A barking dog isn’t fun for anyone; you don’t want to upset the neighbours or leave your dogs distressed – so here’s a few tips on how to help you train your dog not to bark.  

Why do dogs bark?

Dogs bark for a variety of reasons including aggression, attention seeking, separation distress, protection, excitement or fear. It’s easy for dogs to do and easy for us to unwittingly reward, for example, when a dog barks at the door to be let in and is rewarded by being allowed inside.  

How to teach your dog to stop barking

Funnily enough, to teach your dog to stop barking you actually need to have your dog bark – so for this training, we will use something that generates barking from your dog to teach it the “speak” and contrasting “quiet” commands. There are two options here – the first, in which we teach the “quiet” command only, is preferable but may only work for dogs that don’t have a really serious barking issue. The second, in which we teach both “speak” and “quiet” is a little trickier, but usually easier to execute for dogs that have a really persistent bark. Try them out and see what works for you.

For this training, we need something that generally generates barking from our dogs. Often dogs bark when they are clipped up, so that’s the example I’ll be using. However, if your dog doesn’t bark when clipped up, use another stimulus – either a ball, a lead, holding a treat etc (but still keep your dog clipped up in conjunction with the other stimulus to keep control over the session).

This technique is particularly useful for attention seeking and separation distress related barking, as it enables you to gain control of the behaviour.

“Quiet” only method

    • Begin by clipping your dog up to a lead that’s attached to a wall or piece of furniture in a quiet, distraction-free room
    • Practise your “sit”, “down” and “Zen Down” commands, rewarding calm behaviour
    • Click and reward quiet periods in between barking. Slowly extend the amount of time you wait before you reward
    • It’s easiest to start without a verbal command, as introducing one too soon can be confusing – just click and reward quiet times
    • After a successful period, introduce the verbal “quiet” command – when the dog barks, say “quiet” then click and reward quiet – first for short periods (a couple of seconds), then slowly extending the period you wait before you reward
  • Practise this lots until your dog understands the association between quiet times and receiving a reward. They will then begin to associate these quiet times with your use of the word “quiet” as a command

“Speak” and “Quiet” method

    • If your dog is barking too much for you to get an opportunity to reward quiet, teach a “speak” command first then contrast this with a “quiet” command
    • This technique is more tricky as if done incorrectly, you can end up rewarding your dog for barking and reinforce the behaviour. It’s important to reward both “speaking” AND “quiet” so they learn the contrast – only use this if you need to for highly vocal dogs, and don’t over encourage the “speak” as this is already natural
    • First, teach a “speak” command: when you anticipate your dog will bark, encourage them with a speak hand signal (hold your fingers and thumb together like a duck’s bill then open and close them). Click and reward as soon as they start barking
    • Continue this for three to five minutes, then introduce the “quiet” command: when they stop barking momentarily, say “quiet” and use the quiet hand signal (with two fingers extended, move your hand from left to right in front of the dog’s face), then click and reward
    • When you feel both are being done on command, slowly increase the repetition of “quiet” and reduce the repetition of “speak”
    • Be careful they don’t start soliciting your reward by barking – it MUST be under your control
    • Never reward your dog for barking unless you’ve given the “speak” command and hand signal
  • Practise this lots in a quiet room, then move to increasingly distracting environments

Other commands that will help

Once you’ve achieved this, working on these commands will also help:

    • “Leave it” – this tells your dog to leave an external stimuli alone. For example, if your dog barks at birds or cats, a “leave it” command will help.
    • “Come” – this is an essential command for many reasons and will enable you to call your dog back to you when it’s barking.
  • “No” – this tells your dog to stop what it’s doing and attend to your command. Use a very firm “NO” command in a gruff tone of voice if you’ve asked your dog for “quiet” but it continues barking. Say “NO” then give the “quiet” command and hand signal again.

If your dog is barking for reasons such as separation distress, fear or aggression, addressing these wider issues will be an important part of controlling barking – see my Dog Zen online training program for help fixing these issues.

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