Dog barking at cat illustration
Illustration courtesy of Depositphotos
Your dog is barking what feels like day and night, but why? Dogs bark to alert everyone around them of something new or worrisome. Although you may not see the squirrel or another dog, there could be something that you cannot smell, see, or hear that they can. A barking dog might be undesirable to you – and your neighbors - but understand that this behavior is not excessive to your dog. It is nearly impossible to keep your dog from barking completely because this is how they communicate. Nonetheless, when barking becomes excessive, it could result in complaints from your neighbors or distress for you.
Dogs bark for many reasons. Some bark in warning, others to greet. Some are uncertain about something new whereas others are afraid or anxious. Dogs often bark when excited or for attention. Certain breeds, such as Beagles and Shelties, were bred to bark for hunting purposes or to alert humans of predators, like birds, in the area of their flocks.
How do we stop barking? Start by identifying why your dog is barking. It is useful to journal times of day and what is in the environment during barking episodes. Teaching alternative behaviors incompatible with barking like checking in with their person or relaxing on a mat can be helpful to change this behavior. It is important to use positive reinforcement when teaching these behaviors, meaning a reward is given for each desired behavior. A reward does not have to be a treat. Learn what your dog likes. Some rewards include a favorite toy, attention, or verbal praise. Force or pain including yelling, painful collars, and physical punishment are often not helpful. These techniques and devices can increase anxiety, causing the barking to get worse rather than better.
Another way to decrease barking is to make sure your dog has opportunities to exercise their brain and body. This doesn’t mean taking mile-long walks or runs unless they are sniff walks through the neighborhood, woods, or fields. Sniffing is a great way to burn calories and enrich the mind about the world around them. Playing nose-work games and introducing your dog to food dispensing and puzzle toys are great ways to exercise your dog’s mind and keep your dog busy throughout the day.
When your dog barks in response to some stimuli, such as someone walking by with another dog outside or the doorbell ringing, it’s helpful to teach your dog to go to a mat where they have learned to be quiet. Basically, you train your dog to go to a specific rug or place and reward them when they are calm and not barking, no matter what else is going on. Remote treat dispensers can easily help you reward your dog for being in place with a click of the remote.
Excessive outdoor barking is likely the most common source of neighbor complaints. If your dog barks too much while outside, you need to go out and bring the dog in. It is important not to leave your dog outside unsupervised. Instead, call them to you and bring them inside right away. You may need to keep your dog on a long leash to achieve this. You don’t want them practicing and perfecting their barking behaviors.
Should your dog bark for attention, make sure you are reinforcing your dog for other behaviors such as touch or eye contact before giving them the attention they want.
If you need help, certified professionals are an option. When choosing one, you want to look for specific things. Ask for references from both clients and colleagues. Your veterinarian might also have suggestions for professionals in the area.
First, credentials are important. Anyone can label themselves as a dog trainer, so ask for proof. Ask where they received their training and what they are certified in.
Secondly, confirm that they only use positive reinforcement. Ask directly if they use shock, choke, or prong collars. Training methods that inflict pain on your dog are punishment, not the positive reinforcement methods recommended here and by veterinary behaviorists.
Thirdly, make sure the program is the right duration of time. A relationship cannot be built between your dog, you, and your trainer overnight. Realize that training will take a significant amount of time and effort so that the results will last beyond the program length. Training classes and trainers don’t teach your dog so much as they teach you to train your dog, so you must do the work.
Regardless of whether you use a certified professional or work on your own, remember that it will take time because barking is a natural behavior that you can shape but not eliminate. This work is a learning opportunity for both you and your dog that will help build a stronger, more understanding relationship. Stay patient and optimistic!