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Let’s look at a few possible reasons your dog is barking. Your dog could be barking to ask you or another dog to play; or to get your attention; or to relieve boredom or stress; to express excitement; to request something he wants; or to warn off a perceived threat. You should be able to tell fairly easily from context and behavior which of these reasons your dog has for his barking. Dogs vocalize for almost as many reasons as humans do.
If your neighbors complain that the dog barks all day while you’re away, your dog is probably barking as a source of recreation. If she barks around dinnertime or when you have something desirable, she’s making a loud request. If your dog is barking at other people or dogs, watch his body language he may be telling them go away, go away.
What should you do?
Socialization is key specifically during your dog’s socializing period in puppyhood. A good socialization program will help your dog feel more comfortable around dogs or people and for life with humans. If your dog barks a lot when you’re not at home, or when you’re not paying attention to her, she’s probably barking for recreation or from frustration. There are several easy steps you can take to give her other, more enjoyable activities, and cut down quickly on the barking.
1. If you keep your dog outside when you’re away or when you’re not playing with him, the first step should be to bring him inside. Things are much more stimulating outside and so there’s more going on that will activate your dog’s barking. Moreover, it’s very disturbing to your neighbors.
2. Provide appropriate entertainment. Dogs need to have activities just as much as we do. They need doggy things to do, and it’s easy to provide them! The quickest and easiest way is to stuff several hollow chew toys with your dog’s daily food ration. I recommend Kongs. That way, not only does breakfast and dinnertime become fun game time, but also your dog develops a strong preference for chewing on those toys when she’s bored or stressed.
3. Is your dog barking from Excitement or Demand? Sometimes a dog’s barking is his equivalent of a little kid’s whining – they bark for attention or because they want something. At times your dog may bark out of sheer excitement, either because people or dogs are visiting, or because he’s about to get something else that he wants. The simplest way to gradually phase out this kind of barking is to ignore your dog when she does it, do not pay attention to your dog or give the desired food item or toy until your dog quiets. Do not get caught up in this trap.
I know how this can be difficult to do sometimes, especially at first, because (1) the barking is irritating – that’s why it has probably worked in the past to get your dog attention or other desired objects, and (2) if barking has worked in the past for your dog, she’s not going to give up right away.
This is called and extinction burst. This is a normal process that even humans go through. At first, she’ll probably escalate the barking. Since it’s always worked before, she won’t be convinced right away that it suddenly doesn’t work; she’ll think that she just needs to try harder and longer with more barking! Only after a while and some repetition will she give up on that method. Be sure that you do also pay attention to her and reward her when she’s quietly sitting or lying down. You want your dog to learn simultaneously that (1) barking does not work to get what he wants, and (2) quietly standing, sitting, or lying down does work to get what he wants.
4. Quiet Training is another very important behavior you can do. I like to put problem behaviors on cue, this way if I don’t cue the behavior the behavior will extinguish.
First, put the barking on cue, so that you can initially work on this at easier times, such as when your dog doesn’t particularly want to bark.
- To do this, ask the dog to “speak or bark” and then make a noise (knocking on a piece of wood or wall is usually an effective noise) that will set off barking.
- Ask your dog to quiet and wave a very good treat under her nose. Once she settles down and quiets you can smile praise her and give her the treat.
- Repeat this until your dog begins to bark immediately upon hearing the request to “speak or bark”
- After she is barking reliably on request, ask the dog to bark when she’s fairly calm and praise her for barking; then ask her to “quiet” and wave a treat in front of her nose.
- When she stops to sniff, offer the treat smile and praise your dog. Soon you won’t need to show the treat to get her to quiet she’ll learn that the word “quiet” is a precursor to a food reward if she’s quiet.
- Repeat this sequence many times – no matter how long it takes to quiet the first time, it will get shorter and shorter with repetition! Once your dog gets very good at quieting when he doesn’t particularly want to bark, it becomes much easier for him to quiet on request when he’s actively barking at something.
- Gradually and incrementally increase the difficulty level.
The more practice, the easier it becomes. When you can turn barking on and off anytime, anyplace as a trick, you can now start practicing “quiet” when the dog barks on his own in real-life situations.
Understand that in the beginning the dog will respond poorly to the cue, so you need to be ready. Have some really good treats handy and go back to showing it upfront if necessary. With each practice, you’ll no longer require to show the treat. Once this foundation is set, it will be easier for him to learn to quiet when there’s something exciting in the area.
For even more training and behavior tips, visit The Pee Press!