It's no secret that dogs bark. But some dogs bark more than others. And some bark so much that it can drive owners to consider the unthinkable: getting rid of their pooch.
If you are at your wit's end with your dog’s barking or just wondering how to raise a puppy that doesn’t engage in nuisance barking, this article is for you. We’ll walk you through the many reasons dogs engage in problem barking and how to address each to help your dog learn how to express themselves in a calmer, quieter, and more appropriate way.
Before you can begin to address your dog's barking issues, you first need to understand what is driving the behavior. In most cases, barking is driven by simple boredom or the desire to get you to pay attention. But other factors can also cause your dog to bark.
The vast majority of problem barkers I've met during my training career suffer from what I call “boredom barking.” These dogs engage in incessant barking while away from their owners but aren't experiencing any anxiety or fear problems.
Most dogs will bark if they see someone pass by their home through the window or the fence. While this is completely normal and expected behavior, it can quickly become problematic. If your dog barks excessively at passersby or if the location of your home brings a constant stream of people, pets, and wildlife past your windows, then this natural behavior is likely to develop into nuisance barking.
It's no secret that dogs have better senses than humans. Not only can they hear higher frequency sounds, but they can also smell and detect movement better than people too. This is because dogs have more rods than cones in their eyes. This means they can't see color as well, but they can detect movement, especially in dim light, better than humans can. The reflective tapetum lucidum in the back of their eyes also makes them better able to see in the dark.
All these heightened senses mean that dogs can see, hear, and smell things that we cannot. So if your dog seems to bark without reason, it may very well be that they are sensing something and trying to alert you to it.
Fear and Anxiety
Dogs will also bark if they are upset, afraid, or anxious. For example, pups who suffer from separation anxiety may bark incessantly while away from their people. Dogs who are fearful of people or other dogs may bark uncontrollably at guests or even other family members.
After boredom barking, attention-seeking behavior is the second most common cause of nuisance barking. When a dog wants you to play with them, pet them, or feed them, a quick bark is often the quickest way to get your attention. Once a dog learns that this behavior works, they're likely to abuse it and engage in frequent and obnoxious barking behavior.
Once you have identified the reason for your dog’s nuisance barking, only then can you implement a process to help alleviate the behavior.
Each of the training techniques below will work for one or more of the reasons for incessant barking listed above. If you find that you're not making progress using these techniques, it may be that you have misidentified why your dog is barking in the first place.
Alleviate Their Boredom
The answer is relatively straightforward for dogs that bark because they are bored: help them be less bored.
You can accomplish this in two ways. Often, taking both approaches at the same time will yield the best results.
Increase Their Exercise
Dogs with excess energy are much more likely to get bored than dogs who are tired out. So if your dog is bouncing off the walls and doing a lot of barking at the same time, it's time to increase their activity. You can do this in a number of ways:
- Take them on more frequent or longer walks.
- Take them to doggy daycare.
- Get them involved in doggy sports.
- Take them to the dog park.
If your dog barks excessively while you’re at work, be sure to give them plenty of exercise before you leave in the morning. Just make sure they have at least 20 minutes to unwind from the activity before you leave the house.
Keep Them Busy
You may not be able to physically exercise your bored dog while you’re busy or away from home, but you can keep them mentally stimulated to avoid barking behavior. Before you leave your dog home alone or put them out in the yard so you can work, try providing them with one of these busy activities:
- A Kong stuffed with peanut butter or frozen wet food.
- A treat ball stuffed with healthy treats.
- A puzzle toy with hidden treats inside.
- An automatic fetching toy.
- An engaging and safe chew toy.
- Treats or toys hidden around the house or yard.
Manage Their Environment
If your dog barks at people passing by the home, visitors inside the house, or sounds and sights outside, you can easily interrupt the behavior by managing their environment.
Close the blinds or gate your dog away from the windows. Use the radio or TV to block out noises from outside. If they bark at visitors inside the home, put them away in a kennel or room with a busy toy (see above) before that person comes over.
This works very well for territorial dogs and fearful pups. However, for dogs with separation anxiety, the environmental management and training program will be much more intense and is best done with the help of a trained animal behaviorist.
Increase Their Socialization
Dogs that bark excessively at visitors or passersby may also benefit from increased socialization. Taking them on walks through busy areas of town and offering them treats for calm responses or giving them positive rewards whenever they meet a new person can help them become more comfortable with the idea of people coming in and passing by their house.
Address Attention Seeking Behavior
If your dog barks to get your attention, then you have a lot of work ahead of you. Luckily, though, with consistency and patience, it is possible to erase this kind of nuisance barking completely.
Train an Appropriate Behavior
Most dogs bark to get your attention because they don't have a more appropriate way to ask. Before petting your dog, feeding them, or playing with them, ask for specific, calm behavior such as a sit or down, then reward them with attention, food, or a fun game.
Soon, they'll learn that they can get your attention by offering that behavior instead. Just be sure you don't accidentally ignore them when they perform this quieter behavior, or they will have to revert back to asking the more obnoxious way.
Ignore and Utilize Time Outs
If your dog does bark to get your attention, you need to ignore them completely. This means no eye contact, physical contact, and talking, not even telling them ‘no' or ‘quiet.' If they continue to bark as you ignore them, calmly move them into a separate room and shut them inside for about 30 seconds or until the barking stops.
After 30 seconds of quiet, let them out, ask for their appropriate attention-seeking behavior, then reward them with some pets or a game.
Break Out the Squirt Bottle
If you have a really tough cookie that doesn’t stop barking when ignored and does not react well to being put in timeout, then you can try the spray bottle as a means of correction.
Many dogs hate being sprayed with water and will immediately stop barking and move away when sprayed. If they do, wait for 30 seconds of quiet before asking for their appropriate behavior and rewarding them with lots of love.
If your dog responds to the spray bottle by licking the water, barking more, or in a fearful way, stop using it immediately. It will only make the situation worse.
Manage Barking When Training Isn’t Possible
By appropriately addressing the cause of your dog's barking, you should be able to make progress against the behavior in a relatively short period. But if your dog is allowed to practice their barking behavior anytime during training, you can expect training to take much longer.
If your dog’s barking behavior happens mostly while you are away or unable to train, you may consider hiring a pet sitter to help train them or taking them with you when you leave the house. As your training catches up, you will spend less and less time actively training and more time enjoying the peace and quiet.
In some cases, using a bark collar to curb barking when you are not able to train can be effective in limiting the behavior. However, you must use the collar responsibly and only for limited periods to avoid the collar causing additional problematic behaviors.
If you do go this route, start with a citronella-style collar first. This collar sprays harmless but annoying citronella into the air each time the dog barks. This irritating smell is enough to convince some dogs to stop barking altogether.
If that doesn’t work, you can move up to a shock-style collar that emits a warning noise before giving the dog a short electric shock each time they bark. But be very careful with using these as they can cause serious anxiety and fear reactions in sensitive dogs and may lead to intensified barking, noise phobia, or other undesirable behaviors.
The Bottom Line on Barking
There is always a reason behind incessant barking. By figuring out why your dog is barking and addressing the cause, you can institute the proper management or training program to reduce or eliminate the behavior.
Yin, S. (2002). “A new perspective on barking in dogs (Canis familaris.)”. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 116(2), 189–193.
Various authors. “How to get your dog to stop barking.” The Humane Society of the United States. humanesociety.org.
Various authors. “Barking.” ASPCA. aspca.org.
Sara Seitz worked in the pet industry for over a decade. In addition to being a certified dog trainer, Sara gained experience working as the general manager of a dog daycare and boarding facility, as the creator and manager of a pet sitting company, as a groomer, and as a dog behavior evaluator. She also has a bachelors in animal behavior from CSU. Currently, Sara works as a freelance writer specializing in blog, article and content writing.