Barking: What it Means and How to Control it

By Animal Behaviorist Diane Anderson

Barking is a dog’s natural reaction to changes in their environment.  Please allow your dog to indulge as long as the barking is reasonable.  So what is reasonable?  Barking briefly at strangers passing by, other animals, loud noises etc.

What is not reasonable?  That’s simple. When it annoys your neighbors.

A dog’s bark can be many things. It can be cute, funny, helpful, scary, and sometimes annoying. How do we tell why our dog is barking and more importantly, how can we control it when we need to?

dog open mouthDogs bark for many different reasons; boredom, frustration, external stimuli, fear, and play are just a few. Some dogs may be more vocal in general than other dogs and certain breeds are more predisposed to vocalize than others. Beagle and Husky parents will know what I am talking about.

Did you know that barking relieves tension in dogs?  It also drives strangers away and is a way of communication for dogs.  Most dog owners want their dog to bark if they hear someone at the window or see someone entering the yard.  Dogs are natural warning devices.  However dogs should stop barking when asked to do so.

When people come to me with a “barking problem” and ask me to help them teach their dog not to bark, I politely tell them no. Barking is a natural canine behavior and should not be eliminated entirely. It is a way in which dogs express themselves. But what I will do is help them to control it.

The first thing to diagnose when controlling an excessively barking dog is to figure out why the dog is barking in the first place. If external stimuli is the culprit, it may be as easy as moving the dog to an area of the house where they cannot see out the window while you are out. Every now and then managing trumps modification. If your dog seems to bark at everything they see or hear sensory isolation may be the cure.

pet_bone-iconPut your dog in a kitchen, laundry room, or bathroom with a crate or bed away from windows, common walls, and hallways.  Try turning on some classical music before leaving the house to help muffle outside sounds.  Note: Always confine your dog in a room using a baby gate or a crate and not a closed door so that your dog does not feel trapped and panic.

If your dog barks excessively at anything that arouses it, the best thing to do is to teach your dog to bark on command. Yes, you heard me right. By naming the behavior we gain control over it. Also, when teaching SPEAK, we teach HUSH at the same time. See where I’m going here?

So what IS excessive barking? We should encourage and allow dogs to give a few ‘alert barks.’ For example, if someone knocks on your door, three to five alert barks should suffice.

dog with bone on faceTo train your dog you will need to first elicit your desired response from them: barking. Most dogs will bark if you knock on the door yourself or even a table. (If not, enlist some help and have someone stand outside and knock.)

Allow your dog a few barks while saying “Speak” now take out a treat and allow your dog to smell the treat. Your dog will immediately cease barking because it is physically impossible for them to sniff and bark at the same time. Once they quiet, say “Hush” and give them the treat. Repeat until they can bark and hush on command. (Remember to wean them off the ‘trigger’ when they start catching on.)

What NOT to do: even though it can be frustrating at times, try not to raise your voice, get excited, or yell at the dog for barking. This will only add to the dogs already aroused energy and make the problem worse.