That old chestnut! How many times I have been asked how do I stop my dog from barking at other dogs, people, cats, in the car … the list goes on and on!
We all know how much of a nuisance barking can be, but before we can start to remedy the matter we need to understand WHY they are barking. Dogs communicate through barking (amongst other things), it’s how they get attention and its how they raise the alarm if they think that they, their owners, or their property are under threat. Remember Fido doesn’t know that the Postman isn’t coming to burgle the house.
So it is worth taking a moment to think about the types of barking. There is barking for a reason, eg someone is at the door, and then there is what I refer to as nuisance barking. Two types of barking and two ways to remedy it.
Barking for a reason
This would include barking at other dogs, cats, cars, whatever, but your dog is barking for a reason and it seems perfectly logical to him to bark at that stimulus. The best way to stop this type of barking is to give the dog something else to do, eg if he is coming back to you for a treat he isn’t barking. This can work if they bark in the garden, at other dogs, at people, etc, simply teaching them a simple activity to do when they would usually bark will reduce the barking, and in time they will learn the routine that when they see that stimulus that they used to bark at they now come back to their owner for a reward. It doesn’t have to be food either, to begin with you might want to reward every success with a piece of food, but it can be a favourite toy or some fuss and attention from you.
Barking when someone is at the door can be remedied in more or less the same way. For example, if you teach your dog that whenever there is a knock at the door they are to go to their bed, or lie on a specific mat, and they are rewarded for doing that, you can soon build up to where they learn that the knock is their cue to head to their bed where a reward will soon be forthcoming. It can be useful to work on this using a stooge visitor, so that you can get lots of practice in with your dog before a real visitor tests it out.
When a dog barks for no particular reason it can be very annoying and stressful, especially if you have close neighbours! Before addressing this behaviour it is really important to make sure that the dog is not simply bored. Is he getting a good amount of exercise – both physical and mental – on a daily basis. Simply tiring them out can often solve the problem. They can’t bark if they’re sleeping! Take a look at some of the ideas in my earlier posts about ideas for upping their mental stimulation.
If the problem is not resolved with increasing their exercise and activity then you need to make sure that you have not inadvertently rewarded the barking. For example, if they are barking to get your attention and then you go and speak to them or make a fuss of them then you have, unintentionally, rewarded their barking. Anything that is rewarded is likely to be repeated. Simply ignoring the barking can be a solution in itself, but if it is not they you need to consider a correction. By correction I do not mean anything harsh or punitive, simply giving them a ‘bad’ command – see here how to teach this – and then giving them no attention for a moment or two, then reward their quiet behaviour by giving them attention.
Teaching them to bark
Now that might sound counter-intuitive, but actually teaching a ‘speak’ command can be effective in teaching them to be quiet too!
Start off when they see something that they are likely to bark at and when they do you give them a command, eg speak, and then reward them with food or a toy. Once they have mastered this you introduce a quiet command in the same way. When they are quiet say the word and reward their obedience. That way you have a clear command that the dog understands as meaning that they need to be quiet and not bark.
Hopefully this post will have given you some insight into how dogs minds work and how we can work with them to make their behaviour fit better into our lifestyle. If you have any ideas of your own or any questions please pop a comment in the box below and I will get back to you as soon as poss.