In recent scientific surveys it was found that about 1/3 of dog owners believe that their dogs bark excessively. Excessive barking can be highly irritating but its important to first know why a dog barks before trying to control their barking.
Dogs bark for a number reasons. Alert or warning barks are sometimes good. Some owners encourage their dog to bark at danger or the presence of a suspicious person. This is the bark a dog makes when the mail man drops off the mail, a stranger comes to the door, or a kid rides by on a bicycle. Attention seeking barks are mostly present in puppies. They want you to pay all your attention to them so the continuously bark at you. Some dogs bark when they are playing and get excited. These barks are short and sharp. If a dog hears another dog in the neighbor hood bark it may bark in response. This is called a self-identification bark and is basically the dog telling the other dog that he is there. If a dog doesn’t get enough exercise and play it may bark out of boredom. Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety will have a lonely or anxious bark, normally when you leave the house. It also tends to worsen the longer you are gone. Dogs also often bark when they are startled by a sudden noise or movement.
For alert or warning barking you don’t teach them to not bark at people. You want this warning and its natural for a dog to bark at strangers. Its the excessive barking that is the problem. You need to teach them to only bark a couple times. This is done by teaching them the command “Enough”. To teach this, set up a situation where the dog would usually bark, but not too much. For instance, you could knock on the door. The dog once or twice and you stop knocking a make a sound to distract the dog. If it stops barking say “Enough” and give it a treat to reinforce good behavior. If it doesn’t stop barking hold the treat in front of it’s nose until the dog stops barking for a few moments then say “Enough” and give it the treat. By saying “Enough” when the dog is quiet it associates the word with not barking so that once the command is learned when you tell the dog “Enough” it will stop barking.
The best thing you can do for attention seeking barkers is to ignore them. Even telling them no or getting angry with them is attention. They don’t care if the attention is positive or negative. They just want the attention. If ignoring is not effective you can startle the dog using a noise maker such as a foghorn or a can filled with coins. If the dog stops barking then you can give it something else to do besides barking such as playing with a toy or going for a walk.
Dogs that get excited while playing and bark are easy to control. Just slow down the game when the dog starts to bark. If the dog keeps barking then take a break from playing until it settles down.
Self-identification barking is instinctive for dogs. It can be quite difficult to control. You can control it with a method similar to controlling the alert or warning barks. Let them bark once or twice and then train them to be stopped by the word “Enough”. Perhaps even given them a substitute for barking such as a toy to play with.
Bored barkers just need more stimulating activity and more exercise. Make sure they have plenty of room to play and some toys. Also taking them for walks or runs can be helpful as well. Tired dogs usually do not bark out of boredom.
Lonely barking can be fixed but it takes a lot of time and patience. You have to address the underlying condition of separation anxiety. Pretend like you are leaving. Go outside or sit in your car so the do g thinks you are gone but return before it becomes anxious or starts barking. This may be only a second or two to begin with. If the the dog barks before you even leave the house or if you go in the other room you may have to start by just stepping a couple feet away from the dog and go from there. Gradually extend the time that you are gone, always coming back before the dog gets anxious and barks so that your return is a reward for the dog staying calm. You can’t go to slow with this training. You can go to fast and should be careful not to.
Most startled barking can be controlled in the same way as alert barking with the “Enough” command. If the dog is startled by a specific sound every time you can record this sound and play it softly at first, giving the dog a treat when it does not bark at the sound. Slowly over the course of a few weeks gradually increase the volume. Soon the dog will no longer be startled by the sound.