How To Stop A Dog's Barking

7 February 2023

This article is written by Pet Circle's qualified veterinarian, Dr Gillian Hill BVSc (Hons)

Woof! Woof! Woof! Yap! Yap! Yap! Sound familiar? Excessive dog barking is a very common problem for dog parents as well as their neighbours!

Understanding the underlying reason behind excessive barking is crucial to being able to successfully manage it. It is important to remember that barking is normal canine behaviour, so your goal should not be to eliminate it completely.

Why do dogs bark?
How to Stop Dogs Barking
1. Avoid the Trigger
2. Training!
How to Train Your Dog to 'Speak'
How to Train Your Dog to be 'Quiet'
Further reading

Why do dogs bark?

Dogs bark for a number of reasons, and barking is a normal canine behaviour. Common reasons for a dog to bark include:

1. Excitement
2. Communication
3. Anxiety
4. Fear
5. Boredom
6. Frustration
7. Warning
8. Territorial defence
9. Learned Stereotypic Behaviour (a repetitive behaviour with no obvious goal or function)
10. Illness or age-related diseases

In order to identify the reason behind your dog's excessive barking (and there may be more than one), a great idea is to keep a journal of when the barking occurs, and the circumstances surrounding it. For example, excessive barking at the fence line might be due to people, other dogs or the postie going past. This type of barking is often a case of territorial defence, and is self-rewarding, as the inciting cause eventually walks or rides away! The dog assumes that they have gone away because of their barking, so the dog has won!

If you are receiving reports from your neighbour of excessive barking from your dog, then making use of a video camera, or pet camera can allow you to review your dog's behaviour when you are not at home. Separation anxiety is a very common cause of incessant barking, often accompanied by other symptoms like inappetance and destructive behaviour. Anxiety aids such as calming pheromones or products containing L-tryptophan for emotional regulation like Vetalogica Tranquil Formula may be helpful. For more severe anxieties, your Vet may be able to prescribe specific medications such as Valium.

How to Stop Dogs Barking

1. Avoid the trigger

The first step to managing excessive barking is to prevent your dog from practising (and therefore reinforcing) the undesirable behaviour where possible. This might mean blocking your dog's view of passing people, dogs or vehicles if this is the trigger for their barking. Removable plastic window film is great for indoor areas, and shadecloth or dense hedging plants can help along fencelines.

We often expect our dogs to spend their days alone in the backyard, with very little exercise or mental stimulation! It's no wonder that they can develop nuisance behaviours such as excessive barking to pass the time! If boredom or frustration seem to be the cause of your dog's excessive barking, then start by ensuring that they are receiving adequate exercise and mental stimulation throughout the day. Running, swimming and walking are great ways to tire out your dog before you leave for the day. Consider employing the services of a dog walker, or a doggy day care in your area if you are away from home for long periods during the day.

Ensure that your dog has lots of different interactive toys to play with throughout the day. This will help to alleviate boredom and frustration and rotating toys can help to keep your dog interested in them.

Top recommended occupying toys and treats:

Investing in a number of different interactive toys and long-lasting treats which you rotate every few days is a great way to keep your dog interested, occupied and entertained.

2. How to Train A Dog To Stop Barking

Training for excessive barking involves rewarding desirable behaviour, and ignoring inappropriate behaviour. It is important never to yell at, or punish your dog for barking. At best, yelling is often understood by your dog to mean that you are joining in their behaviour, and can encourage them to continue. But worse still, it can make them fearful of you and damage the bond between you, making any attempt at positive reinforcement training less likely to succeed. Punishment does not teach your dog an alternative, acceptable behaviour, and can exacerbate underlying anxieties and fears and make the excessive barking worse.

Ignoring Unwanted Behaviour

If it is quite obvious why your dog is barking, then it is usually possible to remove what the dog perceives as a reward for this behaviour. For example, if your dog barks every time you arrive home, then waiting until your dog has stopped barking to enter the house will break the association that your dog has with barking and the excitement of you arriving home. Likewise, if your dog barks for attention, turning your back to them, or leaving the room can teach them that barking is counter-productive. Keep in mind that with this type of extinction-program (extinguishing the behaviour), the behaviour can often become worse, or more frequent, before it improves. It is important to persist with ignoring the behaviour, and it is important that all members of your household are consistent with this.

Rewarding Desirable Behaviour

If your dog tends to bark at a mobile trigger, such as another dog, then you can gradually get them used to whatever is causing them to bark. Start with the trigger (the thing that makes them bark) at a distance that's far enough away that your dog doesn't bark when they see it. Reward them with yummy treats for not barking. Gradually, you can shorten the distance between your dog and the trigger, rewarding the lack of barking each time. If the trigger moves out of sight, stop giving your dog treats. You want your dog to learn that the appearance of the stimulus leads to good things (treats)!

If your dog tends to bark at a fixed trigger, then once you are consistently ignoring your dog's inappropriate barking, and ensuring that they are getting lots of exercise and mental stimulation, teaching your dog the commands 'Speak' and 'Quiet' can help to put the barking under your control.

How to Teach Your Dog to 'Speak'

It may seem counter-intuitive, but training your dog to 'Speak' on command is the first step to teaching them to be 'quiet'. By placing their bark on command, you can then also train them to stop barking.

First, you need to have your dog bark. This is easier for some dogs than others. Try to capture those situations in which your dog would naturally bark, such as when someone walks past your house, or the doorbell rings. As soon as your dog starts barking, mark the behaviour by saying 'Speak' (or any other word you choose to link to this behaviour) and give your dog a treat. If you are clicker training, be sure to click the clicker or whistle as soon as your dog starts barking. You can even add in a hand signal to link to the behaviour. Repeat this until your dog barks on your command. Make sure that you are consistent in the word, hand signal or click you use to command the barking.

How to Teach Your Dog to be 'Quiet'

Now that you have 'Speak' under your belt, you can start to teach the 'Quiet' command. Get your dog barking with the 'Speak' command, and let them bark. Calmly say 'Quiet' as you hold out a treat. As soon as your dog stops barking, give them the treat (or click the clicker). It's important to set your dog up for success, so to begin with, practice the 'Quiet' command somewhere with no distractions that might cause your dog to continue barking.

Top Recommended Training Aids:

The following products can be very useful in positive reinforcement training. Clickers and whistles work by creating a 'bridge' between a dog's behaviour and a reward. The benefit is that the sound of a clicker or whistle is one that your dog does not hear in any other daily context, compared to a phrase like "Good boy" or "Good girl". The unique sound creates a strong association between behaviour and reward, helping to reinforce desirable behaviour. For more information, check out Clicker Training Your Dog.

In the end, it's important to remember that barking is a very normal, natural behaviour for dogs. With time, patience and consistency in identifying the underlying cause, and taking steps to teach your dog more appropriate behaviour, you can succeed in alleviating incessant barking. Be sure to check in with your vet if you think your dog may be barking due to underlying anxiety, stereotypical behaviour, pain or illness.

Further Reading

Boredom Busters for Dogs

Your Guide to Using Adaptil

Managing Separation Anxiety in Pets

3 Common New Pet Problems to Avoid

New Puppy Guide

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