Updated: Feb 19, 2022
Does your dog bark at everything? And I mean everything? For many dogs, the mail carrier, guests at the door, passersby, neighbors, and maybe even critters in the yard are common triggers for barking. But what about things like car doors down the block, the wind, a dropped fork from the other room, a squirrel fart six miles away? Some dogs bark at EV ERR EEE THING!
Most clients come to me in desperation after having tried spray collars, squirt bottles, holding muzzles shut, yelling, comforting, or any number of suggestions given by well-meaning family, coworkers, and Facebook friends. Spoiler - these rarely work!
When a client asks me how to stop a dog from barking, I explain that it's a little like dealing with a toaster that keeps burning your toast. Would you yell at the bread for being burnt? Or at the toaster for burning the bread? Or would you take a closer look at the toaster and see why the toaster is doing that? Same thing with dogs who bark! In most cases in order to achieve success, we have to look into the reason why the dog is barking.
When dogs bark, they are communicating something. Just because we don't like the sound and don't know what they're saying, that does not mean the dog is bad! If we silence their attempts to communicate, they may either find another even less desirable way to communicate or even shut down and stop communicating out of fear. Either way, not good. Imagine being in another country that has different customs and a different language. They can't stand the way you communicate, because they don't understand, so they spray you with a water hose every time you speak. Meanwhile, you're not getting your needs met. How would you feel about them? How would you feel in general? Okay great. So what are you SUPPOSED to do?
First, find out why. Your dog may be trying to tell you they are anxious, lacking mental stimulation or physical outlets, are simply seeking your attention, are afraid, or any number of reasons. If the reason isn't crystal clear, speak to a behavior professional! I would guess that less than 50% of my clients have correctly identified what is going on.
Regardless of the case, it is important to make sure all needs are being met. Provide plenty of enrichment such as letting them smell everything on walks, eat meals from food puzzles, and so on. Make sure dog brains and bodies are being exercised. Nose work class is a great low key physical exercise plus intense mental work. It is also great for bonding, building confidence, and so much more.
If your dog is demand barking, they will most likely be looking AT whatever they want (person, the ball, food, etc.). The best way to deal with this is to ensure the dog does NOT get what they want while barking. No need to scold or be harsh. Simply remove the thing they are demanding. However, once you start ignoring demand barking expect it to get worse than ever for maybe a week or less. Stick to your guns! Otherwise, the dog is learning "If I do it long enough, they'll eventually cave."
If you suspect alarm, anxiety or fear I strongly recommend not trying to resolve it on your own. Talk to a behavior professional to be sure you have assess accurately, and get tips for improving the situation effectively with calm, gentle, consistent, predictable methods. I have an upcoming webinar where you can learn more about fear and anxiety. Originally an in-person event, this has gone online in response to COVID-19 and is aimed at pet owners or those looking to learn more about dog behavior (such as veterinary professionals, pet sitters, rescue staff and volunteers, etc.). Get a better understanding of what might be going on and suggestions about moving forward.
Understanding and Dealing with Your Dog's Fear and Anxiety (online webinar)
Thurs Apr 9, 2020