Many dog families have struggled at some point with problem barking. Here’s what pet experts suggest are the reasons why your dog may be so wound up and how to stop a dog from barking for good!
“I’ve tried a lot but my boy barks at everything. How do I get him to cut it out?” Bianca asks Paws N’ All.
“We’ve tried BarxBuddy, the high frequency sound clicker, but he doesn’t care. He is a Shih Tzu x Chihuahua, 16 months old and lives inside 95% of the day, as I was hoping to get him certified as a support animal for me, as I suffer chronic pain and so does one of our girls. Please, any ideas I would appreciate.”
Bianca is not alone in facing the issue of problem barking. In 2017, separate media articles reported that there were, on average, 30 complaints a week just in Sydney’s inner west, and 29 animal complaints every day across greater Brisbane – the majority relating to barking dogs.
Ultimately, how to stop a dog from barking – or at least reduce their barking – will depend on finding out exactly why they are barking in the first place.
Different types of barking
First off, let’s get one thing clear: barking is normal for dogs. It’s their way of verbalising with us.
Often they are trying to alert us to the presence of someone or something that doesn’t belong. It could be an intruder, whether that be a person or another animal, like a snake. It could be an injured bird or animal in the yard that is flailing about. Or perhaps just a person is somewhere they usually aren’t – such as a neighbour on the roof clearing out their gutters.
Other times, they bark with excitement (such as my Lab Meg often does come Walkies time!).
This kind of barking is fairly normal.
Problem barking, though, is something different. It tends to be persistent and can continue for long periods of time. It may be aggressive or defensive in nature and tone. Or it could be a mixture of barking and howling. Either way, this is the barking that’s really annoying to everyone who must endure it. Especially if it happens at night when everyone else is trying to sleep!
Before you look at how to stop your dog from barking, determine whether their it is excessive.
Why do dogs bark excessively?
If your dog is barking excessively, then stopping it will mean identifying and treating the root cause of the problem.
According to the RSPCA, there are 7 main causes of excessive or nuisance barking:
- Health problems: Some health problems are obvious – upset stomach, unable to walk on particular leg, scratching, excessive drooling and so on. Others can be easy to overlook: for example, inner ear infections, urinary tract infections and eye problems/loss of sight. Excessive barking could be your dog’s way of telling you they’re not quite right.
- Boredom: How many of us talk to ourselves when we’re alone? Probably more than you’d think. So why would it be different for dogs? Being left alone all day, every day, it’s no wonder they crave to hear someone speak, even if it’s themselves!
- Separation anxiety: For some dogs, being separated from you, their human family, is really stressful. It can cause considerable anxiety, and they bark as a means of calling for you to come back to them. This can be particularly common if you only have one dog.
- Fear: Dogs often bark at something they are afraid of – think thunderstorms, fireworks, emergency vehicle sirens and certain household appliances like the vacuum cleaner or lawn mower.
- Territorial control over passers-by: This kind of territorial behaviour can be directed at virtually anyone who comes past, or be restricted to particular people (such as the postie).
- Territorial control over neighbours: Protecting their territory from neighbours is a different proposition. A neighbour can be on or near the fence line and may feel like a very real threat to your dog.
- Attention-seeking: Babies cry when they want attention. For dogs, it may be that barking until they get attention is what they resort to. And if you go straight to them every time they bark, you may be reinforcing the behaviour.
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How to stop a dog from barking excessively?
Chances are you recognise one or more of the triggers outlined above as causing the problem barking. Now you can explore suitable solutions to calm your dog and get some much-needed peace and quiet by treating the cause of dog’s barking:
- Treating underlying dog health problems: A basic first step is to check that your dog has adequate food, water and shelter from hot/cold/wet weather – they may be barking out of basic necessity. Beyond that, these 7 warning signs of an unhealthy dog may help you identify any underlying health problem, but it’s best to book a check-up with your local vet and rule out any health concerns.
- Stopping boredom in dogs: There are many ways to treat boredom – what works for your dog may differ from someone else’s dog, so it pays to try a few different things. Exercise is always a good option: the more your dog is exercised, the more they get to see and sniff the world – and they come home tired and sleepy. But don’t over-walk older dogs, as this may cause arthritis problems to worsen. Dog toys are another good option – especially things like treat balls that keep them occupied and moving for long periods of time. Just remember to make sure the toy is suitable to leave alone with them (including no small parts that may become a choking hazard). Also try low-fat, long-lasting chews, such as bones and pig’s or cow’s ears. Don’t get ones that are too hard though, as they can damage your dog’s teeth and gums. Finally spend more time with them – they are far less likely to bark if they are cosy indoors with you than left outside alone!
- Treating separation anxiety in dogs: Try re-training your dog so they don’t automatically associate being alone with being a bad thing. You could leave them alone with a bone or long-lasting treat, and/or some interactive toys to play with. Ensure they have comfy bedding so they can take a nap to pass the time. It can be useful to leave them a blanket, shirt or towel that has your scent on it. Gradually increase the amount of time they are left alone. Also work on how you greet them when you do see them again – you getting hyper-excited to see them can reinforce the thinking that being with you is good and without you is bad. Some supplements and hemp-based treats are now on the market that may have a calming effect. You could also try seeing a dog behaviourist to help. In extreme cases, medication from your vet may be required to calm your dog and alleviate their distress.
- Managing fear in dogs: You can train your dog to overcome their fear. If possible, introduce the source of their fear to them gradually. Give them lots of soothing reassurance while you do, so they learn it’s not a threat to them and that it doesn’t scare or harm you. Praise and reward them whenever they don’t bark at it. Distraction is another option. For example, when you vacuum, put them outside with a treat ball or long-lasting chew, such as a pig’s ear or kangaroo bone. When thunder rolls in, give them a Lickimat or puzzle toy to focus their attention on something else. Where possible, keep your dog securely indoors with you if there are fireworks or thunder nearby.
- Addressing dog territorial behaviour over passers-by: If you are at home when the postie comes or people are out walking, reward them with dog treats or a toy when they are quiet. Or bring them inside with you where they can’t see the passers-by. If the barking happens while you are out, consider restricting their view of the front of your home, or keeping them occupied with an activity or chew. Also bring visitors to meet your dog, so they know you are welcoming them onto your (and their) property. The idea is that you want them to bark at intruders on your property, but not at just anyone walking past or guests invited in. Territorial barking can also be at other dogs, which may be a sign that your dog hasn’t been socialised enough with other dogs – so regular walks to the local dog park could be just the thing they need!
- Treating dog territorial behaviour over neighbours: I’ve found it useful to have a chat with the neighbours and encourage them to be friends with my dog rather than enemies – especially where they don’t have a dog of their own. Tell them your dog’s name and ask them to talk to your dog in a calm, happy voice. Even better, give them a supply of treats that are safe to throw over the fence, so your dog associates them with food (positive) instead of invasion (negative). It can take a bit of time, but it’s worth the effort on everyone’s part. If your neighbour gets aggressive with your dog, it reinforces your dog’s view of them as a threat, and the barking will only continue or get worse.
- Managing attention-seeking behaviour in dogs: Attention-seeking can be a cry help for some of the other reasons outlined above, or it may be a symptom that they don’t consider you to be top dog in your family. Stand your ground and ignore bad behaviour – if you’re with them, turn your back and don’t look at them. Only respond (with praise and rewards) when they are quiet, which is the good behaviour you want to reinforce. This will teach them to associate attention with being quiet and barking with being ignored. You can also give them a command that makes it difficult for them to bark – such as drop/lie down. Putting a treat on their bed as you do so adds even more incentive.
Should you use a dog bark collar?
There are products available that are designed to act as a deterrent for problem barking. A dog bark collar, for example, can emit a small shock or squirt citronella oil whenever the dog barks.
However, the dog bark collar is highly controversial and is not widely stocked by reputable pet supplies retailers, including us here at Paws N’ All. That’s because punishment is not seen as a healthy way to train a dog, and these gadgets are open to abuse.
Plus, as the RSPCA points out, “your dog will be punished for every bark, but they will not learn an alternative, acceptable behaviour”.
We recommend that if you’re exploring how to stop a dog from barking, save your money on buying a dog park collar. Instead, go for positive training tools and activities for your dog. That way, you not only stop them barking, but you also treat the underlying problem and can enjoy a happy, healthy relationship with them.
Good luck, Bianca! We hope you get your dog’s barking under control.
Do you have a question about your dog’s health, behaviour or wellbeing? Email us at email@example.com and we’ll endeavour to find the answers!
American Kennel Club
NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Sydney Morning Herald