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How Do You Stop a Dog from Barking?

Is it possible to reduce your dog’s barking?

It's a common problem for people, and it's a big reason that many dogs get surrendered to shelters every year. Barking. Maybe your dog barks wildly when you aren't home, and the neighbors get upset. Perhaps your dog barks incessantly at noises or won't stop barking when someone new comes into your home. It could be that your precious canine buddy loves to sit by the window and bark at passersby or squirrels all day.

Whatever the barking problem, one thing's probably true: you're at your wits' end trying to make it stop. In fact, it seems like the more you yell at, plead with, and try to convince your dog to stop barking, the more she does it. Is it even possible to train a dog to bark less?

Why Do Dogs Bark?

Barking is a way of communicating for dogs, just like speaking is for you. There are many things that dogs may be trying to communicate to others when they bark. Some of these include:

  • The desire for attention. Your dog may bark when she wants to go outside, needs food or water, wants a treat, or is just looking for some direct attention from you.
  • Fear. Barking can indicate fear in certain situations. If her tail is low, her head is crouched down, and her ears are back when she is barking, it could indicate fear. This is often the case when dogs bark at loud noises, and sometimes the case when they bark at people or other animals.
  • Protectiveness. Dogs can be territorial or protective of certain people. This can cause barking if a person or animal invades that territory or comes too close to those people. If her tail and ears are high, her stance wide, and her body language threatening, she could be behaving protectively.
  • Excitement. Dogs often bark when they're excited. If your dog appears playful, happy, and expectant when she's barking, it may be because she wants to play with the person or animal targeted.
  • Medical problems. As dogs get older, they may not hear as well as they did before. This can lead to more barking because they may be more startled by noises than before or because they can't "hear themselves talk" well, so they become louder. Older dogs may also suffer from cognitive dysfunction, or senility. This can cause them to be more anxious or just to bark because they don't remember what they should be doing instead.

These are some of the main reasons that dogs bark, and trying to figure out which of them is causing your dog's problem barking can be helpful in managing or stopping it.

How to Handle Problem Barking

First, if your dog has suddenly developed a new barking habit, especially if she is older or is exhibiting any concurrent signs of illness, visit your veterinarian. Ruling out a medical problem or treating one before you start behavioral training will make your life a lot easier.

If your dog gets a clean bill of health, there are some basic behavior modification techniques that you may consider to help your dog bark less. Positive reinforcement is important, as is showing your dog what you want her to do instead of barking. Below are some basic guidelines and ideas for training your dog not to bark.

  • Always react calmly yourself. When you yell at your dog for barking or react excitedly, frantically trying to get her to stop, you may actually reinforce the behavior. Your dog is likely to interpret such reactions from you as though you are "barking at" or reacting excitedly to the same stimulus that she is. She will think that you are upset with the noise or other trigger just like she is, and it will reinforce that it is something to which she should be reactive.
  • Teaching your dog to react calmly to the triggers that normally incite her to bark will take practice using a technique called desensitization. You slowly expose your dog to controlled, mild versions of her barking trigger while asking her to react calmly to them and rewarding her for doing so. For example, to teach your dog to be calm when she hears noises, put a leash on her and play a CD of a noise like a car honking or have a friend make a noise in another room. Ask your dog to sit and make eye contact with you while the noise is being made and reward her with a treat when she does so. Over time, gradually increase the volume of the noise, consistently asking her to ignore it and calmly look at you for a treat instead. This will teach your dog not only that noises aren't worth barking at, but that you want her to react with calmness and will reward her for doing so.
  • The desensitization technique works the same way for dogs that bark when people come to the home. Put her on a leash and work with a friend, having the friend come just inside the door. Gradually work up to the friend getting closer and closer to the dog, rewarding her for sitting and looking at you calmly.
  • This technique works best if your dog already knows the "Sit" or "Look Here" commands. If she doesn't, start by teaching her those. Learn more here: "How to Teach Your Dog to Sit."
  • Clicker training can be quite helpful when used in conjunction with teaching your dog to react calmly to situations rather than bark. You can learn the basics here: "Clicker Training for Dogs: An Overview."

If your dog's barking problem is caused by things that are hard to control and you are in a situation such as an apartment building, where you need to modify your dog's behavior fast, try distracting your dog immediately when she starts barking at something such as a sudden noise in the hallway. This also works well for dogs that bark at things they see outside.

When your dog starts barking, do something to distract her such as toss a ball past her or get her attention with a favorite toy.

Reward and praise your dog when she stops barking to chase the ball or play with the toy. This teaches your dog that it's not as fun to bark at the trigger as it is to pay attention to what's going on in the home.

Again, don't react to the barking by punishing your dog or getting excited; this will probably just reinforce the behavior.

Teach Your Dog the "Quiet" Command

A technique that can be quite helpful when you are dealing with a problem barker is the "Quiet" command. This is a direct way of telling your dog that you want her to stop barking. In order to teach this command, your dog must first know the "Speak" command. Once she knows that, you can teach her the "Quiet" command in the following way:

  • Tell your dog to "Speak," and reward her for doing it.
  • Then tell her "Quiet," and put a treat in front of her nose right away, giving it to her the next second.
  • Gradually work up to giving the command without giving her the treat right away. Over time, she'll learn that "Quiet" is the opposite of "Speak" and you can use the command to simply tell her to stop barking.

What If the Problem Occurs While I'm Gone?

Many of you may be saying, at this point, "But my dog barks while I'm gone. It's driving the neighbors crazy, and I don't know how to desensitize her to this." Well, you certainly aren't alone. Many dogs bark, whine, or cry while their owners are away. Some may have separation anxiety; others may just be barking at noises or "intruders," feeling that they must protect the house while their humans are gone.

If the problem is noises or territorialism, the desensitization techniques above can still help, even though the behavior mostly happens while you're gone. Playing a soothing classical CD can help, too, as well as closing blinds or limiting access to areas of the house where your dog tends to look out the window and bark at "intruders." If your dog is crate trained, keeping her in her crate while you're gone can help her feel more secure, like she doesn't have to be "on duty" until you return.

If the problem is separation anxiety, you will need to work on that specifically. If along with barking, your dog tears up carpeting or doorframes or vomits, urinates, or defecates in the house while you're gone, you may be dealing with this common canine condition. Learn more about how to spot separation anxiety and specific behavior modification techniques for it here: "Separation Anxiety in Dogs."

General Tips for Dogs That Bark

Always make sure that your dog is getting enough exercise if her health allows for it. A tired dog won't be as apt to bark at things as a fully energized one. Exercise can also reduce stress and anxiety and, therefore, any barking that is related to them.

A soothing classical CD can help dogs that bark at outside noises while you're gone. It can drown out some of the noise and also relax her. Such a CD can also help dogs with separation anxiety and so can a DVD like one of these or a channel for dogs, such as DogTV. Learn more here: "DogTV: A Great Way to Help Dogs That Are Home Alone All Day."

A Word About Debarking

Debarking is a procedure in which parts of a dog's vocal cords are surgically removed, rendering her bark much softer. There are risks involved with this procedure, including a very big possibility that it will fail to work; many dogs regain their full volume months after the surgery. Scar formation in the area can affect a dog's breathing and exercise tolerance long-term. This method also does not address the cause of the barking, whether it is anxiety, territorialism, or excitement. Debarking should not be used as a method to control problem barking in dogs.

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DOGTV: A Great Way to Help Dogs That Are Home Alone All Day

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