Barking is a key component of dog communication and is engrained in their nature. However, if your dog is excessively barking – whether its territorial, reactive, or excited barking – it can quickly become a difficult issue to resolve. With these methods you can act early and prevent it becoming a more serious issue.
1. Desensitise your dog.
This method directly tackles the issue by conditioning your dog to not react to specific barking triggers. By recording the sound that triggers your dog (or recreating it, e.g. knocking on a door), you can slowly desensitise them to the sound. The most efficient method is to play the sound out loud in order to trigger your dog’s response, and then wait patiently while paying no attention to them whatsoever. Once they stop barking for a few seconds, quickly shower them with praise and reward your dog with a treat. This is teaching them that barking garners no attention or praise, and once they are quiet, they receive that much-wanted love and attention. The learning process will take time, so patience and consistency are key here. Doing this a few times a day in short, concise sessions is guaranteed to reduce your dog’s reactive barking.
2. Praise for the right things.
Whether your dog is barking by the window at your postman or at other dogs in the park, practice calling your dog back to you and praising them for returning to you, not for barking. You can read about the importance of a dog recall here. Don’t accidentally praise your dog for barking, praise your dog for being quiet. This can be a very easy mistake to make but can be damaging as your dog will then associate barking with rewards.
3. A safe space.
If your dog is frightened and barks out of fear, it can be beneficial to create a safe space in which they feel calm and comfortable. This space can be a particular corner or area that your dog gravitates to, perhaps with a cosy bed, water and your dog’s favourite toys surrounding it. This can be used if there are fireworks or other anxiety-inducing sounds outside. It’s also common for dogs to become unsettled when left alone, especially since covid where rates of separation anxiety amongst dogs have risen massively. If you’ve been informed by neighbours that your dog barks regularly when they’re alone or if you’ve heard it on home recordings, a safe space is imperative in the home as your dog will be much more relaxed in this area. Leaving the radio/tv on can also prevent your dog from becoming distressed when you’re not there as it will make them feel less lonely and can help mask over erroneous sounds that could trigger your dog’s barking response.
4. Increasing physical exercise.
Another cause of excessive barking is boredom and excess energy. If your dog doesn’t get ample daily physical & mental exercise, they will exert this excess energy in other forms, and commonly in barking. Remember that an active dog is a happy dog! A sense of routine involving daily walks and activities that are fun for both dog and owner can prevent these issues from arising. Mental stimulation can be provided in the form of toys and games – there are games which involve puzzles to challenge your dog to work for treats and other rewards. These toys not only encourage discipline, but they also require effort which will reduce the risk of your dog getting bored.
5. Don’t shout at your dog for barking.
Although it can be overwhelming when your dog enters a barking frenzy, trying to stop them through shouting and aggressive movements will only make things worse. Your dog can become confused/alarmed by this reaction which can elevate their barking. Stay calm and use firm instructions to defuse the situation in a much healthier way. If you constantly shout at your dog, this can have multiple negative effects! It will confuse your dog and they won’t know when something is important – much like ‘the boy who cried wolf’ – when an emergency situation arises and shouting is justified, your dog might not respond as though it’s an emergency because you’ve desensitised them to the elevated tone.
6. Improve communication.
Sometimes dog bark in an attempt to communicate with you. Becoming more aware of your dog’s behavioural patterns alongside some extra training can prevent you from mistaking their communicative barks for disruptive behaviour. Dogs will often bark because they want to go outside or are ready for their dinner, but this is not always clear. So, training your dog to signal to you what they want can massively improve communication and is not as difficult as it sounds! The use of a bell or symbol can come in handy here – train them to ring the bell by the door instead of barking at the door. With gradual reinforcement and repetition this can be an incredible tool that increases the quality of life for both you and your dog.
With each one of these methods, it is important to be consistent and stay calm when your dog begins to bark. Ensure that you are conveying the same message in each training session as this will speed up the process – it can be difficult for a dog to learn effectively when family members use varying training methods as their brain is being pulled in many different directions. If you have multiple people in your household, it’s a great idea to get everyone on board with the same plan.
If these tips are not successful, there may be medical reasons that your dog is barking and you should seek help from a vet or another trained professional.