How do I stop my dog from barking?
Barking is one of the most common, and frustrating, problems owners seek help for with their dogs.
When dealing with any behavior problem, barking, biting, running away, scared of strangers, peeing on my couch, etc. the first question to ask is “Why? What is the reason for this? What need is my dog meeting by engaging in this particular behavior?” By first assessing why does this dog do this we can get to the root of the problem to fix any issue.
In the same way that my foot could be sore for various reasons (broken toe, stepped on a nail, wearing too tight shoes) all of which would require a different solution to make it feel better, animal behavior requires different responses depending on the reason why the dog is engaging in the behavior in the first place. For example, here are some reasons why dogs bark, each one requiring a different approach to deal with it.
- Boredom – I’m a busy dog and full of energy. I didn’t have enough exercise this morning so I can’t settle down and will be on edge and noisy all day.
- Excitement – I’m a little hunter and barking is a joyful activity for me! I do it whenever I’m having fun. When I notice a rat, bird or squirrel I’m so excited I have to bark at it.
- Warning – You are intimidating me or my property. I will hurt you if you come closer.
- Fear – I’m scared of you, please stay away from me.
- Guarding – Someone is approaching the house; my breeding tells me it is my job to be on alert and bark to let my owners know.
- Frustration – There is something exciting happening out of my reach, I am so desperate to join in the fun I have no other way to express it but by barking.
- Learned – When I bark I get attention or am rewarded in some way, even if it means my owner comes outside to yell at me when I make noise.
When it comes to dogs misbehaving, the simplest answer is normally the correct one. As the famous saying goes: ‘If you hear hoofbeats, think horse, not zebra.’ The reason that most dogs make too much noise is they are not getting sufficient exercise. They burn off energy by overreacting to stimulus and barking excessively.
Boredom is the cause of excessive barking for 90% of dogs. If you find yourself with a noisy K9 at home, first assume your dog is not getting enough exercise. Take note of what happens to your dog’s noise levels if you increase their amount of daily mental and physical activity, especially first thing in the morning. As winter settles in, early walkies might be unappealing, but without it your dog may not be able to settle during the day and will not be able to stop themselves from barking.
The exception to this is elderly dogs who may start barking if they are in pain or start to lose their bearings at home. If you have an older dog whose behavior has suddenly changed, first get your vet to see if there are any physical issues happening.
It is common to assume any noisy dog has separation anxiety, but this is actually a rare condition. Real separation anxiety is a severe and complicated problem that can take months to resolve and luckily it occurs very infrequently. Using a product or medicine designed to help with ‘anxiety’ without increasing exercise won’t have a lasting effect. If you think ‘my dog has anxiety’ try instead ‘my dog needs more activity in his life’ and you will probably find your dog’s happiness and sense of peace will go through the roof!
Barking is a normal dog behavior, while it can be infuriating, it is not the sign of a disorder. Dogs have been bred for generations to bark if something interesting is happening or might be approaching. Until they learn otherwise, all puppies bark and wail when left alone. All breeds will instinctually to join the bark festival if the dogs down the road are marking noise. To stop dogs from barking is not realistic, what is do-able is to minimize the behavior as much as possible.
In addition to more exercise, try these tips to reduce barking:
- Keep your dog’s mouth busy with suitable chew toys and food puzzles – yummy, textured things that use food to keep your dog’s mind and mouth engaged.
- Give your dog a food puzzle toy, appropriate bones, stuffed Kongs or other tasty fun things to gnaw on when you leave them home alone.
- If your dog is barking at people walking past your home, visually block the fence or separate the yard so the dog does not have access to bark at the barrier close to the road.
- When possible, have your dog spend periods of the day inside rather than being left only outside. Especially in the morning and afternoon when dog’s energy is naturally higher. If your dog is barking while inside, try leaving the tv or radio on softly to muffle any outside noises.
What doesn’t work to stop dogs barking is to shout ‘NO’. When we yell at dogs it sounds like we are barking too and generally encourages the behavior. Better to call them inside in a friendly way, rather than ‘join’ the noise by yelling at them.
Karis Nafte Pet Custody Specialist is a certified dog behavior consultant and divorce mediator. She helps separating couples make the best custody decisions for their pets in divorce.