Jump to section
Your dog is a loyal companion and, in a way, it's quite comforting that he barks every time someone comes to the door. He may be little, but those deep, throaty barks make him sound so much larger. However, recently things have got out of hand. The barking, instead of stopping after a few warning woofs, go on for longer...and longer.
Indeed, it's got to the point that the dog is still barking some five to ten minutes after the visitor has been welcomed inside. This is rather embarrassing, especially when friends call round for a coffee and you can't hear each other talking because of the dog barking. Out of desperation, you gave the dog a chew to occupy his mouth, so he can't bark, which seemed to work.
However, one friend who is also a dog lover, tactfully pointed out that giving the dog a chew to quieten him, could be misunderstood by the four-legger as being rewarded for barking. Thinking things over, you realize they have a point. But this now leaves you wondering exactly how you do stop the problem barking.
Barking is natural behavior but it can so easily step over into becoming a nuisance. Stopping nuisance barking takes a combined approach whereby you remove the triggers for barking and train the dog to be quiet. In addition, you need to be savvy about how the dog views your response to his barking. All too often we accidentally reward the dog (such as giving a chew to shut him up) and make the problem worse rather than better. Resolving problem barking is possible, but it does take require planning and forethought about how you'll deal with each situation.
When you have a puppy, this is a golden opportunity to avoid certain pitfalls that accidentally reinforce barking, such as telling the dog off when someone calls at the door. A great strategy with a puppy is to acknowledge that he's alerted you to the visitor by saying, "I got this, thank you." Then the pup knows his bark has been acknowledged and he can stand down from guard duty.
For the adult dog, things get more complicated as the behavior can be deeply ingrained. But don't worry, with consistent practice and plenty of patience, you will both get there.
Preventing nuisance barking is all in the timing, rather than about needing fancy equipment. The basics you need include:
- Treats to reward the quiet behavior.
- A mat or bed to train the dog to go to when visitors call.
- A squeaky toy to distract the dog.
- To obscure the view from a window, a spray can of glass frosting or sticky-back plastic with a frosted glass effect.
- A collar, leash, and toys to take the dog for long walks.
The Teach 'Quiet' Method
Understand the idea
Teaching a dog to bark on command and then be quiet on command, is a powerful way to control a nuisance barker. It empowers you to stop the dog barking in a controlled way, rather than entering into a battle of wills. The idea is to simply teach the dog that an absence of barking is a good thing that will be rewarded.
Put barking on cue
This sounds mad! Encouraging the dog to bark ...whatever next? Actually, once you can get a dog to bark on command, bizarrely he tends to wait for the command before woofing, which also helps with the initial problem. Find a controlled way of getting the dog to bark. This might be using your fist behind your back to knock on a wall or door. When the dog starts barking, praise him and say "bark" in an excited voice.
Reinforce the 'bark' command
After a few repetitions, bring the command to the front, saying "bark". If the dog obeys, give him a big fuss and a treat. If he's slow on the uptake, then sneakily knock on the wall to trigger a bark, then repeat the 'bark' command and praise him.
Add in a 'quiet' command
Once the dog is getting the hang of barking on command, start teaching the opposite instruction, 'quiet'. To do this, have the dog bark (using your cue word). Give him an extra tasty treat as a reward, and while he's eating say 'quiet'. Just before he's finished the treat, gently hold his mouth shut to reinforce the idea of an absence of barking. Give him another tasty treat while repeating "quiet" in a happy, enthusiastic voice.
Practice 'bark' and 'quiet'
Practice plenty. Soon the dog will anticipate getting a reward for both commands and start to offer the appropriate behavior (i.e. barking and then being quiet on command). Once he has learned this, you can start using "quiet" to silence unwanted barking. Job done!
The Reduce the Risk Method
Understand the idea
Dogs bark for any number of reasons that make good sense to them, but can be a nuisance to us. Reducing nuisance barking isn't just about silencing the dog, but should also take a long hard look at the trigger factors that cause the dog to bark in the first place. Often, when the triggers are removed or corrected the unwanted noise will stop or be vastly reduced.
The dog barking in the yard
Simply shouting at the dog to be quiet isn't going to do the trick. Many dogs bark in the yard because they spend a lot of time there unattended and are either bored or very territorial. Make sure to give the dog plenty of exercise and try blocking the view of the street. Then the dog is less able to see people walking by, which is a strong trigger for barking.
Barking at a person outside the living room window is self-rewarding for the dog, as he thinks the person left as a direct result of his bark. Avoid this by obscuring the dog's view. Frosting the glass in the lower half of the window or using cafe style half curtains often does the trick.
Have a protocol for guests
If the dog barks noisily at guests, have a plan in place for when visitors call. If possible, have friends phone a minute or two ahead, so that you can put the dog in a back room where he is less likely to be disturbed. Alternatively, teach the dog an alternative behavior that will occupy him instead of barking. This includes going to a mat or retrieving a ball, both of which work well as a distraction to prevent barking.
Walk around problems
Many dogs bark at other dogs in the park because they feel fearful or anxious. Walking straight toward another dog only adds to this anxiety. A better plan is to spot a potential problem in the distance and walk in a wide arc so that you pass the dog side on, which is less confrontational, rather than head-on.
The What NOT to Do Method
Understand the idea
How we respond to problem barking is immensely important. Many times we accidentally reward the barking, such as when we shout at the dog to be silent. Knowing what not to do is almost as important as training the dog to be quiet, so that you avoid the scenario of unwittingly training the dog to bark.
The dog barks and you shout at him to be quiet. In 'dog speak' your shouts sound as if you're wanting to join in but aren't very good at it. This only encourages the dog, who feels he's being rewarded for barking. Instead, turn a deaf ear to his barks. If you need him to be quiet then distract him with a squeaky toy, and have him chase after that.
Don't leave a dog in the yard for hours
A dog left in the yard all day is going to get bored and also have a surfeit of energy. This is a recipe for barking. Instead, be sure to give him plenty of exercise (appropriate for his size and health) and only allow him into the yard for short times. If this isn't practical, then consider hiring a dog walker or using doggy daycare for those times when you aren't able to exercise him.
Don't bribe the dog not to bark
The dog barks and you offer him a treat to shut him up. Unfortunately, what you've done is tell him the barking was so awesome that he's earned a treat. Guess what? He just learned barking is a great way of getting a treat. Use other strategies to quiet him, such as teaching 'quiet' or distracting him away from what he's barking at.
Don't expect an instant fix
Last but not least, be prepared for it to take a while to correct this bad habit. Barking is a satisfying and rewarding occupation for a dog, so it's going to take a while to learn their behavior isn't acceptable.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 11/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021