Dog barking is a natural behavior and dogs bark for as many reasons as we speak, grumble, scream, and cry. Short of a radical, and dangerous, approach, you will never eliminate a dog’s bark entirely. That would be like you taking a lifelong vow of silence. So our goal is to manage our dog’s barking so that it isn’t a nuisance. In order to properly do this we need to set reasonable goals so rather than try to eliminate all barking let’s start with an achievable goal such as reducing the frequency of the barking or shorten the duration of the barking.
Our first step will be to determine what triggers the undesirable barking. In many cases what triggers a dog’s bark can be quite complex and difficult to determine. In these situations you are far better off consulting with a professional dog trainer who is an accredited behavior analyst. If you suspect the barking is caused by fear or anxiety then you will definitely need the help of a professional. Both fear and anxiety are incredibly complex emotions in a dog which will require a detailed plan to resolve.
But if the cause of your dog’s barking is straightforward (the doorbell, passing pedestrians, other dogs, children etc.) then you may be able to simply manage the situation. If management techniques do resolve the problem and you can easily maintain them then this approach may be the most effective for you.
The first thing you need to do is to make sure your dog is getting adequate exercise. And however much they may be getting now, increase it. Much like humans, exercise will help the dog’s brain regulate mood and reduce impulsive behavior. Exercise alone will often reduce excessive barking. A dog that is well exercised will be more relaxed and less likely to react to whatever may normally trigger their barking. A tired dog is a happy dog.
The next step is to make sure your dog is getting quality “face” time with you and your family. Dogs often bark out of pure loneliness and boredom. They are pack animals and we are their pack. If it is boredom that you suspect is the primary trigger for your dog’s barking then look into some of the excellent interactive toys now available for pets. You can even use toys that will dispense your dog’s meals keeping it mentally stimulated figuring out how to get its dinner. Consider putting your dog into daycare or hiring a dog walker. They will greatly benefit from the additional exercise and companionship.
Another very effective ‘management’ technique is to ‘crate-train’ your dog and limit the access your dog has to certain areas of the house. For example, if your neighbor complains that your dog barks while you are away, you can keep your dog in its crate in a quiet part of your house to minimize the chance of outside noises causing the barking. And a properly crate-trained dog feels safe and secure in its crate (download our free e-book on crate-training).
When problem barking is caused by a specific trigger like a doorbell, then you will need to concentrate on 1) not rewarding them for the barking when the bell rings and 2) replacing the barking with a different behavior when the door bell rings.We often unconsciously reward our dogs for undesirable behavior. For example; if our dog reacts to the doorbell by barking and then jumps on guests we often try to control their behavior by holding them and talking to them. This attention is just what your dog was looking for.Instead, if you teach your dog an alternate behavior, such as finding its favorite toy whenever the doorbell rings, then it will be distracted and physically unable to bark at the doorbell as it holds its favorite toy in its mouth. So first teach your dog to find its favorite toy using plenty of rewards. Once your dog is reliably and enthusiastically finding its toy when you tell it to “get your toy” then you are ready to practice the new behavior (getting the toy) when the doorbell rings.
Have a friend or family member ring the doorbell. Just when your dog starts to react send it to find its toy. When it returns to you with the toy, reward it generously. Do this repeatedly over a period of days. And don’t forget the rewards. Don’t be surprised if your dog looks for its favorite toy at the sound of the doorbell without any prompting from you. If you successfully master this behavior you can then apply it to a number of situations where you want your dog to “get your toy” rather than do whatever it is doing. Remember, even after your dog has mastered this behavior you will need to occasionally reward it with treats or lots of love to remind it of the value of “get your toy.”