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Barking: What to Do About It

How can I get my dog to stop barking is one of the most common questions I hear from students. My reply is always the same, Can you tell me the context in which he is barking? This is because different types of barking warrant very different strategies. Let’s look at three of the most common types of barking and the strategies for addressing each.

Demand Barking

Smart dogs learn if they bark (or whine) at you, they can cause something to happen that results in you engaging with them in some way. If you speak to your demand barker, make eye contact or get up to get him a Kong to keep him quiet…you have reinforced the demand barking and your dog is likely to repeat it again in the future.

The only thing you can do for a demand barker once he’s started barking is ignore him. However, demand barking often falls into predictable patterns so we can be prepared to prevent it from happening.

Before the time when you know your dog is likely to start demand barking (you sit at the computer, try to make a phone call or sit down with your afternoon coffee) exercise your dog hard. Your goal is 15 minutes of running. Then come in and send your dog to his mat. Give him a chew item that will last a long time. Good choices are Himalayan dog chews, Bully Sticks, Cow or pis ears and Beef tracheas. You can also pack a Kong with canned dog food, Yogurt or cottage cheese and freeze it solid. Alternately, you could give your dog a puzzle toy to work on, but keep in mind that these can be noisy as they roll in to furniture. If you need to make a call for work, choose a quieter option. Good puzzle toy options are Kong Wobbler, Kibble Nibble, Treat maze and Magic Mushroom.

The goal with demand barking is to get ahead of it and prevent it, not react to it. Any reaction to demand barking, including saying Leave It or Shush, tends to reinforce and maintain this beghavior.

Fear Barking

Fear barking calls for behavior modification. The barking is a symptom of an underlying emotional state. Once we address emotions, we should see barking reduce and eventually cease. There are lots of ways to accomplish this, and they could fill a separate article, so I’ll give very simple descriptions of the two easiest strategies here. All strategies involve keeping the dog under his threshold. (keeping him relaxed enough that he is not barking to start with)

Counter Conditioning and Desensitization

Pairing the presentation of the trigger (thing that causes barking) at a distance at which no barking is elicited (threshold distance) and then giving the dog a treat that he loves. Feed our dog in a particular way that encourages him to look at the trigger, then back to his person. With repetition, upon seeing a trigger a dog should look back at his person as if to say “Hey there’s That Scary Thing, and I getting a treat?” And the answer is Yes, you are getting a treat!

Look at That

The Look at That Game involves using your clicker and requires that your dog knows Click=Treat. When your dog looks at a trigger click. He should whip his head back to you for a treat (give him one) Repeat each time he looks at the trigger. Once he’s doing this well, you can say Look at That (or Check it Out) to put looking at something on cue. Click when he looks at it, treat when he turns back you to you.

In both strategies the end result is a dog who can look at something, then orient (quietly) back to you, a behavior that is incompatible with barking. And there is a genuine change in the emotions that were causing the barking in the first place. Your dog learns to relax or even enjoy the presence of the trigger because not it predicts Good Stuff for Dogs.

Alarm Barking

Most people don't mind a little alarm barking. Our dogs often help us feel safe safe when they bark. But we want to be able to turn the dog-alarm off. Alarm style barking is the only time you can teach a “be quiet” cue.

To teach this we need to take advantage of a spontaneous outburst of barking but understand that the conditions for learning are not ideal. Your dog is in a heightened state of arousal when he is alarm barking. So, while this can be taught, it can be slow for your dog to learn.

When he barks at something, run to the fridge and grab a Very Special treat. Say “Enough” or “Shush” (whatever you want your cue to be) and then place the food right at your dog’s nose so that you are almost touching it to his nostril.

When he smells the food, there will be a moment of silence. Mark the silence with “Yes” and then pop the treat in his mouth. If he resumes barking, don’t worry, just repeat this.

After several incidents of barking and training like this, try extending the time you expect your dog to be quiet before marking “yes” and treating him.

He barks, you say “Enough”, good boyeee, soooo good “Yes” and give treat. Now he has had to be quiet for 3 seconds before getting the treat. Repeat this, gradually extending the time he must be silent before hearing the marker and getting the treat.

Additional Tips:

· Use a white noise machine or fan to try and drown out sounds that cause your dog to alarm bark

· Run the dishwasher or washing machine during the time when you normally receive deliveries to mask sounds

· Play calming music for dogs, sign up for free downloads from This both masks sounds and helps dogs relax

· A tired dog is a quiet dog! Make sure your dog is getting enough physical and mental exercise

· For a dog who barks at sounds, you can desensitize him to the sound by using an app on your phone. Turn the volume down low. Play sound, feed treat. Repeat until your dog perks up when he hears the sound. End the session. Next time you practice, turn the volume up a tiny bit. Play sound, feed treat, repeat. Keep going until the sound is as loud as it is in real life. Note: the same method can be used to desensitize a dog who barks at the doorbell. Be sure to download an app that sounds exactly like your doorbell

· The app “Sound Proof Puppy” can be a big help in preventing dogs from becoming concerned about sounds in the first place


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