Dogs bark for several different reasons: sometimes it is because they are happy and excited, such as during play; other times it is because they are being territorial and their barking is part of the territorial display that dogs use to proclaim their dominance over their turf and to ward off anybody they perceive as an intruder. Generally, “problem barking” would be any barking behavior that disturbs the peace and quiet desired by dog owners (and their neighbors) and that is unwanted. Dogs may also bark when left alone in the home because of separation anxiety; these represent more complex cases than ordinary problem barking and may be treated by anti-anxiety medications prescribed by a veterinarian in conjunction with more advanced behavioral training than is ordinarily required to reduce or eliminate ordinary problem barking.
As with almost all forms of dog training, the most crucial element is that you first establish an understanding of what “no” means. It is virtually impossible to teach your dog to stop (any) unwanted behavior until your dog first reacts appropriately to being told “no.” The one thing you do not want to do in connection with curbing unwanted barking is to shout (anything) back at him because he will likely interpret that as “barking” on your part and it will only encourage him and reinforce the behavior, the same way that dogs bark more in packs and in response to other barking dogs. Once you have firmly established what “no” means and your dog responds appropriately in other situations when you tell him not to do something, you can begin to teach him not to bark when you don’t want him to bark. Meanwhile, because barking is perfectly appropriate during play, you should let your dog know that it is OK, such as by telling him he is good or even by “woofing” back at him when he is barking excitedly at play. Generally, that is preferable to creating rule that barking is never allowed and it may be easier to curb unwanted barking if you allow dogs to bark when it is appropriate than if you try to discourage all barking.
Probably the most helpful tip to stop your dog from barking is to try to anticipate what triggers his barking before it happens so you can react proactively and reward him instead of reactively with scolding or punishment such as being confined to another area of the home or banished to his punishment place. Typically, dogs bark when strangers approach the home, when they hear voices outside, and (especially) when they hear other dogs barking first. Luckily, most dogs also react in ways that provide a cue in advance tipping you off that they are about to bark, provided you know how to recognize them. First, they will raise their heads and their ears will perk up and your dog will also turn toward the noise to focus on its direction. That reaction is also associated with characteristic changes in body language, such as jumping to their feet or jumping off a couch and moving toward the direction of the sound. Finally, many dogs will also give a very small initial “pre-bark” that sounds more like a reflex or a cough than a full-fledged deliberate bark.
If you recognize these indicators and react quickly, you can distract your dog by telling him “no” but more in the tone of voice that you would use to warn a toddler not to do something than in the tone you would use to stop unwanted behavior that has already begun. You can also call your dog over to you and offer a favorite treat by recognizable phrase (such as “do you want a cookie?”). At this point, your dog may be struggling not to bark or he may still bark once or twice. You can use the word “no” as long as you don’t do it repeatedly, loudly, or in “rhythm” with his barking. You can also show him that you are withdrawing the treat by letting him see that you are putting it behind your back while telling him not to bark and giving him a choice of barking or getting his treat.
If you execute all of these steps correctly, you can actually get to the point with many dogs that instead of barking at noises when they occur, they will actually come over to you for a treat (and your affection) as soon as they hear the sounds they used to bark at. Other dogs will always require gentle reminders as soon as you anticipate a barking situation. However, in most cases, you can discourage unwanted barking quite effectively using this approach.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.