My dogs are barkers. They’ve declared themselves neighborhood patrol, so they bark when other dogs start barking, when they hear people outside chatting or even when a car door slams. I’m a dog trainer, and I also strive to be a responsible pet parent, which means I don’t want my dogs to annoy my neighbors. But how do you train a dog not to bark?
Because I’ve identified their triggers (and they have a few), I’ve been able to implement both training and management solutions to address their barking and we’ve made fantastic progress.
And that’s really the key to stopping a dog from barking. First, you need to identity why they are barking. What’s the motivation? Then, you can take steps to address the problem with a training solution tailored to the drive.
Why Dogs Bark
Barking, like whining, growling and howling, is a dog’s natural form of communication. Dogs might bark when they feel threatened, when they want to play, when they need attention or to signal danger. Find out how to decode your dog’s bark.
Genetics can also play a part in your dog’s likelihood to bark. Some breeds are more prone to barking, like Beagles and Terriers.
What Causes Problem Barking
There’s no single cause for problem barking. The reasons for it can range from dogs trying to keep scary things away to self-soothing in times of stress. Keep in mind that some barks have crossover, meaning that an alarm bark can turn into a territorial bark, or an excitement bark can also have elements of frustration barking. The following list will help you identify most of the common reasons for barking.
- Attention seeking/demand: Barking to get resources like your attention, food, toys, or access to the outdoors.
- Territorial: A response to someone or something entering a dog’s perceived turf.
- Play barking: The excitement of having fun with you or canine friends can tip over into barking.
- Alarm: A response to a startle, like a sudden unexpected noise.
- Frustration: Barking to indicate powerlessness or irritation, like if your dog’s ball rolls under the couch and he can’t reach it.
- Boredom: Dogs that are unexercised or under-stimulated will bark to self-soothe or to stay “busy.”
- Fear: Fear barks sound scary but are an attempt to maintain or increase distance from something frightening.
- Excitement: Triggered by enthusiasm for activities like mealtimes, play or going for a ride in the car.
- Separation intolerance: Short-term frustration barking to signal discomfort at being left alone. (This reaction is not , which typically also includes more extreme behaviors like pacing, panting, drooling, destruction and elimination and might begin before the parent even leaves the house. Read more about separation anxiety in dogs.)
How to Train a Dog Not to Bark
Because there’s no single reason for barking, there’s no “one size fits all” approach to treating it. The following suggestions are a mix of simple management solutions, which can be implemented on the fly, as well as training recommendations, which require ongoing practice.
Block Your Dog’s View
Management solution: helpful for alarm barkers and territorial barkers.
If your dog reacts to activity they see outside, simply change their vantage point. Close the blinds during high-traffic times or use temporary stick-on opaque privacy film. Place the window film a few inches above your dog’s line of sight, then gradually lower it down inch by inch over the course of several weeks, before removing it completely.
Provide Busy Toys
Management solution: helpful for attention seeking/demand barkers, boredom barkers and separation distress barkers.
Boredom barkers and separation distress barkers can benefit from staying occupied with hard rubber toys that dispense treats. Treat dispensing toys can also help with attention-seeking barkers who react when you’re on the phone or computer.
Turn on a White Noise Machine
Management solution: helpful for alarm barkers and territorial barkers.
A white noise machine’s steady unchanging sound can mask possible alarm barker triggers, like garbage trucks and other dogs barking. (I’ve used a white noise machine with my dogs for years and it stops them from barking almost immediately!)
Try a Pheromone-based Treatment
Management solution: helpful for fear barkers and separation distress barkers.
Plug-in diffusers that mimic the “calming chemicals” given off by female dogs can help to soothe dogs who bark due to stress. While you might not see a dramatic shift in behavior–keep in mind that plug-in treatments aren’t prescription strength–diffusers are an easy way to make a scary scenario feel more secure.
Training solution: helpful for territorial barkers and alarm barkers, as well as some excitement and play barkers.
Teaching “hush” can short-circuit a dedicated barker.
Walk up to your dog while he’s barking with a high value treat in your fist and place your hand in front of his nose so that he can smell the treat but can’t get to it. Your dog will likely stop barking to sniff the goody, and once he’s quiet say “hush” (you’re “naming” the silence) then toss the treat a few steps away from him. Repeat the process until you can just say “hush”’ without needing the hand prompt in front of his nose, and then give him a treat.
Gradually ask your dog to do more in order to get the treat, like coming to you and waiting quietly. (This is the technique that I’ve used with my dogs, and they often police themselves; if one dog barks the other runs to me to get a treat for remaining quiet.)
Ignore the Barking
Management and training solution: helpful for attention-seeking barking, play barking, excitement barking and frustration barking.
What’s the secret ingredient that many barkers want? Your attention! Barkers who are trying to get a reaction from you, whether it’s to get you to throw the ball or hurry up and serve dinner, are looking for some sort of acknowledgement from you when they bark.
You can help your dog understand that barking doesn’t work by doing the opposite of what your dog wants when they bark; turn away, walk out of the room, drop the ball, put the leash down. Wait for a moment of quiet, or a calm sit, and then pay attention to your dog. With consistency your dog will bark less because they understand that quiet works and barking doesn’t.
Add More Exercise
Management and training solution: helpful for all barkers.
Nearly every dog can benefit from more exercise, both mental and physical. A dog who has had a good workout will be less likely to be on alert for perceived interlopers or feel the need to pester you for attention. Take the time to wear your dog out every day with a game of fetch or tug, and get their brain activated by introducing mind-teasers like “find the toy” and hide-and-seek. Remember, a tired dog is a quiet dog!
Reward the Absence of Barking
Helpful for all barkers.
Most pet parents are used to tuning into our dogs only when we want to correct the bad behavior, and we forget to acknowledge the good, particularly if it’s silence. If your dog sees or hears a chatty neighbor outside and looks to you instead of barking, give them a treat! (My dogs run to me and give me a “See?! I’m being good!” look now.) If they wait politely while you prep dinner, praise them! If their ball rolls under the couch and they choose to sit and wait for you to get it instead of demanding immediate help, give them a pat and fetch that ball!
While dog barking is a common form of canine communication, there’s a time and place for it. Non-stop barking is a nuisance behavior and can cause problems between you and your neighbors. Take time to find out the cause of the barking, and then work with your dog to address the noise. Even though barking is a deeply rewarding behavior for dogs, it’s possible to get a handle on it with time and patience. Remember, it’s a team effort and if all else fails you can try a dog bark collar.