The best way to train a dog not to bark is starting the day you bring him home from the breeder. Often new owners do not discourage the behavior – a small puppy bark is cute nor is it very loud at this point. Before long, the pup grows into an adult dog and that cute yipping has turned into a full-bodied and loud, big dog bark that will not stop. He barks for attention, he barks for food, he barks for play sessions and he barks because he is bored.
Puppies communicate with their littermates by making all sorts of noises – growling, mewing, yipping, chattering, howling and, of course, barking. They quickly learn that barking gives the most immediate response – either mom comes running or a littermate quickly pounces. When they go to their new home, they have no idea that barking is not acceptable so training must begin right away.
With a young puppy, it is hard to correct the behavior in the same way you would correct an adult – they do not know what the word ‘no’ means yet and using methods such as a spray gun may be a little harsh for a new pup. However, training them in a passive manner does work and once they understand the word ‘no’, to switch to typical training methods will continue on the work. Training a dog not to bark can be just as hard as training to use large dog doors when they need to use the bathroom.
‘Passive methods’ mean methods that do not include a typical correction but instead use the pup’s own language to train them. For example, if the pup is barking to be let out of his crate, do not let him out until he is quiet. If he is barking for his dinner, do not feed him until he is quiet. If he is barking at his toy, do not throw it for him. By reacting neither positively nor negatively to him making noise, he will learn that barking does not get him the results it did when he was still with his littermates and mother. Instead, he must learn to ask for what he wants in a different way – bringing you his toy, standing by his food dish and whining when he needs out of his crate.
And, in turn, when he is lying down quietly or playing peacefully, tell him ‘good boy, good quiet’ and the first time he stands by his food dish to let you know he is hungry, reward him immediately so that he knows without a doubt that that was the correct way to ask.
But what happens if you adopt an adult dog that already barks or even after all your good intentions, he is still a barker? Don’t worry, it is not too late.
First, stick with the rules listed above – ignore him when he barks and reward him when he is quiet. Next, an adult dog knows what the word ‘no’ or an ‘ah ah ah’ noise means – stop what you are doing immediately. Part of the trick is to stay calm yourself. Too often we escalate the problem by getting upset at the dog which either makes him think this is a fun game or that there must be a good reason to bark if ‘mom’ is so upset.
Lastly, stopping the bark before it happens is important. Sounds crazy but it is easy to read a dog’s mind if you pay attention. Watch his facial expression and you will soon learn his ‘pre-barking’ face. Many dogs open their mouths and pause before they bark. Others will twist their ears around or get a wild look in their eyes or look away from you for a second. The easy ones do all three. As soon as you see a change in his mannerisms and you know he is about to bark, say ‘no’ firmly or ‘no bark’ if he knows the word. He will probably close his mouth and give you an odd look like ‘how did you know what I was about to do…’. Stopping the thought process before it can become an action is the most effective way to train a dog for anything, not just barking.
Persistence and patience is the key to training your dog not to bark. Some breeds are more difficult then others but the system is the same – discourage inappropriate barking while encouraging quiet methods of communication.