WHY IS MY DOG BARKING?
The top reasons your dog barks…then read on for how to stop it.
Is your dog driving you barking mad with their constant vocalisations? Are you worried the neighbour’s might complain about the noise? Or is your dog not being as polite when meeting others as they could be?
If your dog is just giving the odd bark here and there, this is probably not cause for concern and normal (barking is a way for a dog to communicate!).
However, barking can quickly become excessive and a real problem.
The video above takes you through the main causes of barking:
- Protective / Threat
- Separation Distress
- Attention Seeking
- Stimulus Oriented
- Play / Excitement
Working on a solution to stop your dog barking requires resolving the root cause of barking as a first port of call, then teaching the Quiet command.
Next I’ll go through all of these common reasons for barking, how to tell if it’s the cause of your dog’s barking and most importantly, how to stop it.
1. Protective / Threat
Dogs may bark when responding aggressively to other dogs or people as a threat or as a protective behaviour. This can happen when greeting others while out and about, or, commonly, when your dog is guarding your property. You’ll know if this is the reason for your dog’s barking by their body language when they approach or greet others. For example look out for a low deep bark or growl, staring, standing tall, holding ears erect, carrying tail high and moving it stiffly from side to side, and having hackles up.
With guard barking to protect your property, this is a fairly instinctive behaviour, and tends to develop in late puberty (around 18 months – 2 years). It’s especially common in guard breeds like German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Ridgebacks, however any dog can develop protective guard barking.
Why does this occur?
Guard barking has become more common following Covid-19 lockdowns, as many puppies raised during this time didn’t have a lot of people coming onto their properties while they were young pups, so have now become reactive to it as adult dogs. Wolves in the wild will protect their territories, so dogs will often do the same when they come into adulthood unless we teach them otherwise.
Aggressive barking in general stems from a lack of extensive socialisation (particularly during the pup’s Formative Period), however it can also occur after a traumatic incident with another dog (e.g. after being attacked).
How to manage it
How you manage guard barking depends on your desires from your dog and comfort levels around it, and your dog’s general sociability. For example, if your dog barks briefly to alert you when someone is coming onto your property, but then quickly settles on command and is otherwise sociable to new people – you probably don’t have cause for concern. However if your dog barks uncontrollably, does not stop on command and is reactive or aggressive towards people coming into your home or onto your property, it’s time to work on it.
If your dog is barking at others aggressively while out and about, you’ll need to do some intensive socialisation training to get them back on track with their sociability. This requires learning to do a controlled meet and greet routine, then practising it with lots of other dogs, first in a controlled situation with one totally friendly non-reactive dogs (or a friend, if it’s related to human-aggression), then out in a real world context.
It’s important this is done correctly and carefully, otherwise there is real risk in a dog fight or attack. We cover the techniques for these ‘meet and greets’ in our Dog Zen Virtual Dog School, with videos showing you exactly how to solve aggression (and therefore the associated barking!), with myself and my dog training team on hand to help and support you through the training.
Fear barking can also look aggressive, and it occurs when a dog feels fearful or threatened – whether there is a real threat or just a perceived one. For example, a dog may fear bark at a baby that is crawling towards them, staring them in the eye. This is not a real threat to a dog, but based on a dog’s understanding of this behaviour, it can be perceived as threatening.
Fear barking can also emerge in dogs that have experienced traumatic incidents, such as being attacked by another dog or mistreated by a person. However it’s most commonly associated with a lack of extensive socialisation during the Formative Period (2-4 months). Any types of people or dogs your dog didn’t have good exposure to during this time, may now appear as a threat. For example, inadequate socialisation with children or men can lead to fear of children and men.
How to tell if your dog is fear barking
The key difference is that your dog is responding defensively – in this case, your dog may try to avoid the person/dog/situation causing them fear, may retreat then approach again, or show lowered body postures. Aggression often manifests from behind if it occurs at all.
How to manage this behaviour
As with protective/threat barking above, this type of barking also requires careful socialisation training to ensure your dog learns to be calm and confident when meeting others. We cover the techniques in our Dog Zen Virtual Dog School, see “Meet and Greet” video.
3. Separation Distress
In the wild, wolves do not like to be separated from the pack. If they do become separated, they will howl to find each other and bring the pack back together. This is the origin of barking (and other vocalisations like whining and howling) as it relates to separation distress in dogs.
How to tell if your dog is separation distress barking/vocalising
This type of barking will happen when you separate from your dog. In extreme cases, your dog may bark, whine or howl even when you even slightly move away from them, or leave the room. In other cases, your dog will vocalise only when you leave them alone in the house or car. Sometimes people don’t realise their dog is doing this kind of barking as it only happens when they’re not home – often you rely on neighbours to tell you! This barking is usually high pitched and incessant. Dogs that exhibit this often show destructive behaviour when their owners aren’t home as well, or show attempts at escape such as digging under fences or chewing at doors.
How to manage this behaviour
We have a couple of blogs on separation distress you can check out here and here. Hopefully these help get you started with treating this distressing behaviour!
4. Attention Seeking / Soliciting
Puppies are often rewarded with food or attention when they whine or whimper, so this behaviour gets reinforced over time and becomes more frequent as your pup matures into an adult dog.
It becomes a vicious cycle – your dog is barking at you, so you go over and talk to them, pat them, let them into the house (or out of their crate), or otherwise give them something they desire. You might even give them a bone or treat to get them to pipe down!
This teaches your dog that barking results in a reward. Remember a reward for your dog can be food, attention, contact or freedom (e.g. being let in or out of a door, off a lead etc). Once your dog realises this, the barking increases and the cycle begins again. As soon as you begin to cave in, your dog learns that all they have to do is persist a bit longer with the barking and they’ll soon get something they want.
How to tell if your dog is barking for attention
It’s likely your dog is barking for attention or to solicit something from you if they’re doing it at home with you, while looking at you. For example, if they’re in the house barking at you because they want to play, if they’re outside barking to be let into the house, or if they’re tied up and barking to be let off.
What to do if your dog is attention-seeking barking
The first thing to do is break the barking-reward cycle. Stop giving your dog the attention or rewards they want for barking. This means completely ignoring any barking! Wait until your dog is quiet for at least a 10 plus seconds, before you go and tend to them.
Then teach the Quiet command – we cover this at the end of the blog!
5. Stimulus Oriented
Is your dog the barker that stands at the window or fence, barking at everything that moves outside? This is stimulus oriented barking, when your dog is barking at something happening “out there”. Think cats sitting on the fence, birds flying past etc. Dogs will also do this while out on walks of course!
To reduce this barking
To manage this type of barking you’ll need to teach the Quiet command (see below). Start by practising in a quiet, distraction free room with your dog contained on a clip station. Once you’re doing well in this context, move to using a long lead and slip collar in the context that usually stimulates your dog to bark (e.g. go for a walk to practise your Quiet command there, or allow your dog to look out the window). Often, teaching the Leave It command is also useful for dogs that are doing this type of barking!
6. Play / Excitement
This type of barking happens while the dog is playing! Unless it’s really excessive, this barking isn’t cause for concern.
If you’re not sure what’s causing your dog’s barking, feel free to email us on firstname.lastname@example.org with some details or a video and we’ll be happy to help you analyse it!
Fixing the cause of the issue…
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 – my Virtual School for Teenage Pups and Virtual Dog School can help with fixing these issues. Through these online courses, I share videos and run Live Coaching Sessions where I can help you deal with your problem face-to-face.
HOW TO TEACH THE “QUIET” COMMAND
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 them 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, knocking on door or door bell 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 (you will need to teach them to be on a clip station first if they’re not relaxed about this)
- 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 click and 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
- If your pup learns that by barking she gets a quiet command and then a reward, or if you can’t get a decent period of quiet to reward, you’ll need to introduce Contrast Training using a slip collar and long lead. In this case, if your dog barks, say ‘quiet’. If she is quiet for more than 3 seconds, click and reward. If she continues barking, say “no” in a gruff tone of voice then click and reward when she’s quiet for 3+ seconds, and if she still continues, give an effective check with a second “NO” command. Then repeat the ‘quiet’ command, and click and reward if quiet for 3+ seconds. Once going successfully, begin to extend the amount of quiet time you wait before you click and reward, start with 3 seconds then gradually increase to 5 seconds then 10 then 15 etc.
“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. This is called proofing.
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.
Persistent barking or need to treat the cause?
If your dog is really persistent with their barking and you can’t get a decent period of quiet to reward, you will need to introduce Contrast Training. This means there is both a reward for the right behaviour of being quiet (click and reward) as well as a consequence when your dog doesn’t obey and continues to bark (we use a slip collar to deliver an effective check).
This is more advanced, and requires you to be bang-on with your technique and timing, so to do this we recommend you join our Virtual School for Teenage Pups (for pups aged 5 – 18 months) or Virtual Dog School (for dogs aged 18 months+), which both have videos showing you exactly how to treat the cause of your dog’s barking AND teach the Quiet command effectively using contrast training.