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How to stop your dog from barking

Barking is a noisy but completely normal part of dog communication.

But if your pooch is barking very frequently or for long periods of time, this isn’t only annoying for you (and your neighbours) – it could also be a sign of deeper issues your dog is experiencing.

It’s important to act early to prevent normal barking, or the reasons for barking, developing into something more serious.

 

Why do dogs bark?

Barking to get something good to happen

Dogs can learn that barking is great way of quickly getting our attention. Even us telling them to be quiet may be rewarding, because they enjoy being looked at and spoken to.

Other dogs may learn to bark at their mealtimes, usually when their food is being prepared. Because who doesn’t get excited when someone is making them a delicious meal?

If their food is given to them when they’re barking, they’re likely to bark again next time because they have connected barking with their food arriving.

Just as some dogs get excited around food, others can’t get enough of playtime. If barking results in a fun game, they may learn to bark every time they want us to play with them.

Barking when left alone

Dogs that are distressed about being left alone may howl or bark to try to get back to their owners.

Dogs are naturally social animals. But most owners have commitments that mean their dogs might be left at home alone during the day. Some owners also prefer for their dogs to sleep in a separate area of the house.

Unless your dog has been taught that being alone is an okay part of life, this can be scary or frustrating.

If you return home when your dog is barking, your dog might feel that barking was a good thing to do because it worked to bring you home.

Simply ignoring your dog’s barking when left alone, and waiting for them to stop before returning, will not stop them barking because it doesn’t change the way they feel about being on their own.

Teaching your pooch to relax when left alone is a vital step in stopping them from barking when you’re not around.

Barking to prevent something bad from happening

When your dog is frightened about something and feels under threat, whether the threat is real or not, they might bark at whatever is scaring them to make it go away.

If barking works to get rid of the scary thing, your dog will learn to bark again next time they want to feel safe.

For example, some dogs may be frightened by the post person coming up the path and pushing letters through the door.

If they started barking as the post-person arrived, they might connect their barking with them turning and walking away.

Your dog has no way of understanding that they were going to go leave anyway, so barking seems to do the trick.

Dogs who are worried about something nearby might also bark to ‘tell us’ that this ‘thing’ is present, because they need us to take action to help them feel safe. It could be something they’ve seen, heard, felt or smelt, and something that we might not be aware of at all.

How to prevent your dog from barking too much

It’s important to make sure your pooch is taught to be confident and calm from when they’re a puppy, even in unusual and unexpected situations.

 

Your puppy needs to encounter a range of different people, noises and experiences during their ‘socialisation period’ (between about 3 and 12 weeks of age) so they accept them as a normal and positive part of life.

This includes learning to be calm when alone, getting used to people coming in and out of the house, and being fine with the post person popping to the door. Experiencing the hustle and bustle of life early on will give them the best chance of coping well in future situations.

This introduction of new experiences needs to be gradual and controlled.

It’s also important that your pup isn’t already anxious or fearful when experiencing new things, as this could make them associate the new thing with these negative feelings.

Our Dog School classes provide the perfect opportunity for your puppy to learn these vital skills, with expert advice and practical training from experienced coaches.– Dog School is currently operating online, and in-person classes around the UK will resume when lockdown restrictions allow.

Five top tips to stop your dog barking

The key to reducing and even preventing barking is to understand why your dog is barking in the first place.

When you learn what your dog hopes to gain from barking, you can show them that they can get what they want by behaving in a calmer, quieter way.

You may also be able to make changes to your dog’s living space, so they no longer feel the need to bark.

1. Don't tell your dog off

Although their barking may be frustrating, never tell your dog off.

Telling them off could make them anxious or confused about you. This could make things worse; encouraging them to bark even more in worry or confusion.

Some dogs might even see you shouting as you joining in and making noise with them.

2. Avoid things your dog finds scary

If your dog is barking because they are scared, try to avoid the scary thing as much as possible.

For example, if your dog barks at passers-by through a window, cover this up to block their view.

If they bark because they are scared of being alone, try to avoid leaving them as much as possible. Consider using a pet sitter or dog-walker.

Scared dogs might need further support from a behaviourist to find out exactly what they’re scared of and help them change the way they feel.

3. Teach your dog calmer ways of telling you what they want

If your dog is barking for something specific, like to make another dog go away, it’s useful to teach them that doing something quieter and safer will get them the same result.

For example, your dog can’t bark and sniff at the same time. So, diverting their attention to the floor to sniff out tasty treats instead of barking can be very effective. Doing this consistently will teach them that quietly ignoring something, rather than barking, has a good outcome.

4. Make sure your pooch is staying active

Your dog may be more likely to bark if they’re bored and not getting enough mental or physical exercise.

Make sure you spend quality time keeping your dog engaged and active each day.

Providing your pal with lots of fun activities will prevent them becoming bored – and will be a load of fun for you both.

5. Don't reward your dog for barking

Reward them for staying quiet instead.

If your dog barks at mealtimes, ignore the barking and wait for them to stop before feeding them.

Plan ahead and distract them by giving them a toy when you know you’ll be preparing them a snack.

If your dog barks to get you to play with them, ignore them. Turn away from your dog or even leave the room and do something else instead.

When they are quiet, pick up a toy and invite them to play – a fun game is an excellent reward for being quiet.

Further help

When you know what makes your dog bark, avoid this by distracting them with a fun toy or treat before they feel the need.

Prevention is best, as your dog may become confused when you start ignoring their barks. They might bark more and with more intensity to get you to behave as you used to 

If this happens, stay calm and give them lots of praise and attention when they quiet down. They need to learn that quietness brings them the reward they want.

Stay consistent, as giving in and responding to their barking, even if just the once, is likely to teach them to persist and try even harder.

It might also be worth letting your neighbours know that the barking may get worse before it gets better (and maybe drop them a box of chocolates to sweeten the deal), so they’re prepared.

Any problems or changes in your dog’s behaviour are always worth a chat with your vet as there could be medical reasons. If necessary, they will also be able to refer you to a qualified behaviourist who can give you personalised support and guidance.

Can you help us change the tale?

As the pandemic continues, many dog owners will be faced with the heartbreaking decision to give up their dog.

 A small donation will help us change the tale for dogs and their owners by providing advice and support when they need us most. 

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