Training Tips for Excessive Dog Barking
Barking is a normal, natural behavior for dogs. It relieves tension. It is the way dogs “talk”.
Dogs can communicate by using ten different types of sound, ranging from whimpering to
growling. Studies show that they can convey up to 40 different meanings. Barking is a difficult
behavior to deal with because it is so rewarding to the dog in and of itself. This is especially true for
dogs that bark at people passing by. This dog’s goal is to make the intruder go away. Each time
the passerby keeps on going, the dog thinks his barking is what scared the intruder away;
therefore he barks even more emphatically the next time.
Most dog owners want their dog to bark if he hears someone at the door or sees a stranger
entering the yard. Dogs are natural warning devices and can be an effective crime deterrent.
Many burglars and thieves have admitted to avoiding or leaving a home if they hear or see a dog.
And the law enforcement officers say that just hearing that the canine unit is on site is often
enough to make people give up or stop the illegal activity. So it is not a bad thing to have a dog
that barks. And a pooch that barks when he needs to go outside helps avoid accidents caused by
an owner who didn’t see the dog waiting by the door.
However, barking should stop when the dog is commanded to do so. Also, dogs that bark when
their owners are gone can be quite annoying to others, and may result in bad relations with
neighbors or even nuisance calls to law enforcement. So barking must be controlled. There are
several options to try but one thing that will not work is shouting.
Yelling at your dog can often make the problem worse. If a dog is barking at a stranger going by
and you yell at him to be quiet, he will assume you are “barking” at them too. He will decide
that if you are barking, it must be the right thing to do, and he will just bark more. If the dog is
barking because he is stressed or frightened, yelling will only intensify these emotions and cause
the dog to escalate. Some dogs will bark if they want attention. They don’t care if you are
angry, as long as you are focusing on them.
If your dog barks at you when you are on the phone, feeding your family, watching TV, or some
other activity that doesn’t involve him, you have a dog that barks for attention. By stopping your
activity to yell at him, you are giving him the attention that he seeks. Many of us have observed
similar behavior from small children. A child falls and bangs her knee. She looks around and
seeing nobody, runs to where a parent is before letting out blood-curdling screams of pain. Is it
really about the bumped knee, or is it about getting some love and attention?
Some things to think about before considering training solutions
A dog that is tired from playing and exercise tends to be content and sleepy, not nervous or
hyper. They are more likely to nap instead of bark. If you are not spending enough time with
your dog each day, you need to address this situation before you can realistically expect any
training methods to be effective. Dogs are pack animals and need to spend time with the other
members of their group. As we have said before, people who cannot spend at least an hour or
two giving their dog undivided attention should consider whether they have the time or
commitment level needed to own a dog.
You also need to be sure all your dog’s physical needs are met. A dog will bark to convey
hunger, thirst, discomfort, and even pain, in some situations. Simply ensuring that your pet’s
basic needs are being met may solve the barking problem. But if you have provided for the
dog’s needs and the situation persists, perhaps one of the following methods will help.
Because barking is so instinctual and self-rewarding for dogs, it can be difficult to stop and
requires more time, training, and patience than many other behavior problems. Fortunately, we
have compiled a large list of possible solutions. It is best to find one approach that fits well with
your dog’s personality and your living situation, then stick with that method rather than trying
several different techniques at once or in rapid succession. Throwing too many things at a dog at
one time will overwhelm him and add to his anxiety.
The best way to stop this type of behavior from reoccurring is to associate it with a negative
reinforcement. Effective negative reinforcements vary from dog to dog depending upon several factors
including breed, age, device, and timing. Choice of methods might also depend on
whether you are home when the dog is barking.
How To Stop Too Much Dog Barking
WHEN YOU ARE HOME…
1.) USE A VERBAL COMMAND
When the dog barks, say “Quite!” or “Enough!” in a sharp, stern voice. The idea is to show
displeasure and distract or even startle your dog so that he associates unwanted barking with a
negative response. You need to use the same command each time, and be consistent. Only offer
the command once and then be ready to follow through immediately with another negative
enforcer if the dog does not stop barking when you tell him to. Consider one of the suggestions
2.) GIVE A SHARP JERK ON THE COLLAR OR LEASH
If your dog is barking while on the leash, give the leash a sharp jerk. Not hard enough to hurt the
dog, but with enough force to get his attention and interrupt the barking. Repeat the verbal
command at the same time.
If your dog is not on the leash, grab his collar or the scruff of his neck, give a firm shake and
repeat the verbal command. Again, be careful not to poke or pinch the dog or shake too hard.
You just want to get his attention, not cause him any pain. Some dogs get used to this or are just
too excited to be distracted by the leash check. You may have to try something more surprising
3.) TEACH YOUR DOG AN ALTERNATIVE BEHAVIOR
For dogs that bark at people passing by or coming to the door, you can try teaching them an
alternative behavior. They are responding to a perceived threat and feel the need to do
something. Teaching them to sit or lay down when their instinct tells them to bark still allows
them to respond to the situation.
When the dog begins to bark at a passerby, tell him to sit or down. Then, when he responds
and stops barking, praise him or give him a treat. Practice
this with friends coming to the door as well. One trainer
suggested having the visitor give the dog a treat for staying
in the sit or down position instead of barking. Some dogs
may continue to bark, even as they are sitting or laying down. If that is the case, don’t treat or
praise the dog. Find another training method.
4.) TEACH YOUR DOG TO BARK
This may sound crazy to pet owners who just want their dogs to stop barking, but if a dog learns
when to bark, it may become easier to teach him when NOT to bark. Start by teaching your dog
to speak by holding a treat out of his reach and repeating the command, “Speak” If this doesn’t work,
you may try a favorite toy, or some dogs will bark if tied up just out of their owners’ reach.
Once the dog learns to bark on command, you can begin to teach him to be quiet as well.
When the dog begins barking in response to the “Speak” command, tell it “Quiet” “Stop” or
“Enough” and give him a treat when he stops. When this seems to be taking hold, attempt it
during a barking episode. If your dog stops barking, praise him emphatically or give him a treat.
For problem barkers, you will have to practice this regularly and consistently reinforce
appropriate behavior to help train the dog to resist what is a very strong instinct.
Shane, another law enforcement officer says they use this approach with the dogs he has
helped train. “We need them to bark when they’re told, but also to be quiet when it’s important
they not be noticed.” The canine units have a “quiet” or “silent” command as well as a “bark” or
“speak” signal. Both commands are practiced equally and the dogs have a clear understanding of
what each means.
5.) USE TABASCO, LEMON JUICE, OR OTHER FLAVORED DETERRENT
A 4-H trainer, has had success with the use of a flavored deterrent. She
keeps a small bottle of Tabasco in her pocket during training sessions. If she has a persistent
barker that has not responded to “Quiet” commands or other direction from its owner, Darlene
will wait for the dog to bark and then quickly open its mouth and dump a drop or two of Tabasco
in saying, “Uh, uh” or “No! Quiet!” Lemon juice, vinegar, and other distasteful, but basically
harmful, substances are also effective. See our Products List in the book’s appendix for
information on similar products that are available commercially.
Because the 4-H dogs are screened for aggressive behavior before starting the class, Darlene
doesn’t have to worry too much about getting bit, but she does have to be quick. “Timing is
important with this one,” she says. “It has to be done quickly and consistently so that the dog
knows the icky Tabasco is because of the barking.”
6.) SPRAY THE DOG WITH WATER
Use a squirt bottle or water hose to spray your dog with a stream of water if he ignores your
command to be quiet. It is best if you can get a little force behind the spray so that it is a sharp
squirt rather than a misty spray. Most dogs dislike having water in their faces and will stop
barking if you hit them with a good stream. If using a sprayer on a garden hose, be careful that
the pressure is not too strong. Avoid spraying the dog in the eyes with the hose.
Don’t make a game of this by chasing the dog or continuing to spray him after he has stopped
barking. If you are going to use this tactic, it can only be used as a negative enforcer to stop a
behavior. Anything else will confuse the dog and make the tool ineffective. Dogs who love water may
not respond negatively to this method even if you put lemon juice or vinegar in the water. If this
is the case with your dog, find another tactic.
7.) USE A LOUD NOISE TO DISTRACT OR SLIGHTLY STARTLE THE DOG
There are several different ways to use noise as a behavior modifier. One technique is to fill a
soda can with pebbles, pennies, or hard beans so that it rattles loudly when shaken or tossed. Be
sure to seal the opening with tape. When your dog does not respond to the verbal command,
shake the can loudly or toss it near your dog and repeat the command. This tool is used as a
method to correct several other behavior problems as well. It is very effective for some dogs.
You may also use a foghorn, loud whistle (not the same one you would use for training), or
some other mechanism to make a noise your dog will find slightly startling and unpleasant.
The idea is not to scare him silly, but to startle him enough to stop the barking and help him
associate the unpleasant noise with the barking. This may take several sessions to establish a
pattern. It is very important that you stay out of sight. If the dog sees you while he is barking,
this will immediately reinforce his behavior and it will be much more difficult to correct it.
If it appears that your dog begins barking again immediately after you make the noise, stop
this training technique and try another. In this case, the dog may be viewing the noise as a
positive result and barking in hopes of triggering the response.
8.) GENTLY SQUEEZE THE DOG’S MUZZLE
Place your fingers around the dogs muzzle if he barks or whines and repeat your verbal
command. You may want to add a short jerk for emphasis. Let go as soon as the dog stops, and
praise him for being quiet.
9.) IGNORE THE DOG OR WALK AWAY
If your dog is barking at you to get attention or to get you to stop what you are doing (working
on the computer, talking on the phone, watching TV), simply get up and walk away from him.
Suspending your activity to yell at him or tell him to be quiet is giving him the attention he
wanted and you succeed in rewarding the barking instead.
With any of the above techniques, it is important that you praise or treat the dog when it
stops barking in response to your command or negative enforcement.
WHEN YOU AREN’T HOME…
It is often easier to control barking when you are home and can respond immediately with a
negative reinforcement. In fact, owner absence can often be the cause of a dog’s excessive
barking. The dog often gets lonely, bored or anxious and barks to express his feelings. Some
dogs experience a condition called “separation anxiety”, which is a fear of being isolated. The
condition has many causes and can range from mild to severe. Excessive barking is just one
symptom of separation anxiety.
If you suspect or have been told that your dog is barking while you are gone, you may first want
to video tape him to see how often he barks and if there are certain things, like people or other
dogs passing by, that trigger your pet’s behavior. You may find that simply keeping the dog
away from a window or restricting his view of the street may help the situation tremendously.
The list below is a continuation of training tips to use to eliminate unwanted barking. Although
they are intended for when you are gone, some of them may also be effective for dogs that bark
when you are home.
10.) LEAVE A RADIO ON
For kennel dogs or those with separation anxiety, leaving a radio playing softly in a corner calms
the dog and makes him feel he is not alone. Cathy Gustafson and Lauren and Nancy Anderson
do this for their kennel dogs. “Well, we know the dogs are going to bark when somebody comes
to the kennel. That is just a given,” Nancy says. “Once one starts, they all bark,” Lauren
laughed. But all three kennel owners believe the radio calms the dogs and helps mask small
noises that might otherwise get one dog going. Both kennels have country music playing, but
that is more a reflection of the owners’ tastes than that of the dogs!
11.) JUST LEAVE
When you are leaving for the day or for a short trip to the store, just leave, don’t drag it out or
make a big deal by hugging the dog and getting emotional yourself. This will cause the dog to
feel more anxiety and bark sooner or more intensely. Some people offer their dogs a quick
“Goodbye”, “Be a good dog”, “Behave”, or some other brief words as they leave, but it is quick
and non-emotional. Don’t return right away if you hear the dog begin to bark. This will reward
the barking and reinforce the behavior.
12.) DRAPE THE CRATE WITH A TOWEL
If the dog is left in a crate while you are gone, it may be helpful to create a quiet, darker,
atmosphere by draping a towel or small blanket over the crate. Be sure to leave part of the crate
exposed so that enough air flows through. The idea is to reduce the lighting, noise and other
stimuli. This can also work for kennel dogs outside by putting up a tarp or wood barrier on the side
of the kennel that gets the most traffic. If the dog can’t see people walking by, he is less likely to bark.
13.) LEAVE INTERESTING TOYS WITH THE DOG
If the dog is barking from boredom or anxiety, toys will help keep him occupied. Be sure to buy
veterinarian approved toys that will not splinter or get stuck in the dog’s throat or stomach. See
our list of recommended toys in the Product List for suggestions.
14.) A SELF-ACTIVATING NOISE MAKER
Purchase a noisemaker that is self-activated by a dog’s barking. The technique is similar to that
described in step 6 above, but you don’t have to be there to make it work.
If you have given in to your dog’s barking at some point, or reinforced the behavior by petting
him to try and calm him, be aware that his behavior will likely get worse before it gets better.
You have already taught him that barking gets him what he wants, and he will first think he
needs to simply try harder to overcome your resistance.
It can be very difficult to train a dog to stop barking, but be patient and stick with it. Remember,
consistency is the key.
Information on separation anxiety in dogs and puppies
Earlier, we mentioned separation anxiety as a cause for excessive barking.
Separation anxiety is the fear or dislike of isolation. In addition to excessive barking, symptoms
include destructive behavior, such as chewing and scratching immediately upon the owner’s
departure, inappropriate potty behaviors, and overly animated greeting behavior for an extended
period of time after the owner returns.
Separation anxiety is often the result of a traumatic experience the dog had early on in life. It
can be caused by any of the following:
Premature separation from its mother as a young pup
A sudden change of environment combined with a bad experience, such as a pup who gets
left at a kennel during its first thunderstorm
A sudden change in owner’s lifestyle, such as a different work schedule which results in less
time spent with the dog
The addition of a new baby or another pet
A long-term absence from a family member, such as a death in the family, a divorce, or a
child leaving for college
Puppies being raised in a pet shop and not having a chance to bond with a human early on
That doesn’t mean that dogs who have these types of experiences will end up with separation
anxiety. Some dogs have personalities that make them more sensitive to trauma. And there are
varying degrees of separation anxiety, which can range from a dog who follows his owner
around the house from room to room as a departure draws near, to a dog that destroys the house
or defecates on his owner’s bed or shoes while his owner is away.
When a dog with separation anxiety is left alone, he begins to worry that something bad will
happen or that the owner is not coming back. Different dogs respond in different ways, but their
anxiety usually reaches a peak within 30 minutes of their owners’ departures.
If you suspect your dog has separation anxiety, contact a local trainer or veterinarian
for more information