When you rescue or adopt a dog, barking comes with the territory, right? Some dogs bark occasionally, some rarely bark, and others bark a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. The latter is where owners find themselves wondering, how do I get my dogs to stop barking?
Dr. Maureen Murithi, veterinary spokesperson and team vet for Spirit Dog Training, an online dog training resource, says barking is one of the ways dogs communicate with their immediate environment.
"Most times dogs bark out of fear, boredom, loneliness, or to seek your attention. They may also bark to defend their territory or as a form of greeting or play," says Dr. Murithi. They also bark as a result of separation anxiety.
When your dog compulsively barks, it's an annoyance many owners would like to train away. You've likely already tried to yell at your dog to stop barking. Unfortunately, they can interpret yelling as a competition or game and continue barking. "Dogs cannot process that you are not okay with barking simply by yelling at them," says Dr. Murithi.
What Does It Mean When Your Dog Excessively Barks?
Since barking is a mode of your dog's communication, you might try figuring out why your dog barks excessively. A dog's bark can indicate:
Excitement or play
A need for attention
A warning or guarding
Communication with other dogs
Senility in older dogs
Figuring out when and why your dog barks continuously can help you train him to stop. Pet owners must be willing to take the time and be consistent if they want to see a change.
How to Train Your Dog to Stop Barking
"Training your dog to stop barking requires a lot of patience, consistency, time, and effort," says Dr. Murithi. Here are some of her tips to get started.
Talk with a firm, calm voice. For example, saying "quiet" while holding a finger to your lips when you look at your dog shows him you want something.
Once he gets what you want and stops barking, offer him a treat and praise. "With time he'll be conditioned to associate the word 'quiet' with no barking and a treat," says Dr. Murithi.
Try adding a hand action for extra emphasis like holding your hand out in a stop motion. Using hand signals and verbal cues can help some dogs get the gist of what you want.
Tire your pooch out so that they lack the energy to excessively bark. Use walks, runs, and playtime like fetch or tug of war to help. A well-exercised dog barks less.
If the behavior is new or you can't figure out a trigger or cause for the barking, talk to your vet and come in for an exam. Pain and some health disorders like a neurological disease could be a culprit.
Older dogs are also prone to howling or barking more frequently, so having regular vet checks may help keep tabs on any health problems in seniors.
When barking is the result of separation anxiety, owners should try seeking a dog sitting or walking service, enrolling in doggie daycare, and working with their veterinarian on other lifestyle or medication options.
Additional Anti-Barking Measures
Early socialization prevents dogs from barking when interacting with other dogs or people. If you have a new puppy, make sure she's socialized properly by introducing her to people, kids, and other animals regularly. This not only helps your dog become a good citizen but can help prevent excessive barking later.
Anti-barking devices have also been shown to help during training. When the dog barks, the pet owner presses a remote control that signals the collar to release ultrasonic waves which deter the dog from barking. "The frequency of these waves is inaudible to the human ear but not to dogs," explains Dr. Murithi.
What's more, be sure to never reward or pay attention to your dog when they bark. Always wait until they are quiet to reward them with any treats, praise, food, or attention.
With some patience and a lot of work, you can begin to curb your dog's excessive barking. You can also work with an in-person or online training service to help with your dog's particular situation. Talk to your vet about bark training or ask friends and family for a trainer recommendation to work with your pup on his barking habit.