Dogs barking is one of the most frequent behaviors that I get questions about. ‘How do I make them stop barking?!’ is the one that stands out in most of these conversations. The answer is not the same for every dog, it’s important to understand why they are barking before we address the behavior.
First off, barking is a natural dog behavior. Breed background and personality are key ingredients to why our dogs are barking. Dogs bark to alert, to get attention, out of boredom, out of excitement among other possibilities.
Now, whether your dog is alerting to inform others of an intruder or to alert in order to hunt is for us to determine by first looking into their breed background. Once you have reviewed your dog’s breed history, there should be insight on whether they have a protective, hunting, herding, companion-bred or chasing-type background. Now, once you are aware of your dog’s background it should give you insight on why your retriever is staring at the sky barking at birds he is alerting to and why your shepherd is protectively barking at passerby in front of your home.
Your dog’s individual personality will affect barking behaviors, as well. If the breed book says your breed commonly barks at strangers, but yours just happens to love meeting new people then your in luck! A dog’s personality and good socialization on your part can sway a dog’s natural behaviors.
Most any dog will figure out that barking gets them attention. This attention could be a greeting or it could be a holler to hush up! If a dog wants your attention bad enough then they may begin to bark. Some will bark until you look at them, some will bark until you get up and take them for a walk. Bored dogs will bark even to get negative attention, such as a reprimanding because to the dog any attention is better than none.
Dogs who bark out of excitement could be one just seeing a squirrel and begins to yip or in excitement of going to the park!
Finally, let’s review a few options to help you with your barking buddy! The best way to address attention seeking barkers is increase exercise and attention AND do NOT give in when they bark! Don’t even look, don’t touch, don’t talk to them while they are barking. Wait for 3 to 5 seconds of quiet and then give them attention. These dogs need to be engaged constantly, so play, play, play with them when they are quiet. Always tell them ‘good dog’ when they are being good, too! By doing these things we teach the dog that barking is an unrewarded behavior and therefore it will DECREASE while the rewarded behaviors INCREASE!
Another method is to capture the barking behavior, put it on cue, and teach them a ‘hush’ command. Capturing your dog barking is as easy as giving a food reward for a single bark. Begin saying “speak”, “bark” or “talk to me” each time he barks and give him a food reward. Wait for another bark and reward quickly. The key is to reward fast enough so they don’t continue barking and run off to look at the thing they’re barking at. Be quick and make sure your dog is engaging with you.
The hush command is pretty simple: when your dog is barking put a handful of irresistible treats in front of them and entice them to follow you back a few steps until they are quiet and they get the treats! Say “hush!” to them as you put the treats under their nose. Once they are quiet you must engage them and get them to follow you to a game or play session rather than looking back at the same thing to bark. Waiting for a few moments of quiet and then giving a stuffed Kong is an easy and effective solution.
If your dog barks at anything that moves then you’ll need to desensitize them to each item individually. It requires some commitment on your part and it is WORTH THE EFFORT! Reward them for staying calm at a distance from the item that usually causes barking and gradually get a little bit closer until eventually your dog can be near a squirrel or car without barking intensely. If this is the case for your dog, I’d suggest hiring a professional dog trainer to guide you through the best methods of desensitization and counter conditioning.
Although we wouldn’t expect our dogs to stop barking completely, a large decrease in barking can be feasible when the behavior is dissected and addressed properly. As we discussed, there are as many different types of barks as there are different reasons for barking. With these tips you have the tools to teach your pup that barking isn’t everything!