This is a question that I receive a call or email about almost daily. The great thing about breaking this habit is that it has an identifiable cause and is easy to correct. We start by figuring out why the dog is barking and then pick an appropriate correction. When correcting dogs you should not need a harsh aggressive correction, a calm soft correction is more than adequate when given consistently and appropriately.
Most barking will fall into one of these three main categories. Before we implement a plan to stop the barking it is important to know why the dog is barking so that you can be fair with your corrections.
Guarding the house
When a dog is barking out of excitement we always want to correct the behavior right away. We aren’t truly training the dog not to bark, we are conditioning him to feel calm enough that he doesn’t want to bark. Excited barking could be directed towards you when you pick up the leash to go for a walk, at the squirrels in your yard, or when the doorbell rings (I differentiate barking at the doorbell from guarding the house since most barking when the doorbell is rung is due to excitement). Different dogs and different situations require different corrections, so we will start with a simple correction and proceed from there.
When a dog is barking out of excitement I will first tell him “NO” in a stern voice and calmly go to him to give a correction. It is important to always go to the dog and give a correction. Dogs submit to a more dominant dog by staying still or lowering themselves slightly when he approaches in a serious manner. When you approach the dog in this way it is a great indicator of whether or not they feel submissive to you. If your dog runs away as you go to him he is telling you that he doesn’t respect you (excluding fear). When you get to the dog giving a simple correction such as grabbing the collar and calmly telling him “NO” reminds him that you are the boss in this situation. If the barking has stopped from the verbal and physical correction act like nothing happened and go about your business until the next time he barks. If your dog runs from you and you are unable to catch him, it may be necessary to have him drag a leash around the house until he no longer runs from you.
If you try the simple approach and are not able to stop the barking it is time to use a more effective method. The next step is to use a calming approach with the dog rather than just correcting. We will use the “heel” command in order to get the dog back to a calm state of mind after the stimulus causes him to bark. If the doorbell is the trigger I will place a leash and collar on the dog and have someone ring the doorbell when I am ready. When the dog runs to the door barking I will calmly follow him, pick up the leash when I get there, and have the dog “heel”. The goal here is to condition the dog to feel calm when the stimulus occurs rather than overly excited. I will heel the dog back and forth in the entry way until the barking and interest in the door has subsided. When you like the dogs behavior simply drop the leash and open the door. This same approach would also be used when your dog is racing up and down your fence line barking at the neighbor dog. After working on this consistently your dog will soon start to feel much calmer in the situation and the barking will be lessened or gone completely.
Guarding the House
If the dog is barking to guard the house you cannot correct him sometimes and allow him to bark other times. This is confusing and unfair to the dog. If you like your dog to guard the house you must have set ground rules that he understands. The rule that I have in my home is that the dogs are allowed to bark at strange adults and dogs on OUR property. They are not allowed to bark when people and dogs are on the sidewalk and they are never allowed to bark at children. When the dogs bark for an allowable reason I do not correct them, I check to see who is outside and then tell them to quiet down. If they bark for an unallowable reason I would correct immediately in one of the ways discussed in this article. For more information please see the article on guarding the house.
When dogs bark out of frustration it is very important to evaluate their daily routine and determine if they are frustrated due to inadequate exercise and stimulation or if they are just frustrated that you won’t pay attention to them. If lack of exercise and stimulation seems to be the cause, please see the article on frustration and anxiety. If they are just frustrated that the world doesn’t revolve around them (such as when you talk on the phone or otherwise ignore them for a few minutes) then you apply the two approaches outlined earlier in this article.
I hope that this gives you some ideas on how to stop your dogs barking and lets you know that it is possible. When following these methods consistently you should see noticeable results in a matter of days. One big key to success is to set up the situation that causes the barking when you feel like addressing it rather than having it come up when your aren’t ready.