Excessive barking from a dog can irritate not only the animal’s owner, but can be an extreme nuisance for entire neighborhoods. Dogs bark for many reasons, often to attract attention, communicate a message, or just to show excitement. To stop your dog from barking, you must first understand exactly what triggers the barking, and correct your own behavior so that you are clear about when barking is acceptable, and when it is not.
The problem with barking is that to humans, sometimes barking is good behavior, and other times it is bad behavior. We praise our dogs for barking at strangers near our homes, but then when we have friends over (since your dog hasn’t met your friends, they’re strangers to him), we want our dogs to stop barking immediately. Our moods can affect reactions to barking as well. We’re much more likely to scold Fido for barking if we’re not feeling well or in a foul mood.
Realistically, you cannot train, and should not try to train, a dog to stop barking completely. It is natural for dogs to be vocal, but the goal is to have a tool to silence the animal when necessary. Most often, dogs learn that they get attention by barking, so they will bark when bored, lonely, frustrated, or in fear. A very common cause of too much barking is lack of exercise, so before you begin training to stop your dog from barking, make sure he is getting walked daily.
What training will provide you with is a phrase that communicates your desire for silence to your dog. Make up a command to use, such as ‘be quiet,’ or ‘stop barking.’ Barking is ok until you give this command; once given, the dog should stop any noise immediately. To begin, when your dog barks, allow two or three woofs, and praise him for the alarm. Say your command (‘stop barking’) and wave a treat in front of your dog’s nose at the same time. Most dogs will stop barking to sniff or lick the treat, because they cannot do both at once. After a few seconds of silence, give your dog the treat. Praise her for being quiet. Slowly increase the time between the command and the treat, a couple seconds at a time. If she barks or makes any sound at all after the command is given, scold immediately, and try again for the silence.
For some dogs, a treat is not enough to distract attention from whatever is causing them to bark. A spray bottle with the nozzle turned to ‘stream’ works well for these stubborn cases. Use the spray bottle as a training aid to punish the animal for vocalization after you have given your command to stop barking. Spray her once in the face to get her attention, wave the treat and give your command, wait, and reward for silence.
In extreme cases of barking, more complex training aids may be needed. A citronella anti-bark collar senses a dog’s bark, and sprays a mist of citronella scent in front of the dog’s nose. Studies have shown that dogs dislike citrus smells, and will quickly stop barking to avoid the spray. An ultrasonic collar will emit a sound (humans may or may not be able to hear it) in response to barking, which over time, annoys the dog enough to quiet her.
If you have a dog that barks continuously while you are at work, she is most likely suffering from separation anxiety and boredom. This behavior is actually fed by you doting on your dog, telling her when you are leaving, and giving her undivided attention while you are home. To help break this behavior, consider hiring a dog walker for mid-day exercise. Also, set her up with a toy while you are away. Before you leave, ignore her until she settles down somewhere, and leave only after she seems calm.
We actually condition our dogs to behave as they do, so getting desired behavior means knowing when to praise, when to give attention, when to ignore, and when to scold. Because we love our pets, ignoring and scolding is difficult, however, discipline forms a much stronger, healthy bond between ourselves and our animals. To train your dog to stop barking, you must actively follow through every day with discipline and exercise. It may take some time, but your neighbors will be forever grateful.