Why Won't My Dog Stop Barking?
If you are having a hard time getting your dog to stop barking, it can leave you feeling exhausted and drained. Not only that, but when you have neighbors in close proximity, it can lead to conflicts in your living situation. Fortunately, the issue is fixable! In this article, we're going to cover some of the most common reasons that dogs bark and the most effective solutions for teaching them to stop.
Why Do Dogs Bark?
Not all of us are as fond of our dog's voice as others are. When you're trying to sleep, living in an apartment, taking care of a baby, trying to answer the door - all of these situations and more can quickly become frustrating with a dog that relentlessly barks.
Our dog's bark can also become tiresome because it's their only means of communicating vocally, aside from whining. This means that you are bound to hear it a lot, especially if your dog happens to love barking.
Most of the time, the reason your dog is barking isn't too hard to discern. They're excited about a visitor, angry at a rival dog, or looking for some late night attention. There are times, though, where it can be hard to figure out why your pooch is making such a ruckus.
Here are some of the most common reasons that dogs bark.
Quite simply, your dog might just be bored. Similar to how small children will scream and babble for no apparent reason, dogs will bark just for the sake of entertaining themselves. Not exactly what you want to hear as an owner.
Your dog could also be barking to let you know that they're bored. Maybe they want to go outside, maybe they want to play, and so on. If your dog is barking in a very repetitive, constant manner, for no apparent reason, there's a good chance that boredom is the culprit.
Boredom barking can also be the result of compulsive tendencies, something we and dogs have in common. Your dog may be barking almost out of habit, like an itch they need to scratch. Again, this is usually done in the form of constant barking that sounds very repetitive.
Another reason why your dog may bark excessively is that they're trying to get your attention. As well all know, dogs are a lot like small children, and they'll act out if they want more attention from you.
Barking is one of the ways that a lot of dogs do this. They'll bark at you while you're working, cleaning, cooking, or tending to other family members in an attempt to redirect your attention.
This kind of barking behavior is usually learned, and owners can inadvertently be the teacher. Your dog tries barking at you for attention, you turn to them and start giving them a belly rub. Next thing you know, they're barking all the time in an attempt to get more affection.
Next up is something a little more primal, but also a pretty familiar for most of us. Dogs are, at their core, pack animals. They see you as their pack and your home as their territory. This instinct is stronger in some dog breeds than others, but it's pretty universal to dogs in general as well.
When dogs feel like their territory is being invaded by someone who isn't a member of the pack - like the mailman, pizza delivery kid, a dog roaming the neighborhood, or your dinner guests - it can send them into a barking frenzy.
This is especially problematic in dogs that haven't been properly socialized. When dogs don't spend a lot of time around strangers or other dogs, they will act in inappropriate and instinctive ways when encountering new people and dogs - like barking wildly.
Most dogs - especially when they're younger - are very prone to excitement. New friends, new experiences, a walk, meal time, these things can all send your dog's brain into overdrive.
There's nothing wrong with your dog being excited, except that one of the ways they express excitement is through barking. The occasional excited barking isn't really an issue for most people, but if they bark frantically every time you grab the leash, rustle the dog food bag, or come home from work, their excited outburst can turn into a regular disturbance for your neighbors.
And lastly, your dog may be barking from a place of distress, fear, or anxiety. This can be the result of separation anxiety when you leave for work, the fear of new people or pets in the house, bringing your dog on a road trip, and so on.
If your dog is barking out of distress, you can usually tell their bark apart from their normal bark. It's usually more pitiful sounding, less aggressive, and more about letting you know they're upset than trying to get attention or scare off other animals.
Distress barking is particularly common in rescue dogs, as many of these animals have come from hard situations that they don't have the means to cope with. This kind of barking is usually best resolved by seeking help from an animal behaviorist.
How To Keep A Dog From Barking
The first step in controlling your dog's barking is finding out what the source of it is. While your pet's behavior may seem esoteric at first, paying attention to them will usually reveal a fairly simple cause. Notice when your dog barks, what is going on while they're barking, when/why they stop, and you should be able to put the pieces together.
If you still aren't able to discern why your pooch is making such a fuss, then you'll need to solve the problem through a process of elimination. And no, this doesn't mean get rid of your dog. Instead, keep the dog and start getting rid of potential causes to their barking until you find the solution.
Most importantly, if you are serious about solving your dog's barking, don't give them any kind of incentive to keep barking. Dogs are smart, and if you make it clear that you don't want them to bark, you should be able to nip the problem quickly. But if you're ambiguous about what you want from your dog (punishing them for barking sometimes and rewarding them other times) they won't be able to figure out what you want.
Block Their View
The first solution is to block their view of the outside world. This is helpful for dogs that bark at neighbors, mailmen, and other animals while they're inside. Keeping your windows covered will prevent them from being excited over whatever is going on outside.
This solution works best for dogs that are barking territorially or out of excitement. Seeing other people and animals outside of your house can make your dog feel territorial or eager to greet their new friend, which can lead to barking.
If you don't want to keep your windows covered indefinitely, try using it as a way to train them not to bark. Do this by completely covering the windows for two weeks, then slowly exposing more of the windows over subsequent weeks until your dog is used to the windows and what's going on beyond them.
Buy Them Toys
If your dog is barking out of boredom or separation anxiety, buying them toys can be a great way to keep them stimulated. Unlike cats, your dogs don't sleep their days away. They have busy minds and they need to keep them occupied.
Your standard squeaky toys, chew toys, and ropes should keep most dogs busy enough to prevent them from barking so much. If you have a more intelligent dog, however, like a golden retriever or border collie, you may need to get them more sophisticated toys.
This includes toys like treat puzzles, where the dog has to work to get the treat inside of a toy. These kinds of toys are also helpful for dogs that are barking to get your attention, as it can keep them distracted long enough for you to finish your chores and tend to your family.
Add White Noise To Your House
This is a more serious solution for dogs that are barking in response to people and noises going on outside. This may work better than covering your windows or might be necessary in conjunction with your windows.
White noise is any consistent noise that exists in the background of your house that typically goes unnoticed. Your A/C is an example of white noise. You can purchase actual white noise machines, or simply add a loud fan to rooms that your dog likes to frequent.
The purpose of the white noise is to mask noises outside that would normally get your dog's attention, like other dogs barking or delivery trucks. You don't need to add white noise that will completely drown out these noises, just something that breaks up the quiet of the home and makes outside noises less sharp for your pet.
Train Them To Be Quiet On Command
This solution is one of the best, though also one of the hardest to implement if you've never tried to train your dog before. Teaching your dog to "hush," or "shhhh," on command will give you the ability to fix just about any barking issue, with one important drawback - it only works when you're around your dog.
So, if you are having issues with your dog barking while you are away at work, you may not find this solution particularly helpful. Otherwise, though, here's how to do it.
The next time your dog starts barking, grab a treat and place it in your closed fist. Then, go up to your dog and gently place your closed hand in front of their nose, close enough that they can smell the treat. Wait for them to stop barking, and as you're doing all of this, say, "Hush," or "Shhh,". Once they've stopped barking and you've given your command, open your hand and give them the treat. Repeat this every time they start barking around you until you can get them to stop barking without a treat.
Just keep in mind that if your dog is barking out of anxiety or stress, this method won't make them feel any better, and maybe won't even work. This is helpful for dogs that are barking for attention or to scare off visitors, but if you think your dog's barking is related to a deeper issue, make sure you try to resolve that first.
Ignore Them When They Bark
This solution is the easiest on your part, though it does require a little patience. As it sounds, when your dog starts barking, just refuse to give them attention. Keep your back turned to them, focus on whatever you're doing, don't look at them, shush them, pet them, etc., until they stop barking. Then, once they have stopped barking and are more settled down, you can approach them and give them a little attention.
This works best for dogs that are barking to get your attention, barking out of frustration, or barking in an attempt to play with you. This will teach them that the best way to get your attention is by being well-behaved rather than making noise.
Take Them For Walks More Often
Last but not least, taking your dog for walks more often can clear up a lot of cases of excessive barking. As we've covered pretty thoroughly by now, your dog's bark is one of the primary tools for communication.
It could be that they are simply trying to scare off other people or animals or that they want some extra pets, but a lot of the time your dog just needs a little more to do in their daily routine. Going for a walk every day or so, even for just thirty minutes, can give your dog a chance to play, stretch, run, explore, and de-stress for a little bit.
This is another solution that works for just about every kind of barking since most dogs could use a little extra exercise. Just like in people, physical activity can clear up your dog's mental state, improve their energy levels, help them relax, and make them more open to the world around them.
Do Anti-Bark Collars Work?
Something you may have come across in your search for a barking solution is anti-bark collars. These are collars that will penalize your dog in some way each time they bark until they are eventually dissuaded from barking at all. So, does this actually work?
Sort of. Anti-bark collars usually work in one of three ways. They either emit an unpleasant noise that only your dog can hear, a smell that dogs don't like, or a brief electric shock. Studies have found that the collars that emit noise are ineffective on most dogs.
Electric shock collars and collars that emit an odor have been shown to be equally effective, so it's recommended that you stick to odor-based anti-bark collars to avoid hampering your dog's trust in you.
While scent-based collars do work, it tends to only make your dog "collar wise". This means that your dog knows it can't bark while it's wearing the collar, but they don't necessarily take the cue that they aren't supposed to bark at all. So these solutions are really only a bandaid to the problem, and not ideal in the long term.
What NOT To Do When Your Dog Keeps Barking
Don't Encourage Them To Bark At Some Sounds But Not Others
While dogs are one of the most trainable animals around, they're still animals. They can't read your mind, understand what you're saying, or figure out what you want unless you are explicitly clear.
Therefore, you will have a hard time convincing your dog to stop barking if you punish them for it sometimes but not others. For example, if you punish your dog for barking around guests but let them get away with it the rest of the time, all you're going to do is confuse them.
Not only will this make it harder to communicate what you want to your pet, but it can also cause them to become dejected and unsure of your relationship with them. If they feel like they can't predict what is causing you to punish them, they may start to shut down in an effort to avoid negative consequences.
Don't Punish Your Dog For Barking When It Is Related To Fear Or Anxiety
This is another way that you can inadvertently make your dog's barking issue worse, as well as other issues that they are dealing with. If you are training a dog that is a rescue or struggles with separation anxiety, punishing them when they bark will quickly worsen the issue.
This can exaggerate their anxiety, make them afraid of you, leave them feeling isolated. Once they become more afraid of their environment, they might even start developing new negative behaviors like pottying in the house.
Unless you are recommended to punish your anxious dog for barking by a certified animal behaviorist, stick to gentler ways of resolving the issue.
Don't Use A Muzzle To Keep Your Dog Quiet For Long Periods Of Time
A muzzle is an acceptable way to keep your dog from barking in short-term circumstances where it really matters, like at an event or when bringing your dog indoors somewhere.
However, a muzzle is not a long-term solution to your dog's barking issue. Not only is keeping your dog in a muzzle for a long stretch of time unfair and uncomfortable, but it can also cause serious issues for them. They can't eat, drink, or pant, which they need to be able to do in order to keep themselves cool.
It might be tempting to put your dog in a muzzle at night in order to get some rest or to leave it on during the day to avoid upsetting the neighbors, but this is considered inhumane and should not be used as a treatment for excessive barking.
The Bottom Line
Barking can be a frustrating and complicated issue from an owner's viewpoint. There are ways to reduce this behavior, however, so long as you're willing to be empathetic to your dog's situation and patient with their training. After enough time, you should be able to get this problem under control so you and your dog can both be happier and more relaxed.