Why Your Dog Barks and How To Control It

Sara Alderman

There’s nothing pleasant about a dog barking uncontrollably. The truth is that you will likely never be able to completely “un-train” your dog to bark and nor should you. Barking is one of the ways your dog communicates. It is completely natural and can give you a good sense of how your dog is feeling. They want to protect you, tell you what they’re excited about and what they’re nervous about.

You don’t want to stop your dog from expressing his or herself, but you do want to be able to have control over a situation if they start to take the habit a little too far.

The first course of action is to try and identify why he or she is barking. Once you have determined why your dog is barking, you can start working on how to get it to stop.

Despite the reason, here are a few tips to keep in mind with an overly vocal dog:

  • Your very first step in any situation should be distracting your dog from whatever it’s barking at. Start this early to teach your dog that it is okay to bark, but once we’ve expressed what we’re feeling it’s time to move on to something else. It’s also important to teach your dog to break their attention from what they’re barking at and pay attention to you on command.

  • Do not yell at your dog to stop barking! Consider what your pet is thinking when he starts barking and you start yelling: “Look! Mom/Dad is barking too! I must be doing something right and should continue! Look how much fun we’re having together while we protect the house from that delivery man!”

Now that we have a starting point, let’s dig a little deeper. Here are some of the most common reasons a dog may bark excessively and how to get it to stop.

Boredom

Dogs can get bored easily. A lot of the time, your pet was bred with a hard-wired job, therefore making domestic life boring for an intelligent animal that is looking for a task to complete. In theory, “boredom barks” are one of the easier types of barks to get rid of. Relieve their boredom!

  • The easiest way to relieve their boredom is by helping them to use more of their energy! Instead of a one, half-hour walk a day, your dog may need 2 or even 3, half-hour walks a day. Instead of just walking, try playing fetch or taking up agility with your pet. It will give your dog the feeling of purpose and pride, build your bond and help to relieve their pent up energy.

  • Have a pet professional come visit your pet throughout the day if you’re out of the house all day. A mid-day visitor and an afternoon walk may break up the day nicely and help them settle during the other times of the day.

  • Give them enriching activities to do when they’re alone. Instead of a typical bone or stuffed animal, offer them something that takes more time to tire of and is more rewarding to them. For example a Kong toy might be perfect. If you fill it with healthy treats the dog is willing to work with the toy longer, knowing that the perseverance means a yummy pay off. If they play with their Kong when you’re not home, they certainly are not barking and are simultaneously getting rewarded for participating in a quiet activity.

Attention

If your dog is barking to get your attention, the best thing that you can do for him is to ignore it!

  • This can be hard to do because as we grow more irritated it becomes harder to ignore, especially when you know that acknowledging your dog will end the noise. Always remember that to your pup, even negative attention (“No” or “Wrong”) is better than no attention. Eventually your dog will realize “Hey, when I bark, no one pays attention to me. This is the opposite of what I want. I will try something different”.

  • Only once your dog has stopped barking and is quiet for 15 seconds should you give the attention that he’s craving with a treat and praise. This will cue the “when I was quiet, then I got attention” realization.

Anxiety and Fear

This is a much more difficult problem to fix, especially when you are not home. If you can pinpoint exactly what is making your dog anxious, you will be much better equipped to understand how to help ease it. Finding the fear and working to desensitize or counter-condition your dog to it will be the most important step. However, it is not always easy to understand the roots of anxiety. Here are a couple things to try while you work with your pet to overcome their anxiety:

  • Do not punish a dog that barks out of fear. This will encourage the development of a fear aggressive dog. If she gets punished for trying to scare away whatever is so frightening, the dog will think it needs to escalate the situation by attacking.

  • Crate your dog when you’re not home. Crate training is an essential life skill that every dog should learn as soon as possible. When trained properly, your pet should see the crate as a safe, sanctuary-like space. Therefore, keeping your dog in their sanctuary with water, a toy and a blanket when you’re busy or not at home will help them feel safe and remain calm.

  • Try an anxiety-relieving accessory or supplement. There are many natural, calming supplements on the market that might be worth trying. I have experience with this natural product on dogs who exhibit fear based aggression and have noticed some remarkable differences in their anxiety when used. You can also try putting a thundershirt on your dog. The shirts are designed to apply gentle, constant pressure on your pet to help relieve anxiety and fear, much like a weighted blanket for a human. In extreme cases, you may want to talk to your veterinarian about other anxiety related medications to help your dog stay calm.

  • Help your dog get more exercise! Playing with your dog strengthens your bond and creates more trust between the two of you. A trusting dog is a listening dog. Exercise also helps reduce energy and aids in the production of stress-reducing hormones that will help keep your pet calm.

The Watchdog

Your dog might bark at every moving branch, just to let you know it’s moving. Or she might bark out of excitement when someone comes up to the door. Either way, your dog believes that it is fulfilling its duty by keeping you safe and up to date on your surroundings.

  • In this case, the most efficient thing to do is…are you ready for this? Train your dog to bark! This is something you will want to start working on as soon and as consistently as you can. By teaching your dog a “speaking” command you can subsequently teach your dog a “quiet” command. This gives the control back to you! Once your dog understands the “quiet” command, you will be able to get their attention and have them follow your new command when their barking goes too far. Again, it is best to start this training as soon as you can since it can be much more difficult to “un-train” a watchdog.

Every dog is different and this just scratches the surface of barking related behaviour modification, but covers the most likely causes and most effective training techniques for it. The most important thing you can do is to really try and get to the root of the behaviour to determine the best plan of action.

If you have any questions about this or would like more information, feel free to contact me for some personalized help!