Many dogs bark at some time or other, but for some it can become a bad habit or a cause of annoyance and distress for dog families – particularly if you live in a built up area. If this is you, then my quest is to help show you how to stop a dog from barking.
If you want to skip all the background, just scroll down to my 5 simple steps to take immediate action.
It is useful here to look at several aspects of dog barking, including reasons why dogs bark, what happens in a more natural environment and common ways that people currently deal with the problem, which may not be the best solution!
The main reason dogs bark
Before we can stop a dog barking, we need to look at what is causing it to bark in the first place. There are several things to remember here:
- Your dog’s hearing is much more powerful than your’s. They are likely to hear more, as well as sounds that are in a frequency we can’t even hear.
- Your dog’s sense of small is super-charged, so they are a lot more sensitive to odors in your environment
- There are many dogs that don’t naturally like cats! There are always exceptions to this – especially if you have a dog-and-cat household. Maybe they just tolerate one another, or maybe they actually love each other – but for dogs that don’t have feline house buddies, they can be inclined to bark at a cat wandering past the window of their own home. It’s a fact!
Ultimately a dog barks to communicate something he/she feels is relevant to his pack, or in the case of a domestic dog, his family. That means you!
Let’s look at some examples:
There could be something in the wider environment the dog feels is a potential source of danger. He considers the barking as a way to warn you of this danger.
If your dog is one of these he is likely to have fairly set boundaries in his head of where the territorial lines are drawn. It’s irrelevant if they are invisible to you or not, it’s where the dog’s boundaries are that is important here. They can bark if they feel these boundaries have been crossed or breached by someone or something unfamiliar. Cue the cat I mentioned above!
With either of these reasons, the dogs feels like he is doing his utmost in defending his family and/or their territory. It is a natural instinct that they want to protect what is most important to them. Again, that’s you.
Natural Behavior or Bad Habits?
In order to really look at what’s natural behavior and what’s not, it’s a good idea to take a look at wild canines do. You might be surprised to learn that they do not bark much at all, unless they are puppies.
If we think about a wild environment, it is quite alright for puppies to whimper, growl and bark within the safety of a den – there is little chance they can cause too much harm by making noise in this area.
However, as dogs grow and mature they will start to leave the den and accompany older dogs in the pack on hunting missions. Now barking becomes a whole different ball game.
Imagine if you will the stealth of a hunting pack, getting close to their prey, working hard to stay upwind – when an adolescent dog gives a bark of excitement. The carefully selected prey bolts away and that’s it, the hunt has to start all over again with a new target. You can imagine how this would go down with the pack – “like a lead balloon” springs to mind! Therefore, it rarely happens. The younger ones are kept in check by the pack, particularly the alpha male. It could be as little as an icy, blue stare and the younger dog wouldn’t even dream of moving a whisker, let alone a full blown bark. These animals are so in tune with one another right from birth, so all the natural instincts and behaviors work exactly as they should without any human interference.
Is that realistic behavior in a house? No is the short answer! Over many years and the domestication of dogs, we have actually bred in a greater tendency to bark. So as a dog owner it’s not fair to expect your own dog to act like a wolf, when in fact we have asked them to bark more, and for different reasons.
It’s also good to think about what does actually constitute natural barking behavior and what is down to bad habits.
Does your dog harass the postman?
If you have a dog that barks at the postman, does your dog really think every single day the same person poses a major threat to you? Or, does he consider the letters arriving through the slot a major invasion of his boundaries?
If you genuinely think this is the case, I would also hazard a guess that you have a very distressed dog on your hand. Can you imagine thinking every day that the postman is seriously dangerous, or that letters are actually an alien invasion? Your dog would need to be on anti-stressants!
You would definitely need expert behavior help here.
I am much more inclined to think this is a bad habit – more because it’s been allowed to develop and continue. Your dog probably thinks it’s fun to bark at the postman and then chew up the letters! In which case, it’s more likely your dog is just plain bored.
Taking Constructive Action
Before we get down to the nitty gritty, it’s time to visit the wild relatives again. How do dogs stop one another from barking in the wild? It’s quite a simple process, that is carried out by any dog in the pack that ranks higher in terms of dominance. (e.g. the pack leader, a puppy’s mother etc).
The dominant animal places its mouth gently over the barker’s muzzle.
They don’t bite, but at the same time they often give a breathy growl that is short and low. because there is no pain involved, the offender doesn’t feel the need to try and get away, or retaliate in any way. Silence usually follows immediately afterwards.
Follow these 5 SIMPLE STEPS
What you will need: your hand and your dog needs to be wearing their collar
It’s quite an easy technique to imitate, but remember it will be a form of training so you need to make it a consistent action whenever your dog is barking near you. Through repetition comes reinforcement, then through practice becomes ingrained behavior – patience and consistency are key.
When your dog is barking, and near to you:
Using your hand that is nearest to the dog, with your palm facing up, slip your fingers underneath the collar, just at the back of the dog’s neck
With that hand, create resistance by holding the collar taut – not tight enough to cause any discomfort to your dog, after all you are not trying to strangle him. (If your dog is in need of a collar, take a look here for good quality options)
Place your other hand over the dog’s muzzle, curving your palm around to fit the shape and pressing down gently. It’s not a “smack on the nose”, but a firm pressure
At the same time, in a quiet, businesslike fashion, say “Quiet”. Try and keep you tone unemotional – and remember you need to use the same tone each time you issue this command.
What you should not do?
There are many techniques that dog owners adopt to try and stop their dogs barking – water pistols or squirt bottles, lemon juice sprays (ouch in the eyes!), muzzles, rolled magazines, rattle cans and electric collars.
I’m sure you have heard about cases where owners have used adhesive tape to try and prevent barking, with dire consequences for the dog.
Firstly, I would like to emphasize you should never beat your dog, or do anything to cause it physical pain.
If your dog is barking with good intentions, as I have pointed out above – i.e. to protect you or his territory – imagine how he would feel if you take harsh action. This can cause a major breakdown in your relationship with your dog. He views it as an act of devotion, so punishing him is like a smack in the face and very hurtful to his feelings.
Another thing you shouldn’t do is imitate their barking or make loud noises. The dog will take this to mean you are joining in, because he is doing the right things. Even shouting can be viewed by your dog as your own version of human barking!
How long will it take to stop barking?
I can hear most of you asking this question, but I can’t give a definitive answer. Depending on the breed, it may take anywhere from two repetitions to several dozen.
Like all new dog training, you must give it time, be patient and consistent with your methods, to help your dog learn what you are asking him or her.
Also, if your dog is otherwise a well-trained dog, they are likely to respond much quicker to this new instruction.
I hope you have found this helpful – I would love to hear your experiences and feedback, so please feel free to leave me a comment below.