Sheryl Matthys, The Dog Expert
Jan. 2011

One of the most popular questions people ask at Leashes and Lovers is, “How do I stop my dog from barking so much at other dogs, people, kids,…”

Many dogs bark or whine – it’s natural.  But, why?  Well, they are doing this to communicate with us, other dogs, and to express themselves.  We of course don’t mind when we interpret it that they are warning us of a possible danger like someone at the door.   But, excessive barking not only hurts your eardrums, and annoys your neighbors, but can actually mean a behavior problem. So why do they bark and what’s the solution?

We start with your dog understanding when it’s appropriate to bark and when to be quiet.  We have to be the ones to teach them that. Many small dogs especially bark and often we’re perpetuating it because we think since they are little it’s cute or not so bad.  But, the longer you wait, the harder it gets to curb the behavior. It is a good idea to teach your dog a “speak” and a “quiet” command or whatever you want to call them.

This will take some practice, but with consistency, you can teach your dog to bark on command and to be quiet.

Why Dogs Bark

Dogs actually bark for a reason – not just because they can!  Their reasons may not always make sense to us, but they do to them.  They are not just barking to annoy you and your neighbors, nor do they bark for spite or revenge.  Certain dog breeds bark more than others – some types of dogs were actually bred to be barkers. Some breeds like the Basenji rarely bark at all (but can vocalize in other ways). If you listen closely, you will eventually learn your dog’s different barks.

I once say a lady who called herself the baby whisperer and she could interpret the sound of a babies cry to what they really wanted.  The same holds true for our dogs, but we are not always as adept of knowing the meaning behind each.

So, understanding the reason why your dog barks is the first step towards controlling the behavior. In general, dogs will most commonly bark for the these 5 reasons:

  1. Warning:It is natural and I actually like it when my dog barks when someone is at the door.  Dogs will bark if they sense some type of threat saying, “I’m protecting this place so don’t mess with me.” The sound of this bark is usually loud and authoritative. Honing this instinct with training can help protect your home and family.  For my dog, it’s a low, short single “ruff” at intervals.  Recognize what it is for your dog(s).
  1. Anxiety:Anxious barking seems to be an act of self-soothing for many dogs. It is more high-pitched and sometimes accompanied by whining. This type of barking is common for dogs with separation anxiety. One of my Greyhounds had severe anxiety and whined more than barked.  He’d pace and whimper in a higher pitch than his play bark.
  1. Excitement:This barking is common in puppies and younger dogs. Many dogs will bark while playing with people or other dogs. Even the sound of the bark tends to sound upbeat and possibly musical. Some dogs will bark excitedly when they know they are about to go for a walk or car ride.
  1. Boredom:The bark of a bored dog sounds like a dog that barks just to hear their own voice. Bored dogs often bark to release energy, and signal a state of loneliness. An activity may help this or possibly another dog.
  1. Responding to Other Dogs:You’ve probably experienced when one dog down the street starts barking, next thing you know the rest of the block joins in.

Prevent and Stop Excessive Barking:
Now that you have more of an idea of the cause of your dog’s excessive barking, you can begin to control the behavior.
The best way to prevent excessive barking in the first place is to:

a.  Remove any potential sources of the behavior
b.    Don’t inadvertently encourage the barking
c.    Give them better things to do besides barking
d.    Exercise your dog so there is not as much pent-up energy to burn
e.    Avoid leaving a lonely dog alone for long periods of time
f.     Never comfort, pet, hug or feed your dog when she is barking for attention or out of anxiety – that would be rewarding the behavior
g.    Shouting at your dog to stop barking does not help. It may actually cause her to bark even more.
h.    Avoid punishments like shock collars. They are not only painful and unkind – many dogs will learn to test them and eventually work around them.
i.      Try to get her attention with a clap or whistle. Once she is quiet, redirect her attention to something productive and rewarding – like a toy or treat.
j.      After getting your dog’s attention, practice a command like sit order to shift her focus.
k.    Don’t let your dog bark outside at length, regardless of the reason.
l.    Consult your veterinarian and/or a trainer if you continue to face barking issues despite your best efforts.

De-Barking Surgery
“Debarking,” or cordectomy, is a surgical procedure involving partial removal of a dog’s vocal cords. Debarking does not take away the dog’s ability to bark – it just makes it sound quieter and a bit raspy.  Surgery and anesthesia are always risks.  Excessive barking indicates an underlying issue that is usually behavioral so while surgery may soften the noise, the anxiety, fear or problem remains unaddressed.