Barking: why they do it, and how to stop it

Even if you haven’t owned a barky dog, you’ve probably encountered one. It’s a familiar sound to walk down the street and hear the yap of a dog at the window, or through a fence. Step within 30 feet of OCHS, and you’ll hear barking dogs galore. And I bet if you’ve owned a dog, there have been moments where they bark and bark and just won’t stop.

Barking is loud, distracting, and anxiety inducing. So how do we stop it?

First, we have to look at why dogs bark. While it might seem fairly simple, there are actually a variety of reasons that they unleash the yips, yaps and howls. Sometimes they bark for attention–for example, my dog will bark whenever a guest stops petting her. Other times, they bark because they are anxious, because they are being protective of an area or person or item, or because they want to alert you to a threat that they perceive. They bark when they’re scared, when they’re happy, when they’re bored…

With so many motivations to bark, no wonder it’s a common problem!

One tip–keep your dog tired through play and exercise. He’ll be less likely to bark!

While advice from researchers and dog behaviorists on stopping problem barking is very general and can be difficult to follow, there are several surefire ways to help reduce it.

  1. Figure out why your dog specifically is barking. Do they bark every time someone knocks on the door? A car drives past? When they’re stuck out in the backyard for hours on end? When you’re eating dinner?
  2. Once you’ve assessed why they’re doing it, look at your own behavior. What do you do when they bark? If they bark while you’re eating dinner, do you feed them scraps to make them stop? Do you yell at them when they bark at passersby? Do you pet them when they bark or whine at you while you’re relaxing?
  3. Change your behavior based on what you’ve observed. If your dog barks at you to pet him, and it drives you crazy… stop petting him! The behavior may become worse for a short period (called an extinction burst), but then your pup will get the message. Instead, try asking him to sit before you pet him, and soon he’ll sit to ask for attention–a much more polite approach. If your dog barks at passersby, instead of yelling at him (which to the dog sounds like you’re barking too, which only encourages more barking), distract him with a delicious treat and have him run through a couple of his tricks. Soon he’ll keep his head when passersby come along, because instead of a threat, they will be an opportunity to earn treats. If your dog barks during hours spent in the backyard or a pen, add variety to his routine. Take him for walks in new places, give him puzzle toys to get his food from, and bones to chew that will help wile the hours away.
  4. Keep it up! It may take awhile for your dog to learn new habits. But don’t give up–even if your dog still barks on occasion, you’re helping to teach him how to ask for things politely and feel comfortable in the world.

Have a dog who barks? Message us on Facebook, and we’ll help you assess your specific situation and come up with solutions!