How to Stop or Reduce Your Dog's Barking
Excessive nuisance barking can not only be a frustrating problem for you, it can be a sign that your dog is actually having a hard time and needs your help. If your dog is normally quiet and has now started to vocalize for no reason, see your veterinarian to rule out any medical causes. Otherwise, the typical advice given on the internet is to provide toys to keep your dog occupied, spay or neuter your dog, put up barriers to block your dog's view, leave a radio on, etc. When none of these suggestions help to quiet your dog, it's time for actual training.
To stop or reduce your dog's barking, it will help you to first understand why your dog is barking. So why do dogs bark? Well, why do people yell? To be heard, to gain attention, to communicate. Your dog could be barking to alert you that someone is outside your home, and when you yell at your dog, your dog thinks you are joining in on warning everyone else. If your dog barks when left alone in a crate or outside and you yell at your dog to be quiet, your dog learns that barking gets you to talk to him. Strangers or the scary vacuum may cause your dog to bark out of fear, and of course yelling at or trying to soothe your dog rarely works. Dogs with pent up energy may manifest bratty behaviors such as barking to demand that you feed, walk, or play with them. In short, your dog is having a difficult time trying to figure out how to exist in your world. The more your dog becomes frustrated, the more your dog will display unwanted behaviors such as barking.
Training helps provide clarity for dogs so they can understand what is expected from them and calm down. However, before correcting any unwanted behaviors, first know that you won't be able to change your dog's behavior if you are frustrated and upset with your dog, so take a moment to quiet your barking first. Then, to eliminate or reduce barking, you will want to:
- Train your dog to walk politely on a loose leash, and then walk your dog every morning. Structured exercise will help drain pent up energy that could surface later as unwanted behaviors.
- Train your dog to reliably "come" when called, "sit", go to a "place" such as a dog bed, lay "down" and stay-put. When your dog can reliably respond to these commands, you can use them to help stop most unwanted behaviors.
- Setup controlled situations where you can trigger your dog to bark, like ringing the doorbell or using a vacuum. Keep your dog on a leash if needed so you can ensure that your dog responds to you. When your dog barks, instead of "stop it! quit it! it's ok", focus on "come, go to your place, lay down, good dog!". If your dog does not comply, don't hesitate to make it happen. When your dog responds and becomes quiet, calmly praise "good boy" and reward with a treat. Repeat this until your dog is no longer triggered to bark.
- Never leave your dog alone outside! Grade school teachers don't leave children unattended, inside or outside, for the same reasons. Go out with your dog so you can catch and stop unwanted behaviors before or as they happen. Keep your dog on a leash if needed so you can ensure that your dog will listen to you. The moment it looks like your dog is even thinking about barking, use your obedience commands to redirect your dog to a different behavior, such as "come, sit" or "come, go to your place, lay down". Don't forget to praise and reward your dog for listening to you.
- Be patient as some dogs are more challenging than others. It can take several sessions to teach your dog this behavior.
When training is not enough or time is essential, for example it is interfering with your ability to work from home, you have received complaints from neighbors, or maybe you've been served a notice from your county or city, then you may want to explore the use of aversive methods to stop the barking. However, know that when aversive methods are not applied properly, they may stop the barking initially but can quickly become ineffective as dogs can get desensitized to them, possibly making the barking worse, or even create more behavior problems, so be sure to consult with a professional dog trainer before attempting to use them.
Start by using the least intrusive, minimally aversive (LIMA) behavior intervention tools, such as using a squirt bottle, shake can, or a citronella or vibration no-bark collar. When these don't work, using electric no-bark collars (such as a SportDog SBC-R/SBC-10) tend to work best. Test your dog at the lowest levels until you find an effective level that stops the barking. Don't forget to reward your dog once he is quiet. It won't take long for your dog to figure out that his barking causes something uncomfortable to happen to him, and when he is quiet good things happen.