Why dogs bark and what to do about it.
Dogs are vocal creatures that bark, whine and howl — some breeds more than others. The forces behind barking are powerful, driven by genetics and your dog's physical and emotional needs. Barking is your pet's primary form of communication, but sometimes their barking can become excessive.
If your dog is barking too much, it's important to understand why dogs bark to help you find ways to reduce it. While it can be a challenge understanding and addressing the cause, you can usually get a dog to stop barking with time, patience and consistent training.
How to Get a Dog to Stop Barking
Regardless of why your dog is barking too much, you can take steps to train your pet not to bark. If you like to teach your dog tricks, try training them to stop barking on command. When they're quiet, make eye contact and gently say, "Quiet" or "No bark." Pet them and offer a treat.
From then on, when your dog barks, calmly speak your quiet command. When they stop barking, reward them. Just make sure you don't let your dog sneakily initiate barking sessions to get a treat. Decrease the treat amount as your dog learns the trick, and eventually the command should work without treats.
While you're more likely to succeed training a puppy, there's still hope for adjusting a mature dog. In either case, the sooner you begin training, the better. The longer you allow barking to go on, the more ingrained the behavior will become. Determining the reason for your dog's barking — and addressing it — is important for curbing excessive barking in the long term. Read on to explore common reasons for barking and tips for addressing each one, plus barking solutions to avoid.
Step 1: Determine Why the Dog Is Barking
Most of the time, keeping your dog quiet begins with meeting all their needs. At the top of that list of needs comes food, water and access to a place to relieve themselves. If your dog's physical needs are met, they could be barking to communicate something else to you.
Feelings like alarm, fear, distress, discomfort and desire prompt dogs to bark. Barking is their way of saying, "Hey, I'm over here," or "Listen up! Did you hear that?" or "I need help!"
Reasons for barking include:
- Initiating play
- Warning you of danger
- Threatening strangers or intruders
- Announcing their presence
- Trying to get your attention
- Welcoming you home
- Feeling bored or lonely
Pay careful attention to how your dog acts and what's going on when they begin to bark. Why did the barking start? Why did they stop? When do barking sessions usually begin and end? Is the barking primarily at night?
Step 2: Address the Cause
Let's address a few of the most common reasons for barking. If none of them matches your situation, you may have to dig deeper and possibly seek help from your veterinarian or an animal behavior specialist, or take part in animal training with your pet.
"Hey, look at me!"
Your dog may bark to get your attention. As a general rule, don't reinforce barking behavior by immediately giving them attention; this includes punishment, which a dog sees as attention. Never punish a dog for barking, as punishment doesn't teach your dog the correct behavior. Turning away is the most severe form of negative reinforcement you should ever use.
Positive reinforcement works much better. A minute or two after your dog becomes calm and quiet, reward them with a treat.
"Welcome home — let's play!"
When you come home to a dog that has been alone, they'll naturally want to express their delight at seeing you. You may be just as happy to see your pup, but your enthusiastic response will only encourage more barking the next time you come home.
As difficult as it may be, try to ignore this behavior. When you get home, look away and avoid eye contact. Then, after your dog settles down, shower them with affection and play with them. You may be surprised at how quickly your dog will quiet down in the future in order to bask in your attention.
Your dog may bark when they're hungry or thirsty. If you respond by immediately filling their bowl, they'll learn to bark whenever their tummy rumbles.
It's better to ignore your dog's pleas and wait until they're quiet. Try knocking the food or water dish against the sink or kitchen counter a few times before you fill it; your dog may learn to knock the bowl with their nose to make the same noise, instead of barking, when it needs filling.
"I'm so bored!"
A dog barking from boredom may simply need more exercise. Walk them more often, find a dog park to visit a couple of times a day or enjoy several fetch sessions in the backyard. Tired dogs bark less. An exhausted dog will lie down and dream of the two of you romping together.
Dogs are pack animals that don't like to be left alone. Sometimes reducing alone time can reduce excess barking.
When you leave your dog alone, always make sure they have food, water and chew toys. Find ways to keep them occupied while you're gone. Try setting up a food-dispensing device and leave plenty of toys around. Music or voices from a radio or television may also soothe a lonely dog.
Consider if your dog really has to be alone. Could a neighbor or family member stop by to play or take them for a walk? What about doggie day care a few times a week? You can also look into giving them a companion. Another dog or a cat in the house might help.
If your dog's lonely barking is accompanied by other behaviors like soiling in the house, destructive chewing or attempts to escape, your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety. See our guide to dog separation anxiety for strategies to relieve their stress.
"Help! I'm hurt!"
Dogs whine, cry and sometimes bark when they're in pain. Check your whining dog for cuts, scrapes, insect bites, bee stings, and stones or other objects stuck in their paws. If you can't find a cause for their discomfort, or if you find a visible wound, take them to your veterinarian.
Some older dogs start barking more due to the onset of senility. Talk to your vet or an animal behavior specialist. Your pet may need special treatment.
Barking Solutions to Avoid
If you've been researching how to stop a dog from barking, you may have seen products that promise correction: collars that shock or spray citronella and muzzles that keep the mouth shut. Collars may not be effective, and even if they are, they should not be used. Muzzles can be dangerous because they restrict a dog's ability to pant, which can cause them to overheat.
Some owners resort to debarking surgery, which removes part of a dog's vocal cords. This procedure does not stop a dog's ability to bark. In fact, the dog will typically bark just as much after surgery — the sound will just be quieter. Devocalization doesn't address any underlying issues for barking, and the procedure is considered inhumane and can lead to choking and chronic pain. Plus, some dogs can actually regain their bark.
While it may take a book to cover all the causes of excessive barking, following the steps outlined above may do the trick for you and your dog. If not, seek help from your veterinarian or an animal behavior specialist.