This is the fourth blog in a series that we have posted each week in January for Train Your Dog Month. In case you missed it, be sure to check out the first blog, Breaking Bad Habits in Dogs, the second blog on how to curb leash pulling, and the third blog on how to stop your dog from jumping up.
Working as the trainer for Adopt & Shop, I am no stranger to barking dogs. I work around dogs barking in the shop throughout the day, then I come home to my own dogs barking when I get home. If I am fostering dogs (which I usually am!), they tend to bark at the slightest noise or movement while they get used to my family’s routine. Even my phone’s ringtone is a barking dog! But alas, not everyone possesses my super hero-like power of being able to tune out barking (or my modesty! haha), especially neighbors that may be at their wit’s end putting up with your dog’s barking, which is why I have put together some tips to help give everyone’s poor eardrums a break!
In order to resolve excessive barking issues, we must first try to understand WHY dogs bark. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons, some of which include:
- BOREDOM- throughout history, most dogs had job to do, such as pulling carts or sleds, herding livestock, hunting game, or acting as guard dogs. Today most of our dogs are companion animals who do not have to work for their food, sometimes get walked, and spend most of their day indoors or in the yard. Without having a job to do, dogs can get bored and may look for something to do to occupy their time, like barking.
- EXCESSIVE ENERGY- some dogs have more energy than others, such as those in the working, sporting and herding breeds. If they do not have an outlet for using up their energy, they may resort to barking for hours on end.
- EXCITEMENT- sometimes dogs are just excited! Barking when you come home, before going out for a walk, before feeding time, are all times when dogs can just get so excited that they cannot contain themselves, and is pretty normal. This type of barking can be controlled through training and by not reinforcing the excitement.
- COMMUNICATION- dogs do not communicate the way people do, so they express themselves through vocalizations. Whines, barks and howls are their way of communicating with other dogs, sounding the alarm when someone is at the door, dealing with pain, telling you they are stressed or anxious about something, etc. It may be helpful to try and uncover what your dog is trying to tell you, or by having your dog see a veterinarian to rule out any medical causes for their behavior.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Barking
Think of your dog as if they were your cell phone battery. When they wake up, they are in a green, fully charged status. If you don’t get your dog’s energy down into the red, fully drained status by the end of the day, your dog will find their own way to get their energy out, and you will probably not like the ways they do it. Some dogs may get their energy out by barking, digging, chewing, running, pacing, trying to escape, and other problem behaviors, so it is up to you to provide them with plenty of acceptable opportunities for getting their energy out. If your dog has energy to bark excessively, then daily exercise should be added to their daily routine, or increased. As I like to say, “a tired dog is a well behaved dog.” If you are taking your dog out for walks and they come home and still bark excessively, walk them even more until they return home exhausted. If you do not have the time or the ability to take your dog out for long walks, consider hiring a dog walker or taking your dog to a doggie daycare where they can run and play with friends all day.
Without having a job to do, such as hunting for prey, herding sheep, or tunneling for rodents, dogs need to have another outlet for mental stimulation. Providing enrichment opportunities that engage their mind and challenge them mentally will exhaust them in the same way that taking a difficult math test can wear us out. Treat dispensing and puzzle toys are great ways to exercise your dog’s mind because it simulates how a dog would have to find, hunt, and take down prey in the wild. Extra benefits include positively rewarding your dog for chewing on their own toy, as opposed to your shoes, and tiring them out physically. You can also play mentally stimulating games for your dog such as hide and go seek or playing scent games, like hiding treats throughout your house for your dog to find.
Dogs also benefit greatly when given the opportunity to interact with other dogs. Play dates with your friends and their dogs or trips to the dog park will also help to tire them out and provide them with opportunities to communicate with members of their own species. If none of your friends have dogs, you can try searching for a dog walking or socialization group on, or searching for fun hotels, restaurants, parks, beaches and other places you can visit with your dog. If your dog does not play well with other dogs, try consulting a professional trainer. Enrolling in a training class is another great way to provide opportunities for your dog to socialize and will also tire them out mentally and physically!
How To Stop the Barking
So now that we are beginning to understand WHY our dogs may be barking and we have taken steps to try and get rid of some of that energy, now we can begin working with our dogs. There is a golden rule when it comes to dog training, and that is to “reward the behaviors that you want the dog to continue doing, and ignore the ones that you want to stop.” In this case, ignoring the barking is your best option. If you have neighbors that are unhappy about your dog’s excessive barking, it may be helpful to go to each of them with a small bribe, such as a box of chocolate or homemade cookies, and a pack of ear plugs, and explain to them that you are working on training your dog and ask them to be patient with your pooch during the training process.
Dogs naturally will not want to waste energy by continuously performing an action that produces no result. For example, if your dog is barking because he wants to be let inside and nothing happens, the barking should begin to decrease. However, if your dog is barking and barking and you yell at your dog to stop, you have just “joined in the conversation” and rewarded your dog for barking! If you have ignored your dog and they just continue to bark or the barking gets worse, do not worry, this is called an Extinction Burst and is completely normal. Typically when a dog barks and nothing happens, they will continue to bark more until they come to the conclusion that barking is not getting them what they want, then it will begin to decrease until it finally stops. Then it will be up to you to reward them when they finally do!
Another way of controlling excessive barking is by teaching your dog to stop barking on command, using the “Quiet” command. To Teach “Quiet,” you will need to have something nearby to interrupt the barking. This can be a squeak toy (my favorite), a squirt bottle or a shaker can (an aluminum can filled with pennies). While your dog is actively barking, firmly tell them to “QUIET,” then interrupt the barking with the squeaky toy. Timing is everything, so the very second your dog stops barking, offer them a tasty treat and praise them. After your dog is offering the behavior reliably, you can then begin to phase out the interrupter and just use the word “Quiet” by itself. Remember to reward your dog often when they are being calm, relaxed and not barking!
I get asked a lot about bark collars and similar training aids, so lets talk about those briefly. I am not a huge fan of them, but my feeling is if you are in danger of being evicted from your home, you are in danger of having to relinquish your dog to a shelter, or you have received a notice from animal control about your dog’s barking, then an anti-bark collar may be warranted as a temporary solution. Bark collars may be used when you are not at home to prevent your dog from barking throughout the day, but these should only be used under the guidance of a professional trainer, and should be used in addition to training, not as a replacement.
There are three basic types of bark collars: Electric shock, high frequency sound and Citronella spray collars, all of which build a negative association between the correction and your dog’s barking. Citronella and sound-emitting collars are safer and more humane to use than shock collars, which use an electric shock to correct your dog’s barking. The citronella spray just smells and tastes unpleasant, while the high frequency sound collars emit a high pitched, annoying sound, often with a vibration, that may interrupt the barking. If you do decide to use a bark collar, they will only work if your dog does not know that the collar is what is giving the correction, so when you first put the collar on DO NOT TURN IT ON FOR 5-7 DAYS. You want your dog to get used to wearing the collar with nothing happening. If your dog learns that the collar is the one doing the shocking/spraying, then your dog will do everything they can to get the collar off and the barking problem will not be solved. Only after your dog has gotten used to the collar should you turn it on. When you are ready to do this, call your dog over to you and spend a few minutes petting and scratching them so they are calm and relaxed, then non-nonchalantly flip the switch while you scratch around your dog’s neck. The next time your dog barks, they will receive the correction and the barking should begin to decrease.
We’ve had so much fun writing these blogs for Train your Dog Month, we are going to continue the series. Due to popular request, our next blog will address chase/prey drive, so stay tuned!