Excessive barking can wreak havoc both in and outside the home. But why do some dogs bark so much? And what can pet parents do to help?
Read on to find out.
Reasons for Excessive Barking
They Want Your Attention
Sometimes, barking is simply your dog's way of saying "spend time with me." But if you always grant their wish, you're likely to reinforce this behavior.
They’re Being Territorial
Many dog breeds were literally created to protect owners and property — even smaller breeds. It’s possible your pup is being protective of their home or family.
They’re Frightened or Anxious
Some dogs become alarmed or anxious in response to a specific stimulus — a stranger or another dog, for instance. And longer-term issues, like extensive periods left at home alone, can cause anxiety. Fear and anxiety aren’t exactly the same, but they can both cause excessive barking.
Barking can be joyful! A pup might greet their pet parent with excited barking when they get home from work, for instance. The good news is, excited barking will likely subside more quickly than other types of barking — maybe even after a few seconds.
They Want Something From You
It’s possible your dog wants something other than mere attention — to be taken out for a walk, for example. You should never ignore this type of barking, but it’s a good idea to teach your dog other ways to ask for things.
How Can You Get Your Dog to Stop Barking?
Now you know the “why.” But HOW can you get your pup to bark less?
Train Them to Ask Nicely
Your dog may be used to barking when they want you to do something, like take them outside so they can go potty. And hey, that's better than simply going in the house. Nonetheless, you can train your pup to make these requests in a less nerve-wracking fashion.
One popular technique is training your pooch to ring a bell when they need to go outside. It can really work: Just leave a bell hanging from the door, and make a habit of ringing it (and perhaps giving your pup a treat) whenever you take them outside. Eventually, your dog will make the association between ringing the bell and going outside, then begin ringing it on their own whenever they want to go out.
This is just one example, of course. Training methods that use positive reinforcement can help in any number of situations where you’d rather have your dog ask for things more politely.
Desensitization and Rewards
With enough treats and praise — and an effective desensitization strategy — you can help your dog become calmer around stressful stimuli.
Let’s say your dog barks at other dogs. (This may be because they’re frightened, because they’re protective of you, or both.) If you want them to stop, you’ll need to help them feel calmer in those situations.
First, find out how close your dog can get to other dogs before they start barking. You can walk them close to a local dog park, or meet up with a fellow dog owner.
Now you'll need to start getting your dog gradually closer to the other dog, as little as a step or two further each day. When you do get your dog closer, shower them with praise and treats. This process can take a while — weeks or more. But after enough time, your dog may no longer feel threatened — and may no longer bark — when they're close to other dogs.
The same basic techniques can be used to desensitize your dog to other perceived threats, like strangers or even indoor menaces like vacuum cleaners and hair dryers.
Ignore "Demand Barking" and Reward Better Behaviors
There are times when it’s wise to flat-out ignore your barking dog. Certain types of “demand” barking — barking designed to get you to do something — shouldn't be rewarded with your attention. Dogs are smart: They quickly learn that if barking produces a desired outcome, they can keep barking and they'll get what they want every time. So if they get that belly rub or tennis ball every time they make noise, they’re never going to stop.
When your dog engages in this sort of demand barking, you may be wise to ignore them altogether. Don’t even say “no” or “stop” — just don’t respond. You can even turn your back or walk into another room. Eventually, your dog will realize that demand barking achieves the exact opposite of what they want.
Just be sure not to ignore your pup in literally every situation where they bark. It's one thing if they just want to play with you. But if they want to go potty, or they want to be kept away from another dog that scares them, you need to take them seriously (and work on other ways to modify their behavior).
There are some other important things to keep in mind, as well. First of all, it’ll be much harder to reverse this type of barking behavior if you’ve been rewarding it for a long time — so try to start ignoring this type of demand barking as soon as your dog starts doing it.
If your dog is very used to getting what they want in these situations, then beginning to ignore their barking can actually make their barking worse before they finally cease the behavior. There’s actually a term for this: It’s called an “extinction burst” — a final flare-up of a bad behavior before it comes to an end. Hopefully you’ll have the patience and fortitude to get through this phase.
One way to make this process easier is to handle everything proactively rather than reactively. So in addition to ignoring unwanted barking, you can reward the correct behaviors.
Pay attention to those moments when your dog gets your attention in other, preferable ways. For instance, if your pup ever tries to get your attention with a nudge of the nose or by sitting in front of you, reward these moments with enthusiastic praise and copious treats. You can even encourage this type of behavior by commanding them to sit and then rewarding them.
If you employ positive reinforcement methods while ignoring demand barking, your dog will soon learn that polite greetings earn your attention, while yelling gets them the cold shoulder.
Erase Their Motivation for Barking
This can be especially helpful for territorial barking around the homestead. If your pet gets especially anxious at home — for instance, when they see people or cars go by outside the window, or when the mail carrier approaches your door — it may be helpful to obstruct their view.
So if your dog regularly barks at people and cars that pass by your window, closing your blinds might do the trick. And if you don’t want your blinds closed all day, you can cover your window with things like plastic film or spray-coatings made for glass.
And if your dog has access to areas outside your home, it may be a good idea to corral them with an opaque fence.
You might also want to make sure your dog doesn't regularly greet people who come to the door. This is even something you can train your dog to avoid — for instance, by using treats and praise to get them used to heading toward a crate, or toward a different area of your home, whenever someone approaches.
Teach the “Quiet” Command.
It may be possible to teach your dog to quiet down on command. You can achieve this over time by intentionally doing something to trigger their barking — like ringing the doorbell — then silencing them with a well-timed treat while saying the word “quiet.” This teaches your dog to become responsive to that word.
Interestingly enough, one thing that makes it even easier to teach your dog the “quiet” command is to teach them the “speak” command first. That way you won’t need to ring any doorbells — you can simply instruct them to bark with a verbal command or hand signal before teaching them to be quiet on command.
Exercise and Stress Relief Are Key
Lack of exercise and mental stimulation can cause both stress and anxiety, which in turn can lead to barking. So just make sure you’re giving your dog enough to do during the day, and that you’re letting them work out their excess energy. (And keep in mind that larger dogs generally require more vigorous exercise than smaller dogs.)
A quick walk or two per day might not be enough. Rather, you may need to get your dog running through fields and chasing balls. And you may need to keep them active at home with lots of stimulation and interactive play. (Puzzle toys are always a great choice.)
Quashing pent up energy can be especially important in moments when your dog needs to be confined (say, in a crate or behind a gate). In those cases, you should provide them with as many toys as possible. You should also consider timing their exercise or play to take place right before they’re confined.
Finally, be aware that separation anxiety can be a huge driver of stress-related barking. If possible, try to limit the amount of time your pup spends at home alone.
What NOT to do
There are some techniques that simply don’t work. First of all, you should never punish your dog. Yelling, swatting, forcefully pushing them into a crate or another room — all of these behaviors are likely to INCREASE the kinds of stress and anxiety that cause barking.
And you should always be consistent: It’s unwise to encourage dogs to bark in certain situations if you’re trying to prevent barking in other situations. For instance, don’t encourage your dog to bark excitedly whenever a friend visits, then expect your dog to know that they shouldn't bark in other situations. Your pup will just get confused, and training will be that much more difficult.
Finally, using a muzzle to stop barking is inhumane: You'll need to shut the dog's mouth very tightly, likely with something painful (like a cord or rubber band). Muzzles CAN be used humanely in certain situations — just not this one.
If All Else Fails, Consult a Behaviorist
If nothing you’ve tried has helped, a certified behavioral specialist may be able to help you control your dog’s barking. Just make sure you find one that uses only positive reinforcement methods.