Dogs are motivated to bark by a variety of reasons.
- Greeting – This playful barking is often accompanied by tail wags and happy jumping.
- Desire – Dogs may communicate a desire to go outside, play, or be fed by barking for attention.
- Fear – Noises or objects that seem unfamiliar or threatening may startle a dog into eliciting an alarm call.
- Boredom – Dogs without companionship or enough to do may bark because they are lonely or unhappy.
- Aggression – Dogs may bark to ward off persons, animals, or objects they consider threatening.
- Separation Anxiety – High-pitched, ritualistic barking may occur at an owner’s absence.
- Compulsion – Some dogs self-soothe through incessant, ritualistic, and atonal vocalizations.
Barking, whether normal dog behavior or not, may still result in problems for people when neighbors complain, laws prohibit barking during certain hours, or the dog caregivers themselves are annoyed by the amount of noise.
Some breeds (terriers and hounds) and individual dogs are more likely to bark more often and louder than others. Dog owners wishing to reduce their dog’s barking should first determine the dog’s motivation to bark. Once the stimulus has been identified, any conditions that can be treated should be addressed and environmental circumstances corrected.
Remove the Motivation
Limit access to stimuli that incites barking.
- Close the curtains or put your dog in another room.
- Don’t leave your dog outside unsupervised if he barks at passersby.
Avoid giving your dog attention when he barks.
- Do not talk to, pet, or look at your dog while he is barking.
- If necessary, consider crating your dog or placing him in a gated area.
- When he’s barking, turn your back.
- When he quiets, reward him with praise or a treat.
- Initially he may only be able to be quiet as long as a few seconds.
- Wait for increasingly longer periods of quiet before offering the reward.
- Vary the amount of time before a reward is given (for example 5, 12, then 3 seconds).
This technique requires ignoring the barking until it stops, no matter how long that takes. If you listen to him bark for an hour and then give him attention in the form of shouting or letting him out of the crate, the next time he is likely to bark even longer.
Accustom your dog to stimuli that provoke the dog to bark.
- Start with the stimuli far away, and give him lots of good treats and praise.
- Gradually decrease the distance between the dog and the stimulus.
This process is known as desensitization and helps the dog associate positive outcomes such as treats and other rewards with the stimulus that used to cause the dog to bark.
Dogs that bark from boredom benefit from daily physical and mental exercise. Long walks, free play, chase, Frisbee, or interactive toys may address boredom. Breed, age, and health should be considered when choosing activities.
Teach a Replacement Behavior
Once the motivation to bark has been addressed, the dog should be taught a behavior that can replace the barking. Ideally, this behavior would be incompatible with barking, such as sitting quietly or going to fetch a beloved toy. Dog owners must be present in order to teach and reinforce replacement behaviors.
The Quiet Command
By definition, dogs cannot bark and be quiet at the same time. Teach your dog a “quiet” command by teaching cue words, such as “speak” and “quiet.”
To teach this, give the dog the command to “speak,” wait for him to bark and reward the behavior. Repeat this exercise a few times.
The next step is to have him “speak” and, when he starts barking, say “quiet” and offer a treat. When he stops barking to sniff the treat, praise the dog for being quiet and give him the treat. Practice the “quiet” command in calm environments and then gradually introduce it in busy environments.
Bark collars (shock or spray) are often ineffective. The motivation to bark is often higher than the motivation to avoid the punishment. Shock collars can be painful and may increase barking in dogs suffering from anxiety, or stimulate dogs to be aggressive towards those they associate with the shock.
Citronella spray collars work in some dogs, but others will learn that once the spray runs out they can bark without adverse effect. Bark-activated water sprayers or noisemakers may stop a dog from barking in a given area and will work best when used with an at-home owner who can reward the dog when the barking stops.
Debarking is very controversial and does nothing to address the motivation for the dog to bark. Debarking is a surgical procedure that does not stop the barking, but changes the sound. Life-threatening risks are associated with the surgery. Some dogs regain their voices after surgery.
Here are a few additional tips for reducing barking.
- Don’t yell! Yelling at the dog will often sound like you are barking with them.
- If possible, start training and working with the dog while they are still young.
- Have realistic expectations about the amount of barking a dog is likely to do in a given situation.
- All caregivers should apply the same training methods consistently when the dog barks to avoid confusion.
- Don’t encourage the dog to bark at some noises, but not others.
- Never use a restraint device, such as a muzzle, to keep a dog quiet for long periods of unsupervised time.
- If the above methods are unsuccessful or you believe your dog is suffering from a behavioral disorder or physical ailment (pain can manifest as barking), please seek assistance from a veterinarian or animal behaviorist.