It’s a natural dog behaviour and they should be allowed to bark when they’re out playing at the dog park or to let you know the postman is ringing the bell. It’s a part of how they communicate and express themselves.
So, while it’s not fair to stop them from barking at all, it’s okay to ask them to be more quiet inside the house.
When your dog is barking at every single noise they hear it can get really stressful for you! Especially right now as we are spending almost all our time inside due to quarantine.
So how do you stop them from barking so much?
The first step, as always, is us! We need to get ourselves into the right mental space to train our dogs in a kind way and helps build a respectful, loving relationship.
Accept that your dog is not “wrong” or trying to be naughty by barking.
As we know, barking is normal and we have to realise that our dogs aren’t trying to upset us. They’re just not realising that it stresses you out so much (They’re actually more likely thinking that they’re scaring off intruders for you!).
However, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it forever!
Dogs that bark too much are the #1 cause of being sent to shelters. It creates a build up of resentment in us, we’re only human after all!
Accepting that you are an imperfect human being who doesn’t have endless amounts of patience is the first step. And that’s okay. No one is perfect.
Right. Now let’s do some training! 😊
You need to communicate with your dog very clearly. In my years as a behaviourist the biggest mistake I’ve seen dog owners make is ignoring good behaviour. When the dog is quiet, we ignore them (because they’re not bothering us). When they bark, we yell or ask them to be quiet.
What does your dog learn from this?
Your dog is learning that if they want your attention, they should bark.
Your dog has trained you to pay them attention when they bark!
So let’s be more careful about when we pay them attention. Anytime you notice your dog has been sitting quietly for a little while, look over at them, smile, and tell them what a good job they’re doing!
This won’t work if you’ve got the facial expression of a morgue worker. You gotta give it some enthusiasm for it to work! 😉
Every time you hear a loud noise outside you need to jump on that opportunity to reward them before they start barking.
Keep a jar of their favourite treats right beside you.
They should be very small – no bigger than your pinkie fingernail. This way you can give a lot of treats throughout the day to reward quiet/calm behaviour without adding too many calories.
If you can’t find any opportunities to reward your dog for being good – you’re not trying hard enough!
Even the most difficult dogs have many moments of being calm every day. Reward them when they’re napping. Reward them when they’re chewing a bone. Reward when they’re lying or sitting calmly beside you (yes, even if it’s just for 3 seconds!!). Show them gratitude for all those little moments and they will want to do those things more in the future.
How do I punish my dog when they do bark?
Punishment is a tricky thing to work with because it will damage your relationship with your dog if you use it too much.
Training should consist of 80% rewards and 20% punishment at the most. Ideally it’s closer to 90-100% rewards because you are doing such a good job of acknowledging them when they’re being good.
Tell them off consistently.
As soon as your dog barks at something they shouldn’t be barking at (a dog walking past, someone talking loudly in the street, etc) you need to jump out of your chair and run towards them to tell them off. They really need to believe that you are MAD.
Now don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying to go over and beat them to death!
This is simply how dogs communicate – through body language.
If you want your dog to understand that their behaviour is frustrating you, you need to communicate in dog language, not human language.
If you’re doing this properly, they will spin around, looking at you a little bit scared with an expression on their face like “Omg human, I’m so sorry, what did I do?”
This is your Golden Opportunity.
They’ve stopped barking because you showed them that it makes you mad. Now you need to reward them immediately with verbal praise (no treats, but plenty of cuddles and smiles).
Why do we reward after they were just barking?
Many people I’ve worked with will continue to tell their dog off for 4-5 seconds after their dog stopped barking. This leaves the dog feeling confused about why he’s being told off. And eventually they will learn to ignore you because you’re not communicating clearly. He stopped barking, but you’re still telling him off.
What does that teach your dog?
It teaches him that whether he barks or not you will still get mad!!
If your dog consistently ignores you when you tell them off it’s probably because you do it too much. They’ve decided that you’re not a nice person to listen to.
It’s up to you to change their mind about that. Show them how much you appreciate all their little efforts.
This is why we reward immediately after your dog stops barking.
Show them exactly how much you appreciate them for listening to you! It will mean the world to them and will build a trusting respectful relationship where your dog is confident that they know how to make you happy.
You need to do this every single time your dog barks for a minimum of 6-8 weeks for the effect to be more permanent.
Sometimes we’re tempted to expect too much from our dogs. I often hear things like “He knows he’s doing wrong” but I’ve always found that this isn’t the case. It more likely human error.
Dogs want to please us and it’s our job to communicate clearly with them and not to expect so much from them in the early days of training. They will automatically go back to their old habits of barking because it’s what they’re used to doing.
This doesn’t mean they are doing it to annoy you or disrespect you!
All it means is that they’re only dogs, just as we’re only humans. Show them every time how much it upsets you when they bark, and show them how much you appreciate their good behaviour when they’re calm.
I’ve seen this work countless times when done correctly.
And I’ve worked with a lot of difficult dogs!
As the human it’s your job to make sure your dog has enough mental exercise to do so they’re not so tempted by boredom barking.
Going out for a walk every day where they can smell new things and interact with other dogs will help a little. Having a wide variety of toys and chews of different textures to munch on at home is great too.
Has any of this worked for you? Let me know in the comments below!