Barking is natural for dogs and they bark for many reasons. There is, however, a reasonable amount of barking that one household can take and if you have a canine companion (terriers, can you stop barking long enough for your guardian to read this) that barks excessively, there are a few training methods to try before resorting to a bark collar.
First, determine the reason for your dog’s barking:
- Territorial barking – In order to protect their home or yard dogs bark to communicate to passers by that they are trespassing. Interpretation “Hey, you! Yeah, you with the red collar and leash. This is MY HOUSE and MY YARD and you’d better keep away if you know what’s good for you!” While this is a natural instinct for dogs, some tend to go overboard and need help stopping. Of course, visitors to the house are typically given the same warning bark, so controlling this behavior is necessary if you want your friends to continue to visit.
- Alarm barking – Some dogs bark at just about any noise or movement outside. Something like: “Hey! What was that?! Could be an intruder! Might be a tree falling on the house! Hey! I heard it again! I think the sky is falling!” Dogs prone to alarm barking tend to be a bit more nervous or anxious in temperament.
- Loneliness/boredom and separation anxiety barking – It can be difficult to distinguish between the two since they both usually occur when the dog is left behind. The remedies are similar, however, so it is not necessary to split hairs here.
- Attention seeking barks – This bark is usually directed toward you, so you’ll recognize this. It usually means something like “Play with me! I need attention!” or “It’s dinner time NOW!”
- Greeting or play barking – Of course, this just means “Hello! Hello! I’m so happy to see you! Long time, no see! Let’s have fun!” etc., etc. Typically accompanied by much tail wagging and sometimes jumping up and down.
When training, set your dog up for success. Make sure you have thought through your method and are prepared to be consistent; and be sure to get everyone in the family on board so they don’t undo all your hard work by yelling at the barking dog, or rewarding the barking behavior inadvertently. Consider using flower essences such as Training/Breaking Habits, and for more anxious or nervous dogs, give them a calming remedy for several weeks or more during your training period.
To control Territorial and Alarm barking, you’ll need to create a diversion. This is done with a cue and really yummy treats.
- Pick a word, like “Quiet” or “Shush” – just one word that is distinguishable from all other commands. Don’t use “No” or “Stop” since those might slip out when other unwanted behaviors arise.
- Stock your pocket with little bites of her favorite treat and then set up a situation that triggers her barking by having a friend walk by outside or come to the door.
- When your dog pauses to take a breath, use your cue and give a treat at the same time. Do not yell – speak firmly and calmly. Yelling at her just makes her think you are joining in the barking and urging her on. Don’t keep saying the word over and over until she stops – wait until she has paused slightly so she can hear you and notice the treat.
- Repeat the pause, cue, treat as many times as you can. Hopefully she’ll pause enough to get the message that “Quiet” means “treat”. If she doesn’t get there after a few minutes, remove her to another room before letting your friend in and try again later.
- Remember, the longer a dog has been repeating a certain behavior, the longer it will take to break the habit. Be patient and keep trying. You might need to use a lower-level stimulus – like someone walking by on the other side of the street – for initial training sessions until she really associates your cue with the treat. Then increase the stimulus and see if you can keep getting her attention. Praise her profusely when she stops barking even for a moment.
- Once she really associates the cue with the treat, you’ll be able to interrupt her barking. Eventually, when the training is solid, you can gradually eliminate the treats.
Dogs that become bored when left alone and dogs with separation anxiety need two things:
1) Lots of exercise and 2) diversions when you are away.
Keep in mind that some smaller dogs, such as terrier breeds, schnauzers and other smaller working breeds may need more exercise than larger breeds such as Great Danes. It is not the size of the dog that determines their need for exercise, but their temperament and energy level. If you don’t have time to give your dog a good long walk in the morning before you leave, hire a dog walking service or a neighbor who walks their own dog to take yours along. Consider doggie daycare one or two days a week.
Diversions include food and chews. Try stuffing toys with treats and peanut butter and freezing them. This can keep a dog busy for hours after your departure and is a good way to feed breakfast. Puzzle toys and treat dispensing toys add variety, too. Long lasting chews such as bully sticks can keep dogs diverted as well. Some folks hide treats, toys and chews all around the house and let the dog make a game of finding them. It is best to play this game when you are home the first few times so your dog gets praise each time he finds a treasure and learns how fun the game can be. Then he’ll be more likely to play when you are away.
Attention seeking and greeting barkers need a different tactic – the cold shoulder. Ignore them completely – don’t speak to them, look at them or acknowledge their existence in any way – until they pause; then give attention. The first time you may have to wait for just a brief pause – like when she stops to take a breath. But after a few times, wait until a longer pause before rewarding her with attention. This can take patience, and possibly ear plugs – but it is worth the effort so you don’t become frustrated and yell at the dog since that just rewards her by giving her attention. Yell at her just once and you have made your job even harder.
I board dogs in my home and have often had to use these tactics for some of my visitors. I’ve seen every type of barker and if I can get results in just a few days with someone else’s dog, I’m confident you can get results with your own. Patience and persistence are the keys. Give it a try and let us know how it goes!