What to do if your dog is barking

If you have a dog that barks a lot, you might be wondering how you stop your dog from barking. It can be extremely annoying, frustrating, and embarrassing if you have many neighbours or visitors, and it can severely strain your mutual relationship. Even depending on the frequency and pitch of your dog’s bark, it can be more or less irritating. In this blog post, I will provide you with several helpful tips on how to get your dog to stop barking. But before we discuss how to stop the barking, we should first look at what causes it.

Why is my dog barking?

dog barking

Before you try to get your dog to stop barking, it is important that you figure out what triggers it. You cannot simply fix the barking issues without truly understanding what your dog means by it. 

In some cases, trying to only treat the symptom (the barking) rather than the disease (the cause of the barking), you might accidentally make it worse. The barking could get intensified, or another ‘’problem behaviour’’ might arise as an outlet to the dog’s problem or frustration.

There are many reasons why a dog might choose to bark (I say ‘’choose’’ because the dog does actually have a choice to show its frustration in different ways, but we will get to that later on in this post). Finding the exact cause of the barking can be really difficult. Often, it is also the case that there is not just one reason, but several triggers co-existing. This is known as co-morbidity. This can make training your dog to stop barking even more difficult.

Reasons why a dog may bark

Barking is often a way for the dog to let out or show that it is stressed, confused, or frustrated about something. Sometimes, it is something as superficial as attention seeking behaviour. Other times, it can be based on anxiety for big or small things.

Is your dog barking when the mailman arrives? Or when someone knocks on the door? Does it happen while it is home alone, while part of the family is home, when everyone are home, or no matter the situation? This is often a sign of anxiety – even though it can range from very mild to extreme cases. Try to note down exactly when your dog is barking, what sounds are present at that moment, what the dog was doing just before, and who is home at the time.

If a dog feels threatened it might act out to try and scare away the threat before it comes so close that it will discover, that the dog is not as confident as it pretends to be. Sometimes, the louder the dog is, the more insecure it actually is. Is it a confidence issue? Or is the dog trying to protect a certain member of the family from potential danger?

Dog training and barking

dog training

Some dogs will bark a lot during training whether it be obedience training, agility training, flyball, or rally-O. It can even happen at puppy training classes! This kind of barking is usually associated with stress, over-arousal, or frustration.

When dogs become stressed, they are in need of an outlet to reduce the stress. For us humans, we may either talk with friends, put on music, chill in the couch, or maybe draw a bath. Dogs cannot do this, so their default stress-outlet is usually to start barking. This kind of stress is often triggered by either over-arousal or frustration and confusion.

If your dog is over-aroused, it might be because the environment itself is too exciting. Maybe there are too many other dogs, or it simply wants to be part of what the other dogs are doing. A dog that is over-aroused will typically struggle to focus on you and the training, it might be pulling and lunging, and some dogs might be barking. If this is the case, the first thing you should do is to put more distance between you and whatever triggers your dog. You will know when you have gone far enough away once you are able to get your dog’s focus again. When at a safe distance, try some of the further tips below. If, however, you cannot seem to get far enough away, your dog might just have gone over its threshold in relation to excitement. Then the only thing to do is to remove your dog from the situation completely until it has had the opportunity to calm down. For some dogs, this will not happen on the same day, others will only need a couple of minutes.

If your dog is confused or frustrated, this may be related to your training and the way you are training. Have you held back a treat for too long and expected too much of your dog? This tend to happen when the dog does something well at home, and you expect it to be just as good in a different environment. This is not always the case, though, as a different environment may have different smells, movements, and exciting distractions. In this case, try to praise more often and lower your criteria for your dog training session a little.

You might also have asked your dog to do something completely new or very difficult, which could have confused the dog. If this did happen, try to help your dog more by using better hand signals, lures, or other ways of encouraging your dog towards your goal. Sometimes, depending on how you use, shaping a dog can create this frustration effect in dogs, because they do not know what to offer, and if you haven’t praised them for a while, it will try to tell you that it doesn’t understand what you mean. Again, if this happens, try to help your dog out a little bit and be sure to give it a success!

It can also sometimes be a way of telling you, that what you are doing at the moment is not interesting enough for the dog. Sometimes, if we go into nerdy details in our obedience training or keep training the same sequences in agility over and over, the dog will eventually become bored. To help with this, make sure to always mix up your training! If you are in need of inspiration, sign up for a tricks class where you will learn dozens of many super cool tricks that you can play with your dog no matter where you are. Dog parkour might also be of interest to you and your dog as this is something you can play anywhere – even when you are out on your daily walks.

What definitely NOT to do

When we get very frustrated about our dogs barking, we tend to seek quick and easy solutions. We might have seen dog training videos on the internet where famous dog trainers or ‘’scientists’’ and behaviourists demonstrate different devices that will make your dog stop barking immediately. Here, it is so very important that you do some proper and thorough research first. If the device is very new, you will not be able to find any reliable research on the matter yet, so you should really wait for a while until more information comes out.

There are often no quick fixes if you are looking for long-term solutions to behaviour problems. Think of it like trying to treat ADHD or anxiety by shouting at the person everytime they move. Don't try to treat the symptom without treating the cause.

Anna Louise Kjaer at 4-Paws Canine Academy Tweet

What I often experience as a professional dog trainer is people who have used some of these ‘’quick fixes’’ in order to try and stop their dog from barking. The devices and methods I have seen include the anti bark collar, the spray collar, shock collars, high frequency sound devices, yelling of the dog or jerking its collar or other devices sold on TV.

Some people come to me with a dog where this has not worked at all, and sometimes the barking has even gotten worse. Other times (and what I see most often), is when people come to me with a totally different struggle usually based on anxiety. While talking with them about their general training habits, I often hear that they have used these devices. When asked if the dog exhibited the new problem behaviour previous to the use of the anti barking methods, people are often surprised to find out just how close the time of using the device and the discovery of the new behaviour are.

spaniel dog

So why does this happen? Why can these anti barking devices create new problems in dogs? Imagine this; you have had a very hectic morning. Your alarm clock did not wake you, so you slept too long. You did not have time for your usual shower, nor to have any breakfast because you had to make breakfast for your child, pack its lunch, and make sure to get it ready for school. You finally get in the car, but there has been an accident and the traffic is getting worse. Your child is starting to say that it will be late for school – and you know that this means that you will also be late for work which your boss will un-doubtly make remarks about. You finally arrive to work and is in high need of getting a cup of coffee to help you calm down and get to work. You get to the kitchen only to find the coffee gone or the machine broken. Your usual stress outlet at work has been removed. What is most likely to happen then? Do you just shrug your shoulders and carry on with work? Or might you become more irritable that day towards other people?

This is the same in dogs! If you punish them for their default outlet of frustration, they will find another – and often more inappropriate – outlet. This could be anything from chewing their paws, to go to toilet inside the house, or become aggressive towards other dogs and people. Therefore, in order to help your dog, you should show it a more appropriate outlet that it can use. Help it discover other ways of dealing with stress.

Some solutions and how to help your dog

The very first thing you should do is to try and identify what causes the barking. You want to treat the underlying cause and not just the symptoms. If you find it difficult to do by yourself, get a professional to help you out. Some dog trainers will be able to do this, but not all trainers are qualified or experienced enough to determine the cause. Sometimes, it will be worth to find a proper dog behaviourist instead. Make sure to ask your local trainers if it is something that they can help with – and make sure that they will not use aversive methods to make your dog stop barking!

Once you’ve found the cause, you should try to help your dog overcome this struggle. It might be in need of some confidence boosting, learning to think in arousal, or learn how to relax and calm down in different environments. Again, a good dog trainer will be able to help you out here. Ask for help with specific struggles rather than just saying ‘’I want help with teaching my dog to be obedient’’ as you want to find the right trainer for your struggle and dog. Do not just assume that all trainers are alike or that all trainers who have many reviews or followers are good. Be critical, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Whenever you are able, try to prevent your dog from experiencing the trigger. By repeating the behaviour, it only becomes more likely that it will choose this same behaviour next time as well. You can also try to distract your dog, if you have discovered its trigger before the dog has. This way, it might still smell the trigger or hear the trigger on a subconscious level, but by pairing the whole process of distracting and redirecting your dog with lots of treats or toys, you can slowly get closer and closer to the trigger without the dog reacting. This is because the dog will start thinking that the smell or sound is more likely associated with good things than bad things. This is known as counter-conditioning. After lots of practise, you will be able to distract your dog even though it has seen the trigger.

puppy barking

Games and strategies to help you

If your dog is in need of building up tolerance of frustration or needs help to calm down either at home, in the car, or in new environments, try to give your dog some good long lasting dog chews. These could be filled and frozen kongs, lickimats, snufflemats or dog puzzles. We at 4-Paws Canine Academy REALLY love Nina Ottosson’s dog puzzles because they all come in different levels and don’t break despite you having a dog with long and strong nails. If you do go have a look at www.nina-ottosson.com do remember, that if you are a student of 4-Paws Canine Academy we can provide you with a discount code for her dog puzzle games. By slowly making these games tougher and tougher, your dog will gradually build up a higher and higher tolerance of frustration which can be generalised to other situations as well.

If your dog is in need of confidence building, try our very simple and fun ‘’hide’’ game. All you need is a cone (I prefer a 9 inch cone as it usually fits most dogs), and they can often be found in sports shops with football/soccer equipment or online for very cheap money! Now, start by placing a treat just right in the opening (the bottom) of the cone. Offer the cone to the dog, and let it simply take the treat. At first, this can be a huge task for the dog to overcome, if it is even just a tiny bit anxious or careful. Once your dog is more comfortable with taking treats from the opening of the cone, put the treat slightly further in (but never all the way to the top of the cone! The dog has to be able to easily reach it). This is just to encourage the dog to put its nose a little but further in the cone. When your dog is really confident in doing this, try to pretend to put a treat in the cone, and then see if the dog either puts its nose in there or even just sniffs at the edge of the cone. If your dog shows interest in the cone (even just the slightest) praise it with a new treat! Now, go back and place an actual treat there for a couple of tries, and then do another where you pretend to put the treat. By teaching your dog that putting its head into weird objects triggers a treat, you can very easily boost its confidence and self-esteem. Normally, putting the head inside something where it cannot see can be very uncomfortable for the dog. But when it figures out that it is paired with something good, it will come to realise that it is not as scary after all. With time, it will come to realise that other things in the world are not as scary as it might first have believed.

Is your dog simply over aroused? If so, do calming exercises! A reeeally easy one, is the reward nothing game (named by absoluteDogs). All you need to do is to sit down on the floor with your dog and have a good handful of treats in your pocket. Whenever the dog is doing absolutely nothing – so simply just remaining calm – you give it a treat, but very slowly and very gently. It does not matter if your dog is sitting, lying down, or standing. As long as it is not moving around all the time or constantly shifting between positions. Simply wait for your dog to choose a still position, and then provide it with a treat. The more often you do this, the faster the dog will catch on to the idea, and the faster the dog will put itself in a calm position. If the dog remains calm, just keep giving it treats slowly with varying intervals.

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