Why do dogs bark?
Before you learn how to stop a dog from barking, it’s important to understand barking as a behaviour. Some dogs are more prone to barking than others, according to Russell Hartstein, a dog trainer and the founder of Fun Paw Care. And dogs bark for so many different reasons: to alert, to show they’re happy and ready to play, and to ask for something are a few, Lisa Bernier, the Head of BARK for Good says. “We often assume a dog is barking for no reason, but that isn’t true,” she says. “Dogs always have a reason.” According to the ASPCA, other reasons your dog barks is to greet you, to defend their territory, or if they have separation anxiety. In general, make sure that you meet your dog’s needs. This alone tends to reduce barking tremendously in most pups, according to Hartstein. They might need to go to the bathroom or eat. They might be under-stimulated or lacking training, exercise, socialization, play, nutrition, or toys. Any of these things could make them bark.
Dogs also bark due to behaviour problems or training problems, as well as fear, Hartstein says. “Barking is also a self-reinforcing behaviour, meaning that dogs can self-sooth and reward themselves by barking,” Hartstein says. “This makes some cases of barking harder to minimize than others.” If you don’t train them properly in the first place, you’ll regret it.
How to stop a dog from barking
The biggest mistake people make when it comes to stopping a dog from barking is using punishment-based tactics or things like bark collars, sprays, shock, or pronged collars. “Not only are they inhumane and ineffective, but the emotional fallout is tremendous, causing more behavioural and emotional problems than to begin with,” Hartstein says. The first step in effectively stopping your dog from barking is determining why they are barking. If there’s a trigger, like a ringing doorbell, you’ll need to desensitize your dog to the trigger and train them to do something else, Bernier says. Here’s how:
- Have a friend or family member ring the doorbell.
- When the dog barks at the ring, refocus them with a different command like “sit” and reward the dog with a treat as they quiet down and do that behaviour.
Practicing positive reinforcement is the best way to correct behaviour, according to Bernier. Vice versa, the other key part to stopping your dog from barking is not to reward your pup when they bark. “That is the most difficult to do for some pet parents because most parents are not aware when they are rewarding their dog,” Hartstein says. “If you yell, scream, tell them ‘no,’ or even look at your dog, those may all be reinforcing to your dog.” In their mind, any attention is better than no attention. So remember not to reward your dog in any way since that’s how to stop a dog from barking. (Learning to recognize the triggers of dog anxiety will also help.)
How to train your dog to control their barking
If your dog constantly barks, and their immediate needs like using the bathroom or being fed are met, you now must focus more on training your dog to stop barking so much in general. The best way to think about this, according to Hartstein, is to imagine the bark as something you can control on cue. “Reward that behaviour only when you ask for it,” he says. “If you reward your dog for barking when you didn’t ask for that behaviour, this will not work.” You might want to invest in a clicker to re-train your dog, Hartstein recommends. Here’s what to do:
- When your dog is silent or not barking, click and give them a treat.
- Repeat the above a few times to mark and reward your dog with a treat when they are silent.
- After a few tries, increase the silence time by introducing the cue “good” as they are silent. After a few seconds, click and treat.
- Continue to do this increasing the silent time between each bark by saying “good” when they are silent.
- Do this slowly! If you jump from two seconds to 20 seconds, it may be too large of a change to ensure your dog understands.
- After your dog is successful at being silent for a while, you can say the verbal cue you want to associate with silence right before asking for the behaviour. So say “quiet” directly before you say “good.” Starting with the new word before the old one helps the dog associate the two.
- If you practice this, your dog will respond to the verbal cue “quiet.”
Yes, some dogs are more prone to barking than others
Keep in mind what kind of dog you have. “All dogs were bred to be vocal to some extent by humans,” Bernier says. “Centuries ago, having a dog keep watch and sense when danger was coming was useful since they pick up things faster than humans do.” That said, some pups such as hounds are naturally more chatty than others because of their breeding. Bernier says that doesn’t mean you can’t train this kind of dog, but just don’t expect them to be the silent types like Saint Bernards, malamutes and Irish setters. Next, find out the 20 smartest dog breeds—ranked.