Some owners seem to want their dogs to stop barking, period: a good dog
is a quiet dog, and the only time that barking’s permitted is when
there’s a man in a black balaclava and stripy prison outfit, clutching a
haversack marked ‘Swag’, clambering in through your bedroom window.
Dealing With Barking Dogs
I don’t think that barking is necessarily a bad thing – in fact, I think
it’s encouraging that my dog wants to “talk” to me, enough so that I
can overlook the stentorian qualities of his voice (which, in enclosed
spaces, is positively overpowering) in favor of his desire to
communicate with me. It’s the thought that counts (even though I feel
better-equipped to stand by this sanctimonious belief when my ears are
sheltered safely behind industrial-quality ear-plugs).
Unfortunately, the language barrier between dogs and humans is pretty
well impermeable, which means it’s up to us to use the context, the body
language of our dogs, and the circumstances of the vocalization to
parse meaning from a volley of barks.
So why do dogs bark?
Stop Your Dog Barking Now!
It’s not easy to say (it’s like trying to answer the question, “Why do
humans talk?” in so many words). Let’s start off by saying that dogs
bark for many different reasons. A lot of it depends on the breed: some
dogs were bred to bark only when a threat is perceived (this is true of
guarding breeds in particular, like Rottweilers, Dobermans, and German
Shepherds); some were bred to use their voices as a tool of sorts, to
assist their owners in pursuit of a common goal (sporting breeds such as
Beagles and Bloodhounds, trained to ‘bay’ when they scent the quarry),
and some dogs just like to hear themselves talk (take just about any of
the toy breeds as an example of a readily-articulate dog!).
However, all breed specificities cast aside, there are some circumstances where just about any dog will give voice:
* She’s bored
* She’s lonely
* She’s hungry, or knows it’s time for a meal
* Something is wrong/someone is near the house
* She’s inviting you to play
* She sees another animal
* She needs the toilet
If your dog is barking for any of these reasons, it’s not really
realistic for you to try to stop her: after all, she’s a dog, and it’s
the nature of all dogs to bark at certain times and in certain
situations. Presumably you were aware of this when you adopted your
friend (and, if total silence was high on your list of priorities, you’d
have bought a pet rock, right?).
Of course, there are times when barking isn’t only unwarranted, it’s
downright undesirable. Some dogs can use their voices as a means of
manipulation. Take this situation as an example:
You’re lying on the couch reading a book. Your dog awakes from a nap and
decides it’s time for a game. She picks up her ball, comes over, and
drops it in your lap. You ignore her and keep on reading. After a second
of puzzled silence, she nudges your hand with her nose and barks once,
loudly. You look over at her – she assumes the ‘play-bow’ position
(elbows near the floor, bottom in the air, tail waving) and pants
enticingly at you. You return to your book. She barks again, loudly –
and, when no response is elicited, barks again. And this time, she keeps
it up. After a minute or so of this, sighing, you put down your book
(peace and quiet is evidently not going to be a component of your
evening, after all), pick up the ball, and take her outside for a game
of fetch. She stops barking immediately.
Learn How to Stop Barking Dogs Here!
I’m sure you know that respect is an essential part of your relationship
with your dog. You respect her, which you demonstrate by taking good
care of her regardless of the convenience of doing so, feeding her
nutritious and tasty food, and showing your affection for her in ways
that she understands and enjoys. In order for her to be worthy of your
respect, she has to respect you, too.
Something that many kind-hearted souls struggle to come to terms with is
that dog ownership is not about equality: it’s about you being the
boss, and her being the pet. Dogs are not children; they are most
comfortable and best-behaved when they know that you are in charge. A
dog has to respect your leadership to be a happy, well-adjusted, and
In the situation above, there was no respect being shown by the dog. She
wasn’t inviting her owner to play; she was harassing her owner to play.
In fact, I’d even say bullying. And even worse, the behavior was being
reinforced by the owner’s capitulation – effectively, giving in to this
behavior taught her that to get what she wants, she has to make a noise –
and she has to keep it up until her goal is achieved.
Affection and play-times are obviously necessary aspects of life with a
dog, but they have to be doled out on your own terms. If she learns that
she can get what she wants by barking, then your house is going to
become a Noise Pollution Zone (and this is not going to endear you to
your neighbors, either).
To prevent this bullying behavior in your dog from assuming a familiar
role in her repertoire of communications, you have to prove to her that
you’re not the kind of person that can be manipulated so easily.
It’s simple to do this: all you have to do is ignore her. I’m not
talking about passive ignorance, where you pay her no attention and
simply continue with whatever it was you were doing – you need to take
more of an active role. This means conveying to her through your body
language that she is not worthy of your attention when she acts in such
an undesirable manner.
The absolute best and most effective thing for you to do in this case is
to give her the cold shoulder. When she starts trying to ‘bark you’
into doing something for her, turn your back on her straight away. Get
up, avert your eyes and face, and turn around so your back is towards
her. Don’t look at her, and don’t talk to her – not even a “no”. She’ll
probably be confused by this, and will likely bark harder. This is
particularly true if you’ve given in to her bully-barking in the past –
the more times you’ve reinforced the behavior, the more persistent she’s
going to be. In fact, the barking will almost certainly get a lot worse
before it gets better – after all, it’s worked for her the past, so
it’s understandable that she’ll expect it to work again.
As in all aspects of dog training, consistency is very important. You
must ensure that you don’t change your mind halfway through and give in
to what she wants – because by doing so, you’re teaching her to be
really, really persistent (“OK, so I just need to bark for ten minutes
instead of five to get a walk,” is the message she’ll get).
But what can you do in other situations where bullying isn’t an issue
and you just want her to stop the racket? If you want to get the message
across that you’d like her to cease fire and be quiet, the most
effective thing you can do is to use your hands. No, I’m not talking
about hitting her: this is a perfectly humane, impact- and pain-free
method of conveying that what you require right now is peace and quiet.
Here’s what you do: when she’s barking, give her a second to ‘get it out
of her system’ (it’s a lot kinder, and a lot more effective, to give
her a chance – however brief – to express herself before asking her to
be quiet). If she doesn’t calm down under her own steam, reach out and
clasp her muzzle gently, but firmly, in your hand. She’ll try to shake
you off, or back away, so you can place your other hand on her collar to
give you greater control.
This method is useful for two reasons: firstly, it effectively silences
the barking (since no dog, no matter how loud, can bark with her mouth
shut!). Secondly, it reinforces your authority: you’re showing her
through direct physical action that you’re a benevolent but firm leader
who will brook no nonsense, and who won’t balk when it comes to
enforcing your guidance. Hold onto her muzzle and collar until she’s
stopped trying to break free: only when she calms down and stops
wriggling does it mean that she’s accepted your authority. When she’s
still, hold on for one or two more seconds, then let her go and praise
In addition to this short-term fix, there are also a few things you can
to do to reduce your dog’s need to bark in the first place. The
number-one cause for unwanted barking (as in, the kind of barking that’s
repetitive and is directed at nothing) is nervous, agitated energy –
the kind she gets from not getting enough exercise.
Most dogs function best with one and a half hours’ exercise every day,
which is a considerable time commitment for you. Of course, this varies
from dog to dog, depending on factors like breed, age, and general level
of health. You may think that your dog is getting as much exercise as
she needs, or at least as much as you can possibly afford to give her –
but if her barking is coupled with an agitated demeanor (fidgeting,
perhaps acting more aggressively than you’d expect or want,
restlessness, destructive behavior) then she almost definitely needs
Fortunately, the fix for this problem is pretty simple: you’ll just have
to exercise her more. Try getting up a half-hour earlier in the morning
– it’ll make a big difference. If this is absolutely impossible,
consider hiring someone to walk her in the mornings and/or evenings. And
if this is impossible too, then you’ll just have to resign yourself to
having a loud, frustrated, and agitated dog (although whether you can
resign her to this state remains to be seen).
The second most common cause of excessive vocalization in dogs is too
much ‘alone time’. Dogs are social animals: they need lots of attention,
lots of interaction, and lots of communication. Without these things,
they become anxious and on edge. If you’re at home with your dog, you’re
not paying attention to her, and she’s spending a lot of time barking
at what appears to be nothing, she’s probably bored and lonely and would
benefit from a healthy dose of affection and attention.
If you’d like more information on unwanted behaviors that your dog’s
exhibiting, you’ll probably be interested in taking a look at Secrets to Dog Training.
It’s a complete, A-Z manual for the responsible dog owner, and deals
with recognizing, preventing, and dealing with just about every problem
dog behavior under the sun. You can check out Secrets to Dog Training by clicking on the link below:
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