thus tells them it is okay to bark when it is inappropriate to do so. You should never yell at or hit your dog in response to their barking. This is painful and unkind and may teach your dog to be aggressive towards you. If you have left your dog outside for a long time and they are still barking a lot, bring them inside and start to work on barking commands. You cannot train your dog not to bark by yelling at them across the yard. This is something that you are working on together.
You should absolutely not get your dog de-barking surgery. De-barking is a highly unnecessary surgery that includes partially removing your dog’s vocal cords. This does not take away your dog’s ability to bark, rather it makes it quieter and comes with a lot of health risks.