Collie dog barking with water in the background

Whether you have a big Rottweiler or a small beagle, a habit of unnecessary barking can be a serious nuisance to you and your neighbors. Not only is it annoying, but it’s also a hard habit to break once it has started. This is why it is very important to start this behavioral training technique as soon as possible with any dog. 

Remember, dogs are animals and they have been bred to bark. It is a dog’s instinct and they often cannot control this instinct. However, you can retrain them to rewire this instinct. There are many products out there that claim to expedite this process, such as bark collars or dog whistles. However, they are often more harmful than they are helpful. 

The first step to breaking this habit is to understand your dog’s triggers, or what is causing your dog to bark. Usually, there are 3 reasons that dogs bark. Your dog could be protecting his territory, he could be overly excited,  or he could have a lack of human socialization. All of these issues should be addressed and treated differently in order to best train your dog. 

 

Territorial barking

German Shepard barking on sidewalk

Dogs use body language just like humans do, they even use it more than humans do! Watch your dog’s body language when a strange person or dog comes near your yard or home. If your dog’s body becomes stiff with raised fur, accompanied by barking, he is protecting his territory. 

This is your dog’s way of telling you that he’s unsure of the approaching party and that he is ready to protect you and his home. While it can be helpful to have a guard dog, you’ll need proper training in order to keep you and your neighbors safe.

 

Excitement

Dog with pointy ears in a feild of purple flowers

This type of barking is typically seen in puppies and is one of the main reasons a young dog may be barking at strangers. When a dog is barking in an area that would not be considered their territory, they are probably barking due to excitement. Just like children, puppies express their joy through hyper energy and loud noises unless properly trained.

While you may be able to tell that your pup is just excited to meet new people when he displays this behavior, it can be threatening to those who do not know. You’ll want to give your dog the best chance at a first impression if he loves people and wants to meet everyone he sees. 

 

Lack of Human Socialization

Small dog hiding behind a bush barking

Sometimes if a dog does not get enough experience with or attention from humans as a puppy, they will resort to barking out of distrust and inexperience. This is very common among rescue dogs since human interaction is less frequent in those living situations. This type of barking can also stem from a traumatic experience such as abuse or neglect which damages a dog’s trust.

You can tell the difference between this type of barking and territorial barking as your dog will seem much more meek or fearful instead of protective. A tail between the legs, lack of eye contact with the subject they are barking at, and shaking are all signs that your dog is anxious around humans.

 

Best Training Methods

 

Keep in mind that even with proper training, your dog may still bark at times. Barking is not always a bad thing, sometimes it is necessary for protection from a predator, and other times your dog may slip up and let out a little noise. It is not a big deal for a dog to bark infrequently.

 

“Quiet Please”

Dog being shushed with pink background

This method will be most helpful in territorial and excitement barking situations. When your dog starts to bark, allow them to do so a few times before placing your hand on their muzzle and gently holding their mouth closed. In a calm, quiet voice say, “quiet please”, or “no bark”. Choose one phrase that anyone who will be helping to train your dog can use as to not confuse your pup. Make sure to remain quiet and calm yourself as yelling can be interpreted as barking along by your dog.

If your dog remains quiet with your hand on its muzzle, remove your hand and reward them with a treat. Repeat this process as many times as necessary and make sure to reward them each time that they respond positively to your training. As your dog gets better at following your command, increase the amount of time between each treat.

If your dog does not like his muzzle to be touched, try this method without putting your hand on his mouth. You can instead use your verbal command along with a treat.

 

Distraction

Black and white dog looking at a bowl of food on a table with coffee and a notebook

This technique is simple and can work for any of the reasons that your dog may be barking. First, find a method of distraction that grabs your dog’s attention every time and is easily accessible by you. This could be a ball, your keys jangling, or a squeaky toy. Make sure that this prop is within reaching distance at any common places that your dog may start to bark.

Once you’ve grabbed your dog’s attention, use the command “sit”, then reward them with a treat once they are at attention and displaying a calm sit. This method rewires your dog’s brain and teaches them that barking does not get them a treat and that listening to you and following commands does. 

 

Prevention

Two dogs looking through a fence

This method is best for territorial and excitement barking and for dogs who need to be trained to bark when their owner is not around. First assess the area that your dog is left when you are not around. Find any places that your dog may have visual access to people walking by or nearby neighbors. Then, restrict their visual access to these points.

If your dog is left inside when you are at work, keep the blinds or curtains shut so your dog remains blissfully unaware of strangers or neighbors outside the window. However, if your dog is left outside when you’re not around a tall fence may be a good option. 

 

“Find your spot”

Small black and brown dog on his back with owner pointing

Having a safe “spot” can be very helpful for dogs who struggle with excitement barking or lack of human interaction barking as it can make them feel safer or help them to remain calm in their own space. This type of training is especially helpful in training your dog to behave when you are welcoming people into your home.

First, your dog will need to know the basic obedience trainings of “sit”, “lay down”, and “stay”. Then, find your dog’s spot within the common space where they can still observe their surroundings. If your dog already has a bed or a favorite chair, these are great options.

Then, when someone is approaching your home, before they get to the door, use your command “go to your spot” and escort your dog to the spot with a treat or a favorite toy as a reward. Command him to “lay down” and “stay”, rewarding this behavior once it is displayed. Repeat this process, but gradually begin to just toss the toy or treat to their spot and point to the spot where they should go. 

Once your dog has mastered this, practice from other areas of the house. This training can be very useful for families with small children to help train your dog to give your children space when they are overwhelmed. 

 

Reward Good Interactions

Little girl in a pink hat feeding a small dog a treat

For dogs who struggle with social interaction due to either a lack of exposure in their puppyhood or a traumatic experience need to be reminded that positive interactions are exactly that, positive. This is best done in a controlled environment and with trusted people who know what your intentions are and know your dog. But, it can also be practiced spontaneously when in public. 

Start by inviting over some friends, a lot of people all at once could be overwhelming so asking your friends to show up at different times or even spread out throughout a week is best practice. Instruct your friends to be very loving, warm, and provide them with lots of treats to give to your dog. 

When practicing in public, you’ll want to reward any kind of good interaction with strangers. While on a walk ask people walking your way if they wouldn’t mind meeting your dog. If they agree, walk your dog over, keep your body language calm and warm while your dog interacts with the stranger. If your dog sits, wags his tail, accepts pets, and displays other good behaviors reward him with a treat as the stranger is leaving. 

The combination of happy, loving interactions with other people and being rewarded for those interactions will help your dog to understand that strangers are not a threat. Remember that your body language and tone of voice are especially important for this method since your dog will most likely follow your lead.

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