How To Stop Dogs From Barking

Fluffy is doing her impersonation of Cujo on a bad hair day at the front window. "Get off my property!" She barks ferociously at all who dare pass by. "Yeah, that's right, keep on walking," She continues. Somehow the owners only hear, "Ruff, bark, growl, ruff!" So they respond, "Fluffy, stop it, no-bark, off, quiet!" Ironically, Fluffy only hears, "Yeah, that's right, what the dog said but more of it!" From Fluffy's perspective she has chased away the trespassers with the support of her cheerleaders! This territorial, pack-bonding experience is rewarding on a deep, primitive level.

Window barking is only one of many reasons dogs bark. However, humans hopelessly shouting to try and stop it is all too common. We are taught, "Use your words" rather than push and shove so naturally we try to talk to dogs in the same way. Unfortunately, this is far from natural in the canine world. You see, dogs do not understand verbal language. We can teach them words but to control barking we need understanding and action more than words. This article hopes to help you understand how to keep Fluffy quiet.

A Brief History of Barking
Barking is one of the most common "problems" people have with their dogs. Ironically barking is a totally natural behavior in dogs. Doubly ironic, dogs have been selectively bred for barking because humans LIKED it!

Barking Was Good: Dogs are descendants of wolves but wolves don't bark much, so what gives? It appears that domestication brought about more barking. The dog's keen sense of scent and sound caused them to bark when something was nearing camp, long before humans would have otherwise known. Hence, barking provided protection from predators or invaders. You could say that dogs were our earliest security system!

Barking Became Bad: Fast forward thousands of years when selective breeding has created dogs that bark more than ever. Put them in urban and suburban settings with a constant flow of noises and activities all around. What do you get? Barking, barking, barking! Probably a few angry neighbors, too!

Barking Is Complicated: Although we complain about it, we still like barking. That's how Lassie told us Timmy was in the well. "Speaking" dogs go viral on YouTube. We like dogs to bark as a burglar deterrent. So, what's the problem? Well, barking is also an annoying sound that drives people bonkers!

"I like it when he barks at...(fill in the blank) but not when...(fill in the blank) and sometimes if...(fill in the blank) but only a little bit, then I'd like him to stop."

How in the heck can a dog be expected to navigate all those particulars? Is it even realistic? Yes, barking can be controlled.

Five Tips to Control Barking

  1. Holistics: The idea of being "holistic" is not just for hippies anymore. Even CEOs are doing yoga, meditating and going organic. Holistic dog training is not just for hippies either! For example: Before diving into how to stop a dog from barking we should ask, "Why is the dog baking in the first place?" Is he anxious, fearful, aggressive, frustrated, territorial, spoiled? Without understanding the root of any behavior we will be at high risk of failure and causing more harm than good. For example: a fearful dog needs a gentle and patient approach while a confident, pushy dog may simply need a correction. One takes five minutes, the other could take weeks or months. Treating one like the other could be devastating. A holistic view also considers other aspects of the dog's life such as previous training, daily exercise, relationship with the owner, etc.
  2. Fulfillment: Most barking problems stem from a lack of fulfillment. Lack of exercise, lack of socialization, lack of structure, etc. A dog with a fulfilling life may still bark but it will be less frequent, less dramatic and teaching a “Quiet” command will be easy. An unfulfilled dog, bursting with pent up energy and uncontrollable emotions will be difficult to train. Many times these dog's barking is involuntary, making reprimands unfair or ineffective. Fulfillment is a foundational element to any balanced training program.
  3. Leadership: Leadership is another foundational element in dog training but what does that mean? To be the alpha, alpha-dog, pack leader? To be dominant? To be the boss? To "parent" your dog? These are all just words, open to thousands of interpretations. The simplest way to look at leadership is to think in terms of structure, implementing simple rules and controlling resources. For example: Having your dog sit before feeding, wait at doors, stay off of furniture, etc. Done consistently this helps your dog to see you as an authority figure. Your dog will have more impulse control and be more prepared to take direction. This means less barking in the first place and an easier time teaching "Quiet".
  4. The "Quiet" Command: We need to be able to say "Quiet" whenever our dog barks inappropriately. This is how we train grey areas such as barking at the doorbell but not at every sound outside. However, as we saw with Fluffy, words alone are ineffective teachers. In order for the dog to understand "Quiet" it has to come with negative consequences. It's really that simple. What's not so simple is making the consequence just negative enough to be effective without being harmful. The secret is finding out what works FIRST, before using words. For example: let's say the dog is barking at the fence. You might try a loud clapping of the hands while stepping abruptly into the dog's space. If that works then next time you can repeat the action while saying, "Quiet!" Some dogs might need a softer approach, others might require something stronger like a poke on the side or leash correction. The point is that every dog is unique and we must respect that when looking for the proper correction. By pairing the consequence with the command your voice should eventually carry the power on its own.
  5. Anti-Bark Collars and Remote Collars: Collars that spray, beep or shock every time a dog barks have the lure of a "quick fix" but I personally try to avoid them because they have risks of negative side effects. I’ve consulted with clients who've informed me that they've used these collars prior to calling me. Some had good results, some had bad results and some had no results at all. Collars that beep or spray are fairly benign for most dogs but they often don’t work or only work temporarily. Collars that shock have higher success rates but also higher rates of negative side effects. These collars are not intelligent enough to judge a situation. They cannot discern appropriate from inappropriate barking or a bark from a yelp. Because it's a mechanical, automated device, it cannot determine if the correction should be high, low or not at all.  The fallout here is you can get a dog who develops inappropriate associations and/or becomes traumatized. I prefer to use a more holistic approach, and if I do incorporate a remote collar, rather than using one that triggers off the dog's barking, I use one that I control via a hand-held remote so I can control the timing, the level and the situation precisely. Important Note: The use of remote collars is way beyond the scope of this article. I suggest they not be used carelessly but not be demonized either. Many dogs have been kept out of the shelter system and are living happy lives due to these devices.

In Closing
Barking is a natural canine behavior which can be controlled with a holistic, balanced approach. Please contact me or a qualified balanced trainer in your area if you need help.

Related articles: Communicating with the Leash, Should I Teach Speak To Stop Barking?

-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

© Thriving Canine, 2015