It's a common frustration many dog owners think to themselves: I need to know how to get my dog to stop barking!
Excessive barking is annoying, frustrating, embarrassing, and could get you a nastygram from a neighbor or the HOA. On top of that, if your dog is a constant barker but in one situation tries to alert you to a real threat, you and your neighbors may ignore it as pointless barking yet again. What's a dog owner to do?
First, understand that barking is natural to dogs. It's one way they communicate. Puppies bark when they want to play. Even as they grow, dogs bark out of excitement. Other dogs bark to get attention or something they want. My first dog, Sheba, had a ritual of barking with the neighborhood dogs for 5 or 10 minutes every evening. (As a kid who loved Disney's 101 Dalmations, I imagined it to be our neighborhood's Twilight Bark where they checked in and shared gossip.)
If your dog barks to the point that it's a nuisance, that's a different issue. As with any other dog issue, the path to solving the problem starts with finding the source of the symptom. Reasons why dogs bark excessively include:
• Boredom and excessive energy
to name a few. Once you figure out why your dog is barking, you can determine the best course of action to stop it.
Is your dog barking from boredom? Many dogs use barking as a way to express their abundance of energy. Walks, runs, and toys that provide mental stimulation will give your dog a healthier, quieter way to get rid of energy and entertain themselves.
Does your dog bark defensively? Dogs often bark to warn the rest of their pak of a potential threat, whether it's a true threat or the mailman on his daily route, but some overdo it. Reward your dog for doing something other than barking - call them to you, put him in a sit/stay, then reward him for complying and being quiet.
Fear is a common reason for barking. This is a tougher one to overcome - you now need to identify what causes your dog's fear. You may need to work with a trainer or behaviorist depending on how serious the fear issues are.
Anxiety, especially separation anxiety, commonly leads to barking. This one is also tough, as you may not even know about your dog's barking until a neighbor tells you he barks all day while you're at work. Solutions include long walks before you leave so your dog is tired, distracting him with toys while you're gone, and helping him overcome his separation anxiety. (For more on this, see our post My Dog Has Separation Anxiety.)
Is your dog lonely? He could be barking to get attention or to connect with others. Find new ways to bond with your dog, such as participating a training class together or adding variety to walks by going new places or walking with other people and dogs. Take your dog to doggie daycare on occasion, where he'll have the opportunity to be surrounded by canine companionship when you can't be home.
There are a few common things to remember, regardless of your dog's reason for barking.
1) Do not yell at your dog to stop. To a dog's ears, you're joining in by barking yourself! It has the unintended effect of showing your dog that barking is ok and rewarding him with attention for it, which is the opposite of what you want. Reward your dog with attention and praise for silence.
2) When you notice your dog barking, redirect him to a positive, quiet behavior and reward it. As mentioned in the defensive barking example, it could be as simple as calling your dog to you then rewarding him for sitting quietly. You need to show him the behaviors you do want over the behaviors you don't want.
3) Don't give in to demands. If your dog barks to be let in, to be fed, or for you to throw the toy he's just dropped at your feet, don't give in. Giving him what he wants when he barks teaches him that barking works. Give him what he wants only when he's quiet.
4) Be consistent. Whatever you do, be consistent. If your dog is allowed to bark sometimes and not others, he'll continue barking. If he knows he is never allowed to bark and it never gets him what he wants, he'll stop trying.
The answer to how to get my dog to stop barking varies depending on the cause. Identify the cause, solve the core problem, and keep the 4 general tips above in mind. Soon, you'll have a dog that no longer barks constantly.
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Photo credit: Kenna Takahashi