Dogs bark to alert you to something, to show you they’re happy and ready to play, to greet you or even to ask for something. But when it gets to be too much and too frequent, there are steps you can take to reduce the amount of barking without ignoring your dog’s needs.
Dogs are easy to live with and enrich our lives daily. One of the ways they get our attention is by barking. It’s their way of communicating that they need something. Whether it’s the bathroom, hunger, lack of stimulation, a desire for a specific toy or a need to exercise or play, dogs always have a reason for barking. When it’s excessive, it may be happening due to a lack of training, behavioural problems or even fear. Interestingly enough, barking is actually a self-reinforcing behaviour in that dogs self-sooth and reward themselves by barking. As a result, some cases of barking are harder to minimize than others.
The biggest mistake people make when trying to stop a dog from excessively barking, is using punishment-based tactics like sprays, shocks or pronged collars. Not only are they inhumane and ineffective, but the emotional fallout can be disastrous and actually cause more problems with behaviour.
IInstead, simply pay attention to what triggers your dog. If it’s the doorbell, for example, you may need to desensitize your dog to the trigger and train them to do something other than barking when they hear it – practicing positive reinforcement is a great tactic! A simple method would be to train/teach your dog to sit when the doorbell rings and reward them with a treat when they do it successfully. Gradually they’ll learn this new behaviour and the end result will be a win-win.
It sounds simple, but make sure you don’t reward your dog for excessive barking, or you’ll never make any headway. Sometimes this can be difficult because pet parents don’t realize that rewards are more than just treats for dogs. Rewards can be attention-based too so be aware of how you address your dog when they’re barking. For them, any attention is good attention.
If your dog barks constantly even though their immediate needs are being met, you’ll want to focus on minimizing barking in general. A great way to approach this is to imagine the bark as something you can control on cue. When you ask for a bark, reward it. When you don’t, no treats are given. Another interesting approach would be to teach/train your dog to use inside bark (just like you would explain to a child to use their inside voice) which is low-sounding bark.
Interestingly enough, sometimes the breed of dog you have can also affect its desire to bark. To some extent, all dogs are bred to be vocal by humans. Centuries ago a dog keeping watch and alerting owners when there were signs of danger was very useful so some pups like hounds are chattier with their barking because of their breeding. This doesn’t mean the dog is un-trainable, it just means you can’t expect them to be silent all the time like some dog breeds. Do your research to learn more about the breed and it may provide some additional insight into behaviour.