5 Tips to Change Your Dog's Barking Habits
Dogs bark. That’s how they communicate. But when the occasional bark becomes incessant, barking quickly becomes unbearable. If it bothers you, you're probably not alone. Everyone who hears their never-ending barking will also find it annoying.
What can you do to deal with problem barking? We've got five tips for you, and we hope they make a difference in how your pup behaves.
Why dogs bark
A dog's bark is a form of communication, just like growling, howling, whimpering or changing their body language. Dogs bark to attract attention, as a warning for danger, or when they're excited. They also use barking in play and as a form of aggression. Barking is natural behaviour, but if your dog barks too much, it can become an annoying habit that you may want (or even need) to stop.
While some breeds may be more prone to barking than others, there are three main reasons for problem-barking:
- Separation distress/anxiety
It's essential to understand why your dog barks before you try to address any problems.
What your dog’s bark tells you
Did you know that dogs have distinct types of barks? It's helpful for us to try and understand those barks and what they mean in human language. A dog's bark varies quite a lot, so it pays to listen to these differences.
- A basic alarm bark is rapid barking in the midrange pitch. In human language, this means "Everyone come here! Someone's coming, and we may have to defend our territory."
- A bark that arises from a prolonged period alone will be a long string of single barks with a pause in between each bark. This means "Where are you? I'm lonely."
- A high-pitched, often ear-splitting, bark combined with a “dog bow” and a wagging tail is your pup’s invitation “Let’s play!”
Dog barks aren’t just meant to make a noise! There’s always a reason why your dog barks. Their barks should never be ignored. Instead, listen to them with care to understand what they’re trying to communicate to you.
Why dogs bark constantly
There are three main reasons for problem barking:
This occurs when your pup is socially separated from their "pack": you, your family or other dogs. This bark is high-pitched, fast and non-stop. Your dog/puppy is anxious and can't control their barking. Telling them off may work temporarily but won't fix the issue in the long term.
This type of bark is short, sharp and directed straight at the person or object your dog wants attention from.
Puppies first start to bark between 3 and 9 months old, usually in response to something that caused them to be uncertain or fearful. This can sometimes happen when they’re in a new environment and unfamiliar with their surroundings. It also happens with unexpected noises, such as thunder.
When barking becomes a problem
Barking is normal dog behaviour. But it becomes a problem when:
- you can't control or manage their barking
- you find the barking excessive and disruptive
- your neighbours complain about extended periods of barking, which may mean
- you get complaints from the council regarding your dog barking.
Ideally, you’d want to do something about excessive barking before the neighbours complain. But sometimes you’ll only know that your dog barks constantly once you’ve left the house when the neighbours tell you – or when you get a complaint from the council.
What you can do about excessive barking
The ideal scenario is firmly addressing excessive barking in the puppy stages, by establishing the cause of the barking and nipping the behaviour in the bud before it becomes entrenched. Don’t expect them to "grow out of it". They won’t.
While it's possible to manage the behaviour in an adult dog, it does need more patience, time and consistency with training.
Here's where you can start.
- Establish why your dog is barking excessively
Listen to the type of bark and what triggers the barking. This may take time to understand, especially with a dog you haven’t had long. You’ll want to learn all their barks to recognise what’s normal and what’s excessive. Once you understand the reason for their problem barking, you can work on changing their behaviour.
- Train your dog to respond to the "Quiet" command
Have you ever tried to yell at your dog to stop them barking? I bet it didn’t work. Why? They think you're joining in! Instead, use the command “Quiet” in a calm, firm voice and give them a treat as soon as they stop barking or take a breath. You can even use a body cue, such as putting your finger to your lips. Be careful not to reward them when they’re still barking. Soon they'll associate the word "Quiet" with treats and decide it's worth it to stop barking.
Please don't be tempted to use citronella collars or shock collars; they can inflict fear and pain. Positive, gentle training methods are more effective and best for your pup's long-term wellbeing.
- Find solutions for separation distress/anxiety
Dealing with separation anxiety is a complex issue. Dogs experiencing this are highly emotional, desperate to be reunited with their pack and can't control their behaviour, which includes barking.
Once you’ve established their barking is caused by separation anxiety, the quickest "fix" is to leave them with a family member or dog minder your pup likes and trusts when you can’t be with them. If they haven’t spent time with the minder before, this will still require some work to establish that trust, such as getting the carer to do some training and feeding. Your pup will need time away from you while being with the minder. For example, you could be in another room for a few minutes, then increase that time until they feel safe and comfortable with their carer.
Using a trusted minder isn’t always possible or practical (e.g. when you’re only away for an hour). It will be a longer journey to find a permanent solution, and you may need the help of a dog behaviouralist to get the problem addressed.
- Address attention-seeking quickly
If attention-seeking is the cause for the barking, you need to make it clear to your dog that this behaviour will only drive that person or object away from them.
When your dog barks while looking at you, turn away for 10 seconds. As soon as they’re quiet, give them some attention. If the excessive barking starts again, repeat the process until they realise that barking won't get them what they want.
- Dealing with fear
If the barking is fear-based, give them some distance from what's frightened them and use a bright, upbeat tone of voice to reassure them that everything is okay. Once they are calmer, distract them with a game or treat.
You now have some knowledge to begin to address your dog's barking. Remember that it’s crucial to know why your dog is barking to make effective changes and be patient as you implement changes to their behaviour.
How to Train your Dog by J Tate & R. Tate
How to Speak Dog by Stanley Coren