Before we dive into the “how” of stopping dog barking, we need to look at the “why” of why they’re barking in the first place. There are lots of reasons dogs might bark from play to defense, but in the case of excessive barking at home it’s most often separation anxiety. If you listen carefully, you can start telling the difference between the various sounds:
The best way to think of it is to imagine some children playing… then you’ll get the idea of what is going on… They start to have fun, then they get excited, then they start shouting and then start yelling!
Just like any human left alone for too long, your dog gets bored, too. And as Heidi Ganahl, founder and CEO of Camp Bow Wow, explains, “If a dog is bored, they are likely to vocalize more often. If dogs are left alone for long periods of time, they can become very bored, especially if there is nothing for them to do. Dogs who are bored should be provided interactive toys such as a KONG or any of PetSafe’s Busy Buddy toys to keep your dog occupied until you get home.”
If your dog barks at any and every noise and sight regardless of the context, he’s probably alarm barking. Dogs engaged in alarm barking usually have stiffer body language than dogs barking to greet, and they often move or pounce forward an inch or two with each bark. Alarm barking is different than territorial barking in that a dog might alarm bark at sights or sounds in any location at all, not just when he’s defending familiar areas, such as your house, yard or car.
Some jurisdictions will act on anonymous complaints, while others require your name and address but won’t reveal this to the neighbor complained about. Check the public or private status of making a complaint before making it.
First of all, let me talk about my childhood. Do not worry, I am not going off at a tangent here. Nor am I writing this while stretched out on a psychiatrist’s chair. When I was little – say 4 years old – happily playing with my Lego in the living room, if someone came knocking at the door I would not go and answer it. After all, I am only little. Plus, as a child growing up in the 70s in the UK, we had Public Information films on TV that were (it seems) designed to scare the living Beejeezus out of us. I remember all too vividly one that advised people to put the metal chain on the door before opening it, in case there was an axe-wielding maniac on the other side (I kid you not – and why is it always an axe?)
A behavior chain is a series of behaviors strung together. Your dog may learn to bark once or twice to get you to turn your back, say quiet, and feed him a treat. His short behavior chain is “bark – then be quiet.” To avoid this, be sure to acknowledge and reward him frequently before he even starts barking.
Create distractions. With some dogs it does require an interrupter or distraction to take their mind off of the stimulus to bark. In other words, there has to be something that breaks the concentration on the barking. In some cases the intensity is too high for a verbal command to cut through the behavior. The interrupter in that case may be another noise, such as using a tool that emits a high frequency sound when the dog barks. This is not a pleasant sound to the dog and interrupts his barking. A beanbag, a piece of chain and even a can with pebbles or coins in it, can provide the interruption too. It works like this – the dog barks and this loud object lands on the floor in front of him. You act as though it came from “Heaven.” Now he thinks every time he barks for no reason or if he continues unnecessarily, something falls from the sky.
Teaching replacement behaviors may be time consuming, but ultimately it is the best way to encourage desirable behavior. Instead of responding to your dog’s vocal requests to play, for example, teach her to bring her favorite toy to you and set it on the floor.
We just adopted a rescue chihuahua two weeks ago, and while I knew the breed was known for barking, I had no idea what I was getting into. We live in a condo building, and ours tends to bark when he hears noises from outside our (which I can’t control). I find myself more sensitive to the barking because I know my upstairs neighbors can hear it, and I don’t want to them to make a formal complaint. I’m going to try #1 and #3 and see how it works (he doesn’t seem to enjoy going outside, so I don’t think exercise is the key for this guy). And now I also realize that saying “no” just made him think we were joining him.
If you suspect that your dog is a compulsive barker, we recommend that you seek guidance from a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a veterinary behaviorist. If you can’t find a behaviorist, you can seek help from a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, but be sure that the trainer is qualified to help you. Determine whether she or he has education and experience treating compulsive behavior, since this kind of expertise isn’t required for CPDT certification. Please see our article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, to locate one of these behavior experts in your area.
Here is a YouTube video of a trainer using a clicker to teach ‘speak’. A clicker is a noise that you pair with treats, so when you are training, your dog knows he is on the right track. You can also train this skill without a clicker and just treats.
Inside your home you can simply close your blinds or install a removable plastic film that makes windows opaque to obscure your dog’s view. Be sure to place the window film a few inches above your dog’s line of sight. You can also buy a spray-on glass coating.