Every dog barks occasionally – whether to exhibit excitement or to tell you they are bored. The problem is that some dogs get carried away and do not stop barking. They grow agitated at any sound they hear inside or outside the home or they simple bark for the sake of barking. In these cases, an owner will quickly grow impatient, as will their neighbours. So it is important to take action sooner than later, communicating to your dog that barking is not permitted for the sake of barking.
Why Your Dog Barks
To start with, know that your dog is likely bred to bark. Almost all breeds were bred to make noise in some form or another. Hunting dogs and terriers barked to alert their masters to the fact that they found something. Herding dogs were bred to bark and nip at the animals they were herding. Even some working dogs were bred to become vocal when necessary. And of course, dogs bark naturally as a sign of excitement or aggression. I could outline what all of our dog’s barks mean, but you likely have a good idea based on the tone and body language of the animal – they are just communicating.
The real goal then, rather than stopping your dog from barking completely, is to minimize that barking. There are very few situations in which your dog should bark endlessly, even when communicating to you. But, at the same time, you want your dog to be able to warn you if there is danger, communicate when it needs to go outside, and keep other animals away if it is uncomfortable or afraid.
- Exercise – To start with, make sure your dog gets the exercise it needs to release any pent up energy that could be leading to excess barking. Often times, barking can be the result of boredom or anxiety – exercise will help to reduce that.
- Don’t Reinforce the Behaviour – The number one reason dogs continue to bark, after energy level problems, is simply that their owners reinforce the behaviour. They feel bad for the dog when they whine or simply want them to stop barking when they are angry. So, they give them attention, give them their food, or take them outside. Your goal should be to never give your dog what they want when they bark. If you need to wait them out, do it – giving them what they want when they bark at you will only teach them to continue doing it.
- Anger and Shouting Causes Confusion – Yelling at your dog or getting angry will only cause confusion. As with most behaviour, they don’t know they’re doing something wrong, and they will only get confused if you start yelling at them. Along these same lines, avoid any punishment laden treatments like shock collars. They are inhumane and most dogs will try to learn how to get around them.
- Training – Simple training can be very helpful in minimizing barking behaviour in your dog. Teach them to sit, lie down, or shake as well as to speak and be quiet. These simple commands cause them to shift focus to you and away from whatever they are barking about. Additionally, teaching them to bark and stop barking on command gives you more control over their vocal habits.
- Controlling their Outdoor Behaviours – If your dog barks continuously outside, they will never learn to stop inside. Rather than yelling from the back window, go outside, attract their attention and divert it whenever they bark. Your goal should be to teach them that there are other ways to communicate with you and that their focus should be on you and your home, not whatever is beyond your fence.
Barking is one of the harder things to control in a dog, largely because of how natural it is for them to do it. However, with proper training, exercise, and attention to what might be causing your dog’s outspoken behaviour, that barking can be severely reduced or even stopped.
As a side note, for those considering extreme measures like de-barking surgery, please think twice. The surgery does not actually stop the barking behaviour – it just quiets it. Additionally, it is unsafe to ever put an animal under anaesthesia and into surgery, and to do it for cosmetic reasons is unnecessary. If your dog is barking so much that you’re considering a surgery, the odds are that they have a greater, deeper laying fear or anxiety issue that needs to be dealt with anyway. A veterinarian, behaviourist, or dog trainer can all be more helpful in addressing your concerns than a medical procedure.