How to Stop Excessive Barking

From fireworks to the doorbell or people talking in the street, there are many common sounds that will have a reactive dog up on their paws with ferocious barking. This is after all what many dogs were bred for, but in the modern city noises outside your dog's home are a fact of life.

Unfortunately, most people's reaction is to yell at the dog to be quiet. At which point, the dog misinterprets your yells as a (sad) imitation of barking and thinks you're joining in. Instead, the best method is to teach your dog to be quiet on command. If this all sounds like wishful thinking, we’re here to tell you how to make it happen. This near-miracle is achieved either through teaching the dog the "Quiet" command or by giving them an alternative action to undertake which is incompatible with barking. The latter could be picking up a ball and holding it in his mouth or going to a mat to lie down.

However, be aware that barking is often deeply ingrained behavior, so things aren't going to change quickly. Don't be discouraged, but instead channel your energy into short daily training sessions which will help to retrain your dog. Also, it's important not to accidentally reinforce bad behavior by giving the dog attention when they bark. If necessary, be prepared to leave the room and let your dog get on with barking if that's the only option. At the very least then you have withdrawn attention, which sends the dog a powerful message and doesn't unwittingly reward him.

Getting Started Teaching a dog not to bark at noises requires a great deal of time, persistence, and patience. It's crucial that you dedicate time every day to teaching this command but luckily for you it only needs to be a short training session each day. In addition, take care to avoid accidentally reinforcing the undesired behavior by shouting at the dog in between times when they bark.

The basics you need to teach the dog to lead a quieter life include:

  • Treats

  • A treat pouch you can wear on your belt

  • A mat

  • A rubber ball or toy

  • Peanut butter or a tasty food you can rub on the rubber ball or toy.

The 'Quiet' Method

When a behavior is placed on cue, such as barking, it's then easier to teach the opposite command, such as quiet. Once the dog has learned "Quiet" you can use it to silence unwanted barking.

  • STEP 1 Have the dog bark (as Bizarre as it sounds), the first step is to put barking on cue. Make a noise that will trigger the dog to bark. For example, sit in front of a wall and knock on it behind your back.

  • STEP 2 Label the barking as "speak" When the dog barks in response to you knocking, say "Speak" and allow him to bark another couple of times.

  • STEP 3 Use a treat to teach "quiet" Now hold a tasty treat in front of his nose, to interrupt the barking. As he stops to sniff the treat, say "Quiet" and let him have the treat.

  • STEP 4 Practice, practice, practice Repeat the above steps in a room with few distractions. The dog will start to anticipate "Quiet" means a reward and stops barking ahead of being shown the treat. Now you are ready to practice with distractions. Have a friend knock on the front door, allow the dog to bark then give the 'quiet' command. When the dog stops barking, give him lots of praise and a treat.

What Not To Do!

  • STEP 1 Don't yell at the dog when he barks To a dog, yelling sounds a lot like barking. He may think you are trying to join in and it encourages, rather than discourages, the bad barking behavior. Also, giving the dog attention in the form of telling him off is accidentally rewarding him, which again is an encouragement. So know that your safest default position is to ignore the noise (unsatisfying as that might be!) and leave the room if need be.

  • STEP 2 Do NOT be inconsistent Don't confuse the dog by yelling at him or encouraging him to bark some days or at some people, but wanting him to be quiet for others. Also, make sure all family members react in a similar way to his barking, and they use the same commands to get him to stop

  • STEP 3 Don't forget to practice It's no good only issuing the cue words when you're in a real-life situation that causes the dog to bark. Be sure to practice for short periods of time, each and every day so that the commands are embedded in his psyche for the times they are required.

  • STEP 4 Don't think he'll learn overnight Barking is a self-rewarding activity for dogs. The more ingrained his barking habit, the more difficult it will be to retrain. It may even take weeks or months of consistent training in order to teach him a new and better way to respond. Be prepared for this and stick with it.

  • STEP 5 Don't make life more difficult than it has to be Take a look at ways you can reduce the stimulus for the dog to bark. For example, if he barks at fireworks going off, then generally decreasing the stimulus by closing the curtains and playing soft music to disguise the bangs is going to help. Likewise, if you know the dog barks wildly when the front doorbell rings, when you are expecting visitors, pop the dog into a rear room where he's less likely to hear the bell.

Katherine Wade