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How to train a dog not to bark?

Two chihuahua barking advice © Shutterstock

From when we are little, we are taught a fundamental fact of life: dogs go “woof woof.” But for some dog owners, the tone and frequency of their dog’s bark becomes torture. This may be why you’re wondering how to train your dog not to bark.

By G. John Cole

Barking is how dogs communicate. Sometimes they’re simply communicating that they’re excited. But sometimes they learn to bark just for the response it gets. Or they become excited for reasons that shouldn’t be that exciting. So what can you do?

Reasons for excessive barking

If you want a dog who doesn’t bark at all, then unfortunately you’re hoping for too much. While some dogs are more barky than others, ultimately barking is natural. Punishing a dog for barking is like punishing a child for speaking. But if your dog’s excessive barking is a sign of a behavioural problem, there are steps you can take to make him more socially aware. It is best to cure a dog’s excessive barking by finding out what causes it in your particular dog. It’s better to address the causes, not the symptoms.

If your dog barks for attention

Sometimes a dog barks because he wants you to focus on him. This is particularly common if he’s been ‘trained’ that this is the case. Think back: when he was a puppy, what happened when he barked? Did everybody clamour around him to make a fuss and tell him how cute he was? It’s normal behaviour. But unfortunately it taught him that barking brings love. Now he’s older and not so cute. And certainly his bark got louder.

So to discourage him from barking for attention you need to ignore him when he does so. It won’t be easy. He may bark for a long time. But you have to keep ignoring him until he stops. This might be annoying. And it might be as tempting to play with him as it is to tell him to stop. But you mustn’t say or do anything to answer his barking.

When he finally stops and is quiet, then you can give him a treat. Make sure you time it so that you’re treating him for being quiet, not because he ‘asked.’

If your dog barks at people

Some dogs just have to fire their mouths off at everyone who passes the front window. Others save their voice for particular guests at the door. In this case, the most obvious response is to cover the window so your dog can’t see out! But this isn’t always possible. Instead, you need to gradually get your dog to understand that not everyone outside is either a) a threat b) a lot of fun.

So in the first place, follow the other barking rules on this one – i.e. don’t shout at him for barking at passers-by. It just excites him more. But in the second place, try to get your visitors involved. The first thing a lot of people do when they walk into the house of an excited dog is to act excited right back at them.

Sadly, you may need to advise your friends to calm down until your dog calms down. Then they can greet him, and he will learn that he’s been rewarded for being quiet. And try to introduce him to your neighbours. Not everyone’s a dog person (crazy, eh?) but they don’t need to play with him. It's enough that he is there while you talk to them to show him they’re not a threat. Even if this means stopping for a chat when you take him for a walk.

This advice may also work if he barks at other dogs. Introduce him to local dogs that you pass so he knows they’re not a threat. And don’t let them play together if he won’t stop barking.

General advice for bark reduction

Shouting at your dog to stop barking is not a good idea. He doesn’t speak English, so he just thinks you’re barking along with him. This may make him more excited and barky. It certainly doesn’t teach him that there is another time and place for barking. And like all dog training, negativity is generally the wrong approach. Teaching him with love (and treats) is a far more engaging pedagogic approach. Don’t tell him off for barking; giving him a biscuit for being quiet. And like all dog training, be consistent. A barky dog just needs more discipline.

That means the same response from you every time he transgresses the reasonable bounds of barking behaviour. The rules is the rules.