How to Stop Excessive Barking

A dog running outdoors

Most people want their dogs to bark. It's an extra level of protection when a stranger shows up at the door, and it's nice to know that an animal is outside if you live in a rural area. But if your dog doesn't stop barking when you say to, it can be a frustrating experience for you both. Your dog is just doing what's natural and normal, but that doesn't mean you have to live with it. Learn how to stop excessive barking and teach your dog to speak and be quiet on command with these training tips.

Possible Reasons Behind Excessive Barking

Before you can figure out how to get a dog to stop barking, you need to understand why he's barking in the first place. Dogs communicate verbally through barking, whining and growling, so it's not reasonable to expect a completely silent dog. However, there's a big difference between a dog who barks appropriately and a dog who barks excessively. The reasons for excessive barking usually all end up as some kind of root behaviour issue. Here are a few possible reasons your dog may be barking too much:

  • Being over-excited, such as when you come home or a friend comes to visit
  • Boredom and/or anxiety, both of which are common in dogs who are left alone for large parts of the day or don't get regular exercise
  • Attention seeking, such as when your dog wants to play a game or wants their food bowl refilled
  • Communication, such as when someone approaches the house

Barking in and of itself usually isn't the issue for owners. It's a dog who won't stop barking that becomes the problem. According to animal behaviourist Dr Jo Righetti, "Barking is the most commonly reported problem to local councils, and if you have ever lived with, or next door to, a barking dog, you will understand just how annoying and how loud it can be. I like to think of dog barking as a symptom, and to treat that symptom, we need to understand the cause. Common causes of excessive or inappropriate barking are: excitement; boredom; anxiety; disturbances and attention-seeking behaviour. Address the reason for the unwanted barking and you will reduce it."

If you're dealing with complaints from neighbours, you may need to take action quickly.

Tips for How to Stop Excessive Barking

1. Address Any Underlying Issues

Look at the list in the above section, and think about whether any of it applies to your dog. If he seems to be uncomfortable or in pain, he may need a trip to the vet for an exam. If he seems to be bored, try implementing a daily walking routine or playing a game of fetch. If your dog is barking when you leave him alone for work, a few slow-release treat toys might give him a distraction. It may take some trial and error to figure out why your dog is barking and which strategy works to curb it.

Think of barking as a symptom — simply stopping your dog barking doesn't resolve the real problem. That's why anti-bark collars of any sort, but especially electric or unpleasant-scent-firing ones, should not be used. You may simply turn the barking into even more disruptive behaviour.

2. Don't Yell

While it's tempting to yell at your dog to be quiet or to stop barking, this can actually be counterproductive. When you do this, your dog doesn't get the message that you're not happy with his behaviour. He just sees it as you joining in with the barking, which can actually make him bark even more.

Instead of yelling, try redirecting the dog's attention by calmly calling for them to come to you and sit or lie down or issuing some other type of basic obedience command. Then provide a reward for coming over and following that command — which conveniently also probably rewards them for stopping the barking.

3. Teach Your Dog to Bark

This is another option that may seem counter-intuitive. Your dog is already barking too much. Why would you teach them to bark more? The answer is for control. If you can get your dog to bark on command, that's the first step toward being able to control when they do and do not bark. Here's how:

  • Start by having someone be outside the house while you and the dog are inside.
  • Tell your dog to "speak" while the other person rings the doorbell or knocks on the door.
  • When your dog barks, reward the behaviour with praise and/or a small treat.

Over time and with practice, your dog will learn to speak on command. When it's time to teach them to be quiet, the steps are similar:

  • Ask your dog to speak, and provide verbal praise when they do.
  • Then, give whatever command you choose for stop barking and at the same time give them a treat or new toy.
  • Your dog will likely stop barking to take the treat or sniff the toy. Provide lots of praise and reinforcement for this.

Training your dog can be a bit more complicated than this, and underlying factors like boredom and anxiety can be challenging to deal with and may require help from a dog behaviourist.

Potential Pitfalls to Avoid

While there are quite a few products out on the market that claim to help stop a dog from barking excessively, we don't recommend using them. Products like shock collars and spray collars are unnecessarily aggressive and unpleasant and suppress your dog's natural behaviour and need to communicate.

These negative punishment tools don't deal with the root causes of your dog's barking and can actually make the issue worse or create other problematic behaviours because they can cause your dog stress, anxiety and frustration.

If you're dealing with a dog that barks a lot, the good news is that this is a common issue and there are a lot of great strategies for dealing with this behaviour. Our dog behaviour hub, your vet and a dog behaviourist can all help you encourage your dog to be more purposeful with his communications.

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