A dog that excessively barks can be extremely frustrating not only for you, but for roommates, neighbors and family.
Luckily, the barking usually has an underlying cause, typically another behavior problem, which can be treated with a little training and behavior modification. If you address the other behavior problem, you may find that the barking will stop on its own.
Beyond the reasons for all the barking, you should realize that there are many types of barks. Here are six common ones:
- Boredom barking
- Dominance barking
- Territorial barking
- Learned barking
- Excited/play barking
- Fearful/alarm barking
It’s important to decipher which of these motivations is causing your dog to bark too much. Depending on the motivation and type, the treatment plan will vary.
Some breeds are more inclined to bark, whine or howl when they are bored.
If you think your dog may be barking out of boredom, and there seems to be nothing stimulating him to bark, first rule out any medical problems. Some dogs bark when they are in pain, so have your vet check him out for common problems like ear infections, anal sac impaction and urinary tract infections.
If the vet clears the dog, and he still continues to bark without any obvious stimulation, he may be barking out of boredom.
Remember, always treat the cause of the barking and not the barking itself. If your dog is exhibiting boredom barking, you should walk or run him daily until he is panting heavily. This may be a two-mile run if needed. If you don’t want to actually run the dog, try getting a WalkyDog Plus to bike your dog safely.
He also may need some mental stimulation, which can come most easily in the form of training. Pets Adviser recommends an IQ Treat Ball — this puzzle-type toy will keep your dog mentally stimulated for hours when you drop a few treats inside.
It’s easy enough to diagnose territorial barking. If the dog is typically barking only when he is at home (i.e., his territory) or barking at dogs and people where he usually takes his walk, chances are it’s territorial barking.
These dogs should always be wearing a head collar on a walk so the handler can get control of the dog quickly. The best way to eliminate territorial barking is through counterconditioning. To do this, offer the dog a high-value reward every time someone enters his “territory.” Soon, the dog will begin to think that the presence of the intruder yields a reward.
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I like to call learned barking “demand barking,” because typically it’s exhibited by dogs that bark more at their owners than at other people and appear to be demanding things.
To control this, the owner and everyone in the household must stop giving the dog what he wants when he barks. If he starts demand barking for something like attention, to play fetch or to go on a walk, you and everyone who interacts with the dog must completely ignore him and maybe even turn away.
Then offer the dog what he wants when he isn’t barking.
Also, as much as you want to correct this dog, don’t. Dogs that demand things from their owner are typically dominant and have been shown that being dominant is okay. (It’s not.) If you physically correct this dog, his behavior may escalate to jumping or mouthing.
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This type of barking can include a dog going nuts when the doorbell rings or when there is a knock at the door. In this video, trainer Pia Silvani offers one method of teaching a dog a “quiet command”:
4-Step Plan to Stop Excessive Barking
As with any behavior problem, you should put into place a four-step treatment plan when dealing with excessive barking.
1. Reinforcement of Alternate Behaviors
Reward your pet for exhibiting behaviors other than barking. Reinforcing alternate behaviors for dogs that exhibit learned barking is crucial. Even dogs that display other types of barking should be rewarded when they are calm and quiet.
2. Management and Setting Up for Success
One possible solution is to ignore the behavior. The barking will most likely escalate before the dog stops and gives up; this escalation is called an extinction burst. In the case that the dog demand barks for certain items, keep toys and chew items out of sight until a playtime is designated. Offer the toys or a chew item on a specific mat. Now you are controlling the desired items.
Note: Use a consequence only if you are rewarding alternate behaviors as well and you are implementing leadership exercises. Some common consequences are a 30-second timeout in an enclosed room, a squirt with water or a shaker can. Here’s an opposing viewpoint on shaker can correction.
Because most behaviors are self-rewarding behaviors, you must stay consistent when treating any behavior problem. If there is more than one person in your household, everyone must enforce proper behavior. Dogs respond very well to consistency; they are happier and calmer in an environment where the rules are consistent.
A dog that “barks too much” can indeed be annoying, but by determining the underlying factor and treating the cause, implementing the treatment plan, and running through some leadership exercises, you should have success in stopping the problem.