All dogs bark. Barking is an important way for them to communicate. They bark for many reasons and most owners do not want to stop their dog barking altogether, which makes the situation more complicated.
If you want to stop your dog from barking inappropriately it is important to understand why he is doing it. He may be lonely, bored, anxious, excited, asking for something, barking out of habit, etc. Think about the reasons and address them if you can. Give him plenty of exercise, play and love and don’t leave him alone for long periods without something to do.
What can I do about it?
Whilst you are training your dog not to bark in inappropriate situations keep him away from situations in which he would normally get carried away. Always listen to his bark to ensure that he’s not distressed, asking to go out for a pee or something other than a problem bark.
Your dog doesn’t know that barking may not be what you want from him. Sometimes you ignore it, sometimes you may congratulate him, as when a stranger comes to the house. When visitors come and he barks he may get to be stroked. On other occasions he may be shouted at if you have a headache or he doesn’t stop soon enough. Humans can be very inconsistent and you need to establish a rule. As you probably don’t want to stop your dog barking completely a good rule is to accept barking as good unless you give the command ‘Quiet’.
In general, the calmer you are, the calmer your dog is likely to be. If he starts barking say ‘Quiet’ in a calming tone of voice and encourage your dog to do something for which you can congratulate him, like coming to you or sitting down. Then you can praise and reward your dog whilst having distracted him from barking. You could leave a lead on him and walk him away from the reason he is barking and talk to him whilst he calms down.
To train your dog to become silent, arm yourself with high quality treats. You could ask a friend to ring the doorbell or create a situation in which you know your dog will bark. When your dog barks wave a tasty morsel under his nose. He can’t bark and eat at the same time so the chances are he will stop barking to sniff the food. Don’t give it to him until he has stopped making a noise.
At this point say ‘Quiet’ and let him eat it, telling him how good he is all the time and repeating the word ‘Quiet’.
Practice this and delay giving the treat a second or two each time, building up to a good quiet period. Don’t forget to praise him when he is quiet. It is best to practice this at a time when you know he will bark but is not frantically barking as he will be too distracted to begin with.
Build up the silence second by second, praising all the time. If at any time your dog makes even the smallest bark, say ‘No’. In this way you can build up the silence to about 2 minutes over time.
You could keep a bag of treats near the front door and ensure that any guest entering the house gives your dog a treat, but only if he is sitting in silence. This can work extremely well.
For some dogs it helps to first train them to bark on command so there is a start and end point to what they are doing. To do this simply use a reinforcing word like ‘Speak’ or ‘Bark’ when the dog is barking and congratulate him. If he’s a barker he’ll soon get the idea. Then he will be aware that he is doing something you have asked him to and should be more receptive to your ‘Quiet’ command.
Loud noise distractions can help if necessary. These are not designed to frighten or hurt your dog but merely to distract him from what he is doing. Verbal commands can sometimes go unheard when a dog is frantically barking as he is making a great deal of noise and is concentrating hard on what he is doing. (Keep in mind that a noise distraction should always be seen by the dog to be a consequence of barking and not related to you at all. If your dog barks, a loud clang is heard and you instantly pick up the object you threw, he may quickly realise the connection and it will not work as well). So use something like a set of training discs or a bottle with stones in it that you can throw down but conceal from him when you are holding them.
Timing is critical for this, as with all training. As soon as the dog barks drop the object down onto the floor next to him. He will be startled and it should distract him from barking.
When he stops barking, praise him hugely and reward him if you can. Pick up the object a little later so he doesn’t connect it with you.
N.B. Your dog should be conditioned to the sound of discs or other noise before using them in this way.
Practice your leadership skills with your dog. He may be barking because he is anxious or feels he has to protect you from the world. If he is confident that you are in charge and is secure he is less likely to feel the need to bark at the world.
Basic training will also help, as it reinforces the bond between you and your dog and gets him into the habit of obeying you without question.
Young puppies can sometimes be quietened from barking in their crates by putting a cover over the crate to simulate night time. Obviously do not do this for extended periods during the day, as your puppy needs social contact, exercise and play.
Finally, if none of the above methods have worked it may be worthwhile considering the use of a remote controlled spray collar. These emit a spray of citronella under the dog’s chin when activated and this can be very effective in stopping unwanted behaviour. However, it is crucial that the timing of its use is accurate as otherwise the problem may worsen. Please ask me if you feel you need to consider this method.
These training methods will not work overnight as barking is self reinforcing as well as being a natural activity for dogs. However over a few weeks you should see a new pattern of behaviour developing in which he will bark and then stop.