Of course, you want your dog to bark sometimes - to let you know if there's a prowler or to let you know that someone's at the door. But what about all that nuisance barking?
Simple window film (above) lets the light in and allows this dog to enjoy in his sunspot without being constantly agitated by the dog walkers and mail carriers that seem to taunt him.
Management is the first defense when dealing with excessive barking.
Prevent them from practicing the behavior by changing the environment.
The dog who cries "wolf"...
It's nice to have a dog who lets you know if something is wrong. It's one of the reasons we have dogs. If your dog is an excessive barker, with consistent conditioning, you may eventually eliminate a large percentage of the noise, but you will never eliminate all the barking. What you will eliminate is the unnecessary part - the part you yell at or ignore. The part that is driving the neighbors crazy. Best of all, when your dog does bark, you will listen!
Confident dogs make very little noise. Fear drives most alarm-barkers.
Most puppies find their voices at around 5 months of age, increasing during sensitive fear-imprint periods (6-8 months of age). While some breeds are naturally more vocal than others, the problem is magnified in dogs with limited socialization. Early barking is usually fear-based, not protective. The more timid or unsure the dog feels, the more noise he makes. Young adolescent dogs frequently lunge and bark at other dogs, with hackles (the ridge of hair down the dog's shoulders and spine) raised. The more his hair stands on end, the more fearful the dog actually feels. Small breeds often bark more than their larger cousins - what they lack in size, they make up for in volume!
Don't mistake early growling or barking for protectiveness.
True protectiveness rarely emerges until the dog is 18 months old, or older. Positive experiences and socialization are essential to build confidence and judgement. If you ever need your adult dog to protect you, you'll want him to feel confident - not fearful! If you encourage fear-based barking, you may actually be increasing his mistrust of anyone new.
Reassure your dog, but avoid cooing "it's o.k., it's alright" in an urgent tone.
It is perfectly fine to reassure your dog and be his support system. But, if your dog is feeling uneasy and you start to stress because he's stressed, cooing "it's O.K., it's alright" it isn't really helping if your worried tone of voice tells him you are worried, too. If he's to trust that everything really IS okay, he needs you to be calm and confident. Don't fret, be Joe Cool. Use a "don't be silly - this is great" calm and confident tone of voice. Reward him for looking to you for direction and support.
Reduce stress, don't add to it.
Your reaction will affect his perception.
Your dog just announced "COME QUICK! THERE'S A MAN IN THE YARD!" Instead of yelling about the barking, say "Let's go see!" and then go look. "Yay! It's the mailman!" "Oh, it's just the neighbors!" "Yup, it's the dog next door." Then celebrate with a treat scatter. You told me, we looked, I let you know it was nothing to worry about. Good things happen after we check it out. This will create a pattern of coming to get you and happily letting it go once you've checked it out. But won't he bark to make treats happen? Maybe - but think about it. By the time he is barking for treats when the mailman comes, he is no longer REACTING because he is UPSET. In fact, he is quite happy that the mailman came. Now you can focus on calmly rewarding when he lifts his head and wags his tail before he barks to tell you it's treat time. Teach him to come to you or go get a toy or run to his bed - because now he is in a frame of mind to be able to learn.
Are you part of the problem?
"NO BARKING!! NO! NO! NO!" If you bark, too, you sound just like your dog. Every time he alerts because there's something wrong, you seem to get upset, too. If concerning things make even more upsetting or threatening things happen, the next time they occur the dog will be MORE stressed about it.
Punishment can make matters worse.
If you squirt him with water or yell, stomp and clap your hands, now he has even more to worry about than the thing that alarmed him in the first place. Imagine, if every time he barks at kids, his collar shocks him, the association could become those kids walking down the street make my neck hurt. He might stifle the bark to avoid the pain, but he dislikes kids MORE. The fall-out of punishment is often increased aggression and fear that could change his perception of strangers for a lifetime.
The yard barker and door terrorist.
WHEN, AT WHAT OR WHO, WHERE AND WHY??
If your dog goes ballistic at the sound of the doorbell, he drives you nuts.
If he barks at every leaf that falls, he's driving your neighbors nuts, too ...
So how do we curb his need to tell the world he's on duty?
1. Your dog's job is to alert you -
and then turn the responsibility over to you. ALWAYS CHECK IT OUT when he barks. Really look. Then, in a matter of fact, no big deal tone, tell him, "Oh, it's just the neighbor! Never mind!" Is it excitement barking? Teach him what you would rather he do instead. Teach him to go to a bed or his crate when the doorbell rings and reward him generously for doing so.
2. What triggers the barking?
Is he barking at what he sees? Install a visual block. If it's kids walking home from school, bring him in before 3:00. If it's things he sees around the neighborhood, put up a visual barrier - a solid fence or hedge. Move him to the backyard if he's noisiest in the front. If he uses your deck or the back of your couch as a look-out, ban him from his self-appointed look-out post. He barks only when you are gone? Keep him inside when you have to leave. These environmental changes can be an instant solution for many dogs - with no other training needed!
3. Change the association.
Be alert to things that trigger barking. If it's likely to startle the dog, be proactive. Before the bark starts, call your dog to you and let him know "there's a dog walking by!" Praise and reward the dog for sitting quietly. If he's alarmed about the new neighbor, introduce them. Give the neighbor a big box of small treats and ask him to toss a treat scatter over the fence every time he comes in his yard. Before long the dog will be wagging his tail, not barking at the sight of the neighbor. Once the reason for alarm is eliminated, the alarm barking will stop.
4. Does he bark for attention? To get you to come to the door?
Barking expresses a need or a frustration. Dogs repeat what works. If he barks and you rush to let him in, he will bark whenever he wants in. If you ignore his demands, he will become more persistent - the barking will increase. If the barking increases and you do eventually respond, he will learn that persistence pays. He'll bark longer and louder. The real answer is to teach him a BETTER way to ask to be let in, like ring a bell. Sometimes simply installing a dog door so he can come in when he wants to will completely solve a "Let me in or out" barking, jumping, scratching problem.
5. Is he barking because he's bored, lonely, suffering from the heat or cold?
If so, it's not a behavior problem, it's an environmental problem. Dogs are social animals who want and need to be close to their people. Totally outdoor dogs are often the worst barkers. Dogs need play and training and to feel like part of the family. Dogs do not do well shut outside alone all day and all night. Is he bored? Does he need more exercise? Set aside time for daily walks, play frisbee, have a training session. See Intelligent Diversions and Creative Play for more ideas to keep his body and mind busy.
Living with the dog who has a lot to say.
Teach an incompatible behavior.
They can't bark at the fence if they "Run to the house!" I teach this cue when there is nothing to bark at until it is so well trained that the dogs run to the kitchen for treats on the first cue. When the cue-response is so immediate and fluent that they can respond even when they are about to bark, I can call them in to positively interrupt barking. After a couple of months of calling them in whenever I hear a bark, they start to anticipate the call. They give a halfhearted cursory bark and then automatically run to the house. Things they used to get upset about now predict treats in the kitchen! This also works for redirecting barking when the doorbell rings. The sound of the doorbell can predict treats in another room. "Run to your room!"
No view : reduced stress.
No stress - no barking!
The above beautiful meme was shared on Facebook by, Lisa Mullinax, CPDT, KSA of 4Paws University in Sacramento, California.
This easy-to-apply static cling window film can be found in a variety of patterns online or at your local Home Depot or Lowe's.
Reduce the View,
Practice makes permanent.
Everything you do to prevent barking, helps breaks the cycle. If he's barking at what he sees, install visual blocks.
If he's barking at what he hears, try a white noise machine, a fan, play music, to help dilute the sounds.
Fence fighting or barking at the neighbors? Close the gaps! Horizontal boards were installed across the vertical boards. No posturing or visual threats. Barrier frustration reduced or eliminated.
Barking at things from inside the car can distract the driver and be a safety issue.
You need a second person to drive while you train the dog. If you don't have a helper:
Your dog should ride in a crate or be contained with a car seat belt for safety.
Put window film on the side windows or place a sheet over the sides of his crate so he can't see out the windows.
Try a Thundercap - they can work miracles for visually overstimulated dogs: https://www.thundershirt.com/thundercap.html
Calming supplements/medications can help the stressed dog relax.
Video: John Rogerson on barking
Great article by Karen Pryor on Paired Cues - teaching "speak" and "quiet"
Great article by Diane Garrod: The Three Bark Rule
This handout may be reprinted in its entirety for distribution free of charge and with full credit given:
© CAROL A. BYRNES "DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF" Training for Dogs & Their People - ditr_training @ hotmail.com - http://www.diamondsintheruff.com