We’ve all been the victim of an inappropriately barking dog. It may be our own dog, our neighbor’s dog, or a friend’s dog that we are watching while she is out of town.
It is important to note that these dogs are not bad dogs. They are loving and friendly, but they just can’t cope with being alone or get excited when confronted with company at the door. With the trend toward rescuing older puppies and dogs, this problem is even harder to overcome as the behavior is fueled by more ingrained behavior and anxiety. But, all is not lost. With a lot of patience and time, barking behaviors can be improved if not cured completely.
Getting Started with Training
To begin, you need to look at your relationship with your dog. Dogs are pack animals and depend on a hierarchy within their pack to determine their behavior. Your dog needs to have clear boundaries as to where he falls within the hierarchy of your household. So, if you’ve never even trained your dog simple commands such as sit, come, stay, etc., you are going to have a hard time training him not to bark.
If this is the case, you are going to have to do some remedial training before you get to the heart of the problem. Teaching your dog basic commands and tricks has a couple of purposes. It establishes you and other family members as a higher rank in the hierarchy and it gives you options for alternative behaviors to barking when you are trying to distract your dog from his unwanted behavior.
If you have no idea how to start training a basic command, seek out the advice of a trainer. Many pet stores have contact with or actively employ trainers who teach basic dog training one to two nights a week at a reasonable cost. There are also many books on dog training. If seeking help online, do your research and ensure that the advice is from a reputable trainer.
Know Why Your Dog is Barking
The key to training any trick is to understand your dog’s motivation. A dog will work for reward, whether it is food, praise, or his favorite toy. As simple as this sounds, getting your dog to make the connection between the desired behavior and a reward can take some time. Patience and consistency are necessary. When training a dog away from a desired behavior, you need to analyze why he is performing the undesired behavior – in this case barking.
Dogs bark for several reasons. Some dogs bark when left alone, some bark when there is company at the door or people or animals walking down the sidewalk in front of the house, still others bark at any unfamiliar noise. It is important to make note of when your dog barks – what is the trigger for barking? Is it the doorbell, the sight of strange people/animals near the house, being left alone or some other situation?
Reduce or Remove the Trigger for Barking
Once you know what triggers your dog’s barking behavior, you have a better idea of how to stop it. There are several ways to do this. One way is to remove or reduce exposure to the trigger. Another way is to give your dog an alternative behavior to barking. A combination of these two approaches is often best. If your dog has been doing this for a while, don’t expect to be able to stop this behavior right away. The key is to break it down into easily achieved goals.
If your dog barks every time someone walks down the sidewalk by the house, block his view of the front yard when you are away. You can do this by closing the curtains and closing off access to rooms in the front of your home. If you own your own property, consider planting bushes or putting up a privacy fence to block his view. This will keep your dog from performing unwanted behavior without consequence when you are away. When you are at home, you can work on this behavior and give your dog an alternative desirable behavior. Do not allow your dog into the yard without supervision so that you may correct his behavior if needed.
Reward and Distract
I know what you are asking at this point, it’s all well and good to tell you to correct your dog’s behavior when he barks, but how exactly do you do that? To boil it down to simplest terms, you reward your dog for not barking.
Say a friend comes to visit and rings the doorbell, which immediately sets your pooch off into a frenzy of barking; how do you get him to stop? There are several options. All involve getting his attention away from the visitor at the door so he stops barking even for just a second.
You can do this by making a distinctive sound that he associates with reward such as a command, a clicker, shaking a can of coins, etc. Then when he stops barking to look at you, give him a reward. This is where that basic training comes in that we discussed earlier.
Another option is to condition your dog to perform a different activity when the doorbell rings. Toss a ball or give him his favorite toy and let him greet the visitor this way. If he has a toy in his mouth, he cannot bark.
Still another approach is to place the dog in a room or preferably his crate in another room until the visitor is in and settled, then let him out to greet everyone calmly and quietly. Have the visitor feed him a treat or give him a toy to occupy him so that he still associates visitors with fun, but quietly. These same approaches can be used to distract your dog from barking at strangers in the yard or on the sidewalk.
Seeking Professional Help
Do know that there are options if you are not making headway with your dog’s training. If your dog’s barking behavior is continuing or progressively worsening, you may benefit from the services of a professional trainer who is willing to work with you and your dog. This may involve leaving your dog with the trainer for a few weeks before the trainer brings you in to work with your dog. However, having a well-trained, safe dog may be well worth the time and money spent and save you from months of frustration.