How to Solve Unwanted Barking
7 tools to reduce your pup's need to bark8 minute read
Listen, we wouldn't be surprised if you read this article and felt like our solution to barking was just to teach your dog all the normal things you're supposed to teach your dog. Honestly, that's pretty close.
No matter the cause of the barking—and there are really only three root causes—the solutions look similar to general training:
- Teach your dog to be confident and unafraid of the normal things in his world
- Reward your dog for behaviors you like and ignore what you don't like
- Learn how to inspire calmness when it's needed
- Teach your dog the basics like coming when called, place, sit, etc.
- Manage your dog's environment so he can't fail
- And so forth...
Still, it would be helpful to know how these things help to reduce barking, so that's what we're going to do here.
Why Is My Dog Barking?
No seriously, that's a question for you to consider. We don't know why your dog is barking. We're not there. You know why though, and if we had to guess, it's one of these things:
- There's someone at the door
- There's something outside
- He's bored and wants your attention
- He's afraid or doesn't like something
- He wants something
- He's excited and he knows it and he really wants to show it
In all of these scenarios that something could be replaced by a specific thing. Maybe your dog barks at other dogs. Maybe she barks at noises. Maybe she barks at people, or cars, or bikes, or clowns. Whatever it is, you probably have a good idea of what triggers the barking.
Now, despite the infinite forms that the trigger may take, there are really only three emotions your dog is experiencing (in varying degrees of course):
- Excitement (in this case, happy excitement)
An Important Warning About Stopping Barking
Barking is one of the most significant way dogs communicate and express themselves. It's important that you don't take that ability away from them.
Imagine a situation where a dog is afraid of another dog. The first pup might bark or even growl to say "Hey! Don't come near me." This is perfectly acceptable and even encouraged. It's the dog's version of "using his words and not his fists."
Consider the alternative. If the first dog isn't allowed to bark, the second dog might think it's okay to get close. When he does, the first dog might become so frightened that he aggressively lunges at or even attacks the other dog.
This is an extreme example but it's not uncommon. Your goal isn't to discourage your dog from barking or growling. Instead, you want to eliminate your dog's need to bark or growl at things that frighten him by either avoiding those things or teaching him those things aren't scary.
Even if your dog is barking out of frustration or excitement, it's better to address the reason for barking or to teach them to do something different in those situations, rather than tell them "no" or otherwise punish them for it.
7 Training Tools to Manage Barking
Here are our seven favorite techniques for managing your dog's unwanted barking:
- Stop the rehearsal
- Develop a calmness protocol
- Introduce passive calming activities
- Give your pup active rest
- Build confidence with other behaviors
- Desensitize and countercondition
- Teach an incompatible behavior
Stop the rehearsal
Avoid situations that cause your pup to bark.
The more your pup does something, the more she'll want to continue doing it. In this case, the phrase "practice makes perfect" is not a good thing. To stop your pup from practicing unwanted barking, try to avoid the thing that triggers the barking.
If she always barks at people walking by your house, close the curtains so she can't see them. If she barks whenever you get out the vacuum, then try putting her in a different room when you need to clean. If you know she's about to bark, try initiating your calmness protocol (see below) before she does.
It's not always possible to "stop the rehearsal" but if you can, it's the first thing you should do.
Develop a calmness protocol
Design a routine that calms your pup down.
Extreme barking is often a sign your dog is over her arousal threshold (in other words, she's way too excited). When this happens, it's almost impossible to get your pup to do anything you ask. In this case, the only solution is to get your pup back to a more neutral emotional state and the best way to do that is with a "calmness protocol. That might mean removing your dog from the situation that has him excited, or just asking him to lay in his bed until he calms down, or distracting him with a series of repetitive and easy requests.
Introduce passive calming activities
Distract your pup from the source of his barking with another activity.
Passive calming activities are a part of your calmness protocol. They include things such as a long-lasting chew like a bone, working on a food puzzle like a Kong, playing a simple game like Raining Treats, or doing any simple tasks like sits, downs, hand targets, or anything else your dog knows really well and is good at. All of these help your dog to redirect her excitement away from the thing she was barking at and help her calm down faster.
Give your pup active rest
Give your pup a peaceful place to rest.
One of the Harper dogs that shall remain nameless (cough Zelda cough) loves to bark for attention when she's bored, and the easiest way to calm her down is to ask her to go to her house (i.e. her crate). Once she's in there, she immediately stops barking. Active rest is all about saying "Hey, you don't need to make any decisions right now. We'll do everything for you and you can just relax." The crate is a great place for a dog to do that, but other places work too—dog beds, other rooms, or even just lying down out your feet.
Build confidence with other behaviors
Teaching your dog simple things like "sit" makes them less afraid and frustrated.
Dogs will bark when they're insecure. Fear and frustration are variations of insecurity. If you can make your dog more confident, that means they're less insecure and less likely to bark. This is why training is so important. Each little success builds up your dog's confidence. It also teaches your dog to trust you and to understand how to communicate with you. All of these little things add up over time and help your dog feel more secure in her world.
Desensitize and countercondition
Teach your pup to think and respond differently to the trigger.
These are big words but they're probably concepts you already understand.
Desensitization is when you expose your pup to the stimulus (the thing that triggers them), but in a really boring way—so boring in fact, that your dog doesn't want to bark. For example, if your dog barks at other dogs, then you would try to take her around other dogs that are really far away. If you do this often enough, the other dogs become uninteresting and not worth barking at even when they're closer.
Counterconditioning is when you teach her not only to not react, but to change her emotional response entirely and even react in a desirable way. In the example above, you could countercondition your dog to other dogs such that instead of being anxious and barking she actually becomes happy and looks up at you. You countercondition a dog by pairing positive experiences (like treats!) with the thing that causes anxiety or excitement (like, in this example, other dogs).
Teach an incompatible behavior
Teach your dog to do something that makes it impossible for him to do the unwanted thing.
Dogs don't understand "don't" because "don't" is a concept. They do understand "do" though. What this means is, instead of teaching your dog "don't bark" you teach your dog to do something else instead that makes it impossible for your dog to bark.
For example, if your dog barks when people come into your house, you could teach her to go get her favorite toy when people knock at the door. It's hard for a dog to bark with a toy in her mouth. Similarly, if your dog barks at things outside, you could teach her to relax in her bed which is placed in a spot where she can't see out the window.
Helpful Courses, Games, and Articles in Harper
Hand Targets is a good passive calming activity and for building confidence.
You Decide: is another good passive calming activity and for building confidence.
Place is great for active rest and training incompatible behaviors.
Raining Treats is a great passive calming activity.
Comfortable in the Crate is useful because the crate is a great place for active rest.