Barking is natural for dogs, just as talking is natural for humans, and as dog owners, it is something we should expect. However, it is not something we should have to live through, especially if your dog barks excessively. So, how do we take the barking out of the dog? This, sadly, is quite arduous and can take more effort than people are willing to invest, but it is certainly worth the time.
It’s important to know that we only want to reduce the amount of barking, not to completely stop it altogether. There are times when we want our dog to bark, for example, when they want to let us know they are scared or feeling isolated.
Before you can change the behaviour of an excessive barker, first, you need to consider the reason for why your dog is barking. After you have determined the cause, you can apply the proper training solution.
Why do dogs bark?
Let’s look at some of the reasons why dogs bark:
- An expression of their needs.
- Protecting their territory.
- Becoming overexcited while playing (common for puppies).
- Separation anxiety. Isolation from their pack (you and your family).
- Being unable to get to you, through fences, doors, cages etc.
- An expression of dominance. A puppy may, at some point, challenge you with a display of dominance barking.
- Due to boredom or lack of mental stimulation.
- Dogs that have not been properly socialized may excessively bark.
- Some breeds of dog are bred to bark, like hounds and terriers.
- To warn their pack of danger.
- Barking at other animals (cats, squirrels and other dogs).
- Some dogs simply enjoy barking!
- The dog’s owner has misguidedly rewarded their dog while it was barking. And as a result, it continues to do so (thinking it is what the owner wants).
- Barking for attention.
- Feeling of stress, or being too uncomfortable.
How do I stop my dog from barking when I leave home?
Dogs are social animals. I would argue that they crave social interactions much more than humans. So it should be no surprise that untrained dogs, when left alone at home, will feel stressed, frustrated, and might start barking as a result.
The first thing you should do is to get the basics of dog care right. What are the basics, you may ask.
- Keeping your dog well exercised.
- Keeping them mentally stimulated.
- Feeding them a healthy diet.
- Making sure fresh water is available to them, especially in hot conditions.
- Supplying toys and a nice place to sleep.
Aside from applying the basics of dog care, you could try and limit your dog’s exposure of the outside while he is on the inside. And also, make sure your dog is happy!
If you arrive home and you know your dog has been barking, you should enter the house and ignore him. As someone who has had to ignore his puppy, I know how hard this can be. However, if you acknowledge your dog just after he has been barking, he will think that his barking is what brought you back to him. And interacting with him will only promote this kind of behaviour.
Being clear and consistent with your dog
Although this next technique requires a lot of patience and time, it is a very effective way of stopping your dog from barking excessively. It follows a similar methodology as other training guides on this site. Reward your dog with praise, toys or treats when he does something that you want him to do, and ignore him when you want to promote a negative association with something you don’t want him doing. Leave your home as you normally would, while your dog is alone inside. Find a place to hide nearby, and when your dog begins to bark, spray him with some water, or fill a tin can with some coins and throw them in the direction of your dog. This is to associate barking with a negative repercussion. Try your best to keep out of sight from your dog if possible. Hide again, and repeat spraying your dog with water, or throw the tin can if he continues barking. On the other hand, if he doesn’t bark, wait a few minutes, enter the house and reward him with praise and a treat. Repeat this training over and over again until the excessive barking habit has been corrected.
Give me attention! Give me what I want!
Think about how children will often cry for sweets or toys, and the more you give into their crying by giving them what they want, the more common it will occur. It’s the same for dogs. Dogs bark when they want something. If you give in to your dog’s demands, you will tell him that it is ok to bark whenever he wants something. Luckily, this is usually an easy problem to fix.
Teach your dog the ‘stop’ command. When your dog is barking, simply say ‘STOP!’, while at the same time, holding a treat that he can see. After a few seconds, if your dog is being quiet, you can then reward him with the treat as well as some praise. Overtime, you will be able to say the command ‘STOP!’ without also needing a treat. This command is not only useful to prevent your dog from barking, but also anything else you want him to stop doing.
If you don’t have enough free time to teach your dog the stop command, you could simply choose to ignore your dog when he barks for attention. Any behaviour that is not reinforced will become less common, and eventually cease to be.
Barking at passers-by
What is it about postmen and delivery people that triggers dogs into a barking frenzy? Well, that is simple. Dogs are territorial animals, and your home is their home, thus they must protect it. Strangers coming to your home are seen as intruders, and your dog is alerting you to the danger, as well as trying to scare off the threat. The problem with correcting this behaviour is that your dog feels like it wins every time. Think about it. A postman comes to your door, delivers your mail and then leaves. In your dog’s mind, the postman tried to intrude on your territory, but was scared off by your dog’s barking.
If it is possible, try to block your dog’s view of the passers-by. Although, this is more of a band-aid rather than a solution.
The best possible solution for this type of excessive barking is dog obedience training. Once your dog is trained properly, you will be able to communicate with him that the barking is unacceptable behaviour.
If you notice that your dog barks at a particular person, like your postman, consider speaking with your postman about the issue. Try and introduce him to your dog. Give your postman some treats that he can use to show your dog that he is friendly. He can do this every time he visits, and eventually, your dog will think of him as a friend, instead of a threat.
No more options, how to stop your dog from barking
If all else fails, seek professional training help. Some dogs are impossible to train without the required professional knowledge, resources and time.