Excessive barking in dogs: what can you do to stop it?

It’s normal for dogs to vocalise – they use sound to communicate, just like humans. Indeed, we often want our dogs to bark, to alert us to visitors to our property. But when a dog barks too much or at the wrong times, it can be a big problem – for dog owners and for other people too (neighbourly disputes over dog barking are common).

Owners often just shout at their dogs, roaring “SHUT UP” or something similar, and while this may seem to work in the short term, it is not a long term answer and it can even make things worse.

Instead, try to understand why your dog is barking.

Why is your dog barking?

  • Territory protection: If someone is at the door or passing the house
  • Boredom: Dogs that are underexercised, understimulated and bored will often bark just to release pent-up energy.
  • Excitement: Many dogs bark to express their excitement, whether it’s before a walk, during a game, or when a visitor has arrived that they’re pleased to see
  • Attention-seeking: If a dog wants human attention of any kind, she often learns that barking is the way to get this. If attention is given to a dog that’s barking for this reason, this reinforces the tendency to do it again the next time that attention is wanted.
  • Anxiety: Anxious barking tends to be high-pitched and sometimes accompanied by whining. This is often seen in animals that don’t like being on their own: they often suffer from “separation anxiety” and show other signs that they’re not happy to be left by themselves.

Often a dog’s barking may be a combination of two or more of the above reasons.

Preventing excessive barking

To prevent excessive barking, you should firstly try to understand why it is happening, and if you can, remove the cause. Secondly, you should try to allow your dog to carry out an alternative, less annoying, behaviour to barking.

Specific tips:

  • Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise so there’s not so much pent-up energy to burn by barking. A tired dog barks less.
  • Don’t leave a dog alone for long periods of time. See if you can get a friend or relative to look after your dog when you go out, or take her with you. Leave your dog with something to do when you go out, like a safe food releasing toy.
  • Don’t comfort, pet, hug or feed your dog when she is barking for attention. If you reward the behaviour, you will be teaching the dog to do it again.
  • Shouting at your dog to stop barking does not help. It may actually cause her to bark even more.
    If your dog barks at things outside, don’t let her go outside on her own. Keep her away from windows, so that she can’t see people or other animals.
  • If your dog barks at the same time every day, like when people in the house are going to work or school, try to keep her busy at that time of day. For example, you could take her for a walk away from the object that provokes barking
  • Try to keep your dog calm. If she barks when excited, don’t play with her at anti-social times like very late at night.
  • Mechanical devices can help to control barking but they need to be used properly. Don’t use them without getting professional advice so that you know that you are using them correctly.
  • Don’t get a second dog unless you’re sure it’s going to make your dog feel more secure, not less.

Train your dog to “speak” and “be quiet”.

When she is barking anyway, say the key word e.g. “SPEAK” and keep saying it. This will teach her to bark when you say “SPEAK”

Then say the words “BE QUIET” at a time when she is quiet: e.g. Hold a treat for her, and wait till she is quiet, say “BE QUIET”, hold it for a while, then as long as she is quiet, give her a treat. You need to repeat this training several times a day, repeatedly.

Spray Collars

These devices startle the dog, and interrupt the behaviour. They do not punish. They need to be used with care: as a bare minimum, the instructions should be studied in detail, and ideally, professional advice from a dog trainer or behaviourist should be sought before using them. If they are used incorrectly, they will not work, they could cause distress to the dog, and they could make the problem worse.

The two best known “spray” collars that can be used to help to control barking are:

  1.  Aboistop spray collar 
    Costs €85 plus postage
    Sprays gas when dog barks
  2. Masterplus Training Collar
    Costs €160 plus postage
    Sprays gas when button on remote control is pressed

Electric shock collars should NEVER be used.

More Information

I discussed the common problem of dogs barking when owners don’t want them to do it on Ireland AM. Watch the video.

There is an excellent website that has different information sheets about animal health, called www.veterinarypartner.com. Their article on dog barking has much useful information. If dogs barking are causing a very serious problem, you do need to visit your vet, or a qualified animal behaviourist to go through the detail of your own situation.

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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