Guest Post from my friends at dogtime.com
It’s in a dog’s nature to bark. They will bark when they want something, when they are playing, when they are establishing their territory, when they are frightened, when they are annoyed, and when they are just saying “Hi!” Too much barking, however, can drive a dog’s family and their neighbors’ crazy!
The first step towards controlling excessive barking is to understand the specific reasons behind it. Even after you know the why, don’t expect to wave a magic wand and stop your dog from barking. Training your dog to bark less (you will never stop it altogether) is a time-consuming process.
Generally, there are eight reasons why dogs bark:
1. Territorial or defensive barking
2. Excitement, or happiness at seeing you
3. Play and exercise
4. To get your attention or to signal you (i.e. “I have to go potty!”)
5. Aggravation over not being able to attain something (such as your pork chop).
6. Social barking in response to other dogs
7. Separation anxiety and trepidation
8. Compulsive behavior
A List of Don’ts
Don’t encourage your dog to bark at strangers or people walking by the door. Asking your dog “who’s that?” in a querying tone will excite their curiosity. Looking out the window or door will encourage him to do the same, and once there, he will bark.
Don’t use inconsistent rules. If you yell at him for barking at some sights or sounds, such as the kids leaving for school, and encourage him to bark at others, like the salesman at the door, he will be hard-put to distinguish between the two events. The result will be a still-constantly barking dog.
Don’t punish your dog if the barking is due to fright or separation anxiety. A Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or Veterinary Behaviorist can give you specific directions for correcting this behavior.
Don’t use a muzzle or HusherTM as a substitute for training, or while you are absent. Your dog regulates his temperature through the mouth by panting and muzzles prevent your dog from doing this as well as drinking water and eating.
Please note that there are instances of excessive barking for which it is a good idea to seek the advice of a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. These include:
Territorial or Defensive Barking
This barking response can be in response to people coming to the door, people or animals walking by your house, or other sights and sounds that alert the dog to the presence of someone or something crossing their territory. Territory can be your house, your yard, or even your car while you are driving.
You should be able to tell from your dog’s body language and behavior whether he’s barking to say “Oh, boy! Visitors! I love visitors!” or “You best be moseying along!” If your dog seems to display more aggressive behavior, he believes he is protecting his territory and/or defending you and your family from intruders. In order to reduce this type of defensive barking, success depends on your dog associating strangers at the door and passersby with positive things like treats, praise and attention.
Block your dog’s access to doors and windows while he is indoors so he cannot see outside.
Play music or the TV to mask noises that trigger barking.
Call him inside from the yard at times he is prone to barking, such as when school lets out and kids are noisily making their way home. If the dog continues to bark after you have taken these steps, it is time for some counter-training.
Counter-Bark Training Method #1
When your dog barks at people passing by or at the door, allow a limited number of barks, three or four, before giving the command “quiet.” Call your dog to you or go to him and gently hold his muzzle. Repeat the command “quiet” in a calm definitive voice. Release his muzzle and call him to you and ask him to “sit.” Praise and give him a treat if he complies. If he doesn’t, repeat the steps. Continue to give him praise and treats until the people are have passed by completely or come inside your home. Use these same steps when he barks at people from the yard.
Counter-Bark Training Method #2
If Method #1 isn’t working after at least 15 sessions, add a startling noise to the “quiet” command, such as a can of pennies, a bell, even a loud single clap of your hands. This should gain his attention and you can then go through the remaining steps of calling him over, asking him to sit, and giving praise and treats until the person or noise is gone. If he begins barking immediately after you release him, repeat the steps. If after 15 more tries the barking hasn’t diminished you may have an obsessive or anxiety situation and should seek the advice of a professional.
While barking at people, if your dog is also wagging his tail, crying, and jumping, this is a greeting bark, and must be handled differently than territorial barking. Greeting barks are friendly, but can still be annoying. When people come to the door, teach your dog to sit and wait until the person comes to him; this will bring control and anticipation to the greeting rather than barking. Keep one of his favorite toys by the door and train your dog to pick it up when a guest comes. He will be less likely to bark with a toy in his mouth.