Barking is a perfectly natural, normal canine behaviour and dogs use it to communicate. However, excessive barking can cause problems for both pet parents and their neighbours. In fact, barking is one of the most common behavioural complaints amongst dog owners. Frequent or excessive barking can signal something is wrong, and your pup is almost certainly trying to tell you something. So, let’s look at how to stop a dog from barking excessively.
Table of contents
- Why does my dog bark so much?
- How can you get your dog to stop barking?
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Why does my dog bark so much?
Dogs can bark for many reasons. The first step to preventing unwanted barking is to understand why your dog is barking in the first place. It’s also important to remember that barking is a natural behaviour, so you will never completely stop your dog from barking. We are looking to prevent excessive or inappropriate barking.
Reasons your dog may be barking include:
- A lack of physical and/or mental stimulation: Dogs who are bored, or who haven’t had enough exercise, are likely to be more ‘wound up’ and bark more often.
- Separation anxiety: Some dogs bark and howl when left alone, in an attempt to call someone back. Dogs are very social creatures and being alone does not come naturally to them.
- Excitement: Your dog may bark out of excitement when you fetch the lead or food bowl, to ask for play time, or even when someone comes to the door.
- Fear: Fear is a common reason for dogs to bark. They may be scared of the postie pushing mail through the letterbox, for example.
- Territorial barking: Many dogs will protect their territory by barking at people walking past the house or garden.
So, now that we know the possible reasons behind your dog’s excessive barking, what can we do about it?
How can you get your dog to stop barking?
There is no ‘one plan fixes all’ approach to excessive barking, as the remedy will depend on the cause.
Firstly, you should NEVER punish your dog for barking. Shouting at your dog will only make them more anxious. They may even translate your shouting as joining in with the barking, which will encourage the behaviour.
Bark prevention tools should also never be used. Spray or electric collars, rattle cans and aerosol sprays are all marketed as quick fixes for problematic barking. While they may work in the short term, they don’t address the underlying reason for the barking. So, although your dog may stop barking initially, they will still feel scared or anxious. Possibly even more so. This often leads to other behavioural issues and certainly doesn’t help your pup.
Now that we know what NOT to do, let’s look at what we CAN do. It’s important that your dog gets plenty of exercise, as well as mental stimulation through games and puzzle feeders. Reward your dog when they are calm and quiet.
So let’s look at some specific scenarios:
Here’s how to stop a dog barking at the door
If your dog barks when someone comes to the door, it’s a good idea to redirect the behaviour to something more appropriate. For example, you could teach them to go to their bed instead. This way, they are still reacting to the guest, still alerting you and they also get to go to their safe space. Asking them to retrieve their favourite toy would be another alternative.
This can take time, so it’s sensible to have a recording of a knock or doorbell so that you can practice in your own time. As soon as the doorbell rings, say ‘bed’ or ‘toy’ (or your chosen command). You may need to gently lead them there initially. Then give them a treat, but only once they aren’t barking.
The recording can also be used as a desensitisation tool. Start with a second of low volume play, then very gradually increase the volume and length of exposure to the sound. Each time, immediately reward your dog (before they have a chance to bark). This helps them to become accustomed to the noise, and to associate it with something positive.
If people walking past the house is the trigger, the same methods should help. You could also consider closing curtains or blinds, so that your dog cannot see their trigger.
How to stop a dog barking at night
If your dog barks at night, or when left alone, then they are likely experiencing separation anxiety. This is a complex issue which needs addressing, for your dog’s welfare. You can read more about separation anxiety and how to deal with it here.
How to stop a dog barking in the garden
People walking around the periphery or wildlife can trigger a dog to bark in the garden. Preventing barking in the garden can be more tricky, as the triggers are out of your control. It’s a good idea not to leave your dog in the garden unsupervised. Consider using a dog walker or sitter to let your dog out in the day if needed. As soon as your dog barks at something in the garden, recall them to you and give them a treat when they arrive. With time, they should learn to come and find you rather than bark.
My dog is barking out of excitement, how can I stop this?
If your dog barks with excitement when you pick up your lead or their food bowl, and this bothers you, then it’s important not to feed them or walk them until they have stopped. Otherwise, they learn that barking results in what they are asking for! Distract them with a command such as ‘sit’ so they are quiet first.
How to stop a dog barking at people or dogs on a walk
This can turn walks into a stressful affair for you both, and you may need to involve a qualified behaviourist for this one. If your dog is barking out of excitement, make sure the other people and their dogs ignore yours until your dog is quiet. If they are barking out of fear or anxiety, it’s a good idea to distract them while the people pass by. You could hold a treat out in a closed hand, for example, so they sniff for it. Allow them to take the treat once the people have passed.
If your dog suddenly starts barking more than usual, or if you’re not seeing an improvement with these suggestions, then you should seek advice from your vet. They may wish to examine your dog, for example to check for hearing issues. They can also then refer your pup to a qualified behaviourist if necessary.