Barking is a totally natural and normal way for dogs to communicate. We have selectively bred certain breeds of dogs for their barking abilities!
The problem is that it can be irritating to us humans. Especially when it is excessive and relentless.
How can we let our puppers know: “Thanks, but that’s enough now” without constantly yelling “NO!”? Which, you may have figured out by now, just isn’t working.
Today’s reader asks:
My dog seems to bark at every noise he hears. I’ve tried removing him from the situation and he does okay, but then he does like mini barks. And when he hears someone come in the house, he goes crazy. I’m not sure what to do. – Sincerely, Barking Blitz
Why Do Dogs Bark?
Let us first look at why Barking Blitz’s doggo wants to bark in the first place. Understanding the root cause of a behavior can help us mitigate triggers or change the pattern of behavior over time.
Barking Blitz mentions that noises are the main trigger, which is not uncommon for many dogs.
Some other triggers aside from noises might include:
- Odors. Dogs gather a lot of information through their noses. Their have about 300 million receptors in their nose compared to our measly 6 million.
- Things they see. Sometimes triggers are walking past the front window, taunting our dogs who are stuck on the other side looking through the glass.
Why do these things cause our dogs to bark?
- It’s a natural behavior. Dog’s have been selected over the years to bark. They were used to alert us to intruders, and for that they needed highly sensitive hearing. Some dogs, such as terriers and herding dogs were also bred to bark as a part of their job. It is a highly honed skill. And Barking Blitz’s dog is part Corgi and part Australian Shepherd, so they’re in double trouble!
- Your dog is scared sounds. My dog Juno is quite sensitive to certain noises. These include dogs barking and the sound of hammering (or a basketball bouncing). If Barking Blitz’s dog is feeling scared, he may react to the sounds by barking — a common reaction for dogs who feels fearful.
Is My Barky Dog Scared?
It is important to look at his body language. Body language is a key tool when investigating the underlying cause of a behavior.
Nose to tail — check what he is telling you! This means the whole body can indicate fear. A scared, stressed dog might look like:
- Avoiding (hiding), and the returning to bark.
- Tail tucked or straight up and stiff
- Unable to disengage from barking and doesn’t recover well (takes a while to settle).
- Whining in between barking episodes.
Because noises happen suddenly and are quite startling, there is generally a lack of early warnings that we might normally see in other scary situations.
It is important to note, when a dog is fearful (of a sound or any other trigger), it is an emotional response rather than a learned or inherently rewarding behavior.
One of three things will happen when your dog is startled or scared:
- Flight. Generally when a dog is frightened, they would rather flee the situation. But what happens when there is no option to flee (like a leash or fence) or if he doesn’t know where the sound might be coming from?
- Fight. Without an escape, a fearful reaction will often escalate to barking (and beyond this, may lead to lunging or biting). Because Barking Blitz’s dog continues with “mini barks,” it indicates to me that he has a hard time turning off his high level of arousal.
- Freeze. Freezing (lowered body and reluctance to move) can also indicate fear.
Sound sensitivity can begin to make your dog hyper-aware, even inside your house. Any novel noise can become a trigger.
Often noise sensitivities are related to other forms of anxiety, particularly separation anxiety. Sometimes what happens is our dog is afraid of one sound (thunder, for example), but over time, he begins to generalize to other noises as well.
If your dog seems stressed and hyper-alert, your problem is likely fear-based.
What Not to Do: Punish the Dog for Barking!
In either situation, we want to avoid punishment. Punishment could make the situation worse and doesn’t teach our dog what we would rather them do instead.
Likewise, telling our dog “no” repeatedly, is likely not getting you anywhere. The word “no” would need to have some sort of consequence attached to it to have meaning for Barking Blitz’s dog.
For example, “no” could mean a raised voice, enough to scare some dogs. This would be a form of punishment, and doesn’t teach our dogs anything. “No” could also mean ‘stop doing what you’re doing and grab your toy, let’s have a game of tug instead.’
These are both a potential consequence of the word “no.” One is positive and one is negative.
However, it could also be completely neutral.
I suspect for most people, you have used this word repeatedly without it really meaning much of anything at all. It’s just become an annoying voice in the background rather than offer any type of information or solution.
How Can I Teach Him Not to Bark?
Prevention before interfering is the first plan of action. If we are aware of our dog’s triggers, we can have our dog redirect to an alternative and more desirable behavior before the barking begins.
We can also teach him some better alternatives.
Here are some things Barking Blitz might consider with their dog:
- Desensitize him to noises. If you know what his triggers are, this can be an effective way to train him to be more tolerant of sounds. For Juno, who is scared of dogs barking, I can play a CD of dogs barking on my speakers at such a low level that she can hear it but it’s not worrisome to her. While I am doing this I may play with her, have her search the house for hidden treats, or give her a bully stick of stuffed Kong to enjoy. Over time, I am slowly able to increase the volume. This is something that, after 7 months of working on, still happens every single day in my household. Every dog will move at his or her own pace. There is no need to rush!
- Redirect his attention. If you are able, some dogs are easy to redirect onto something more appropriate. You may ask your dog to target your hand, for example, which will earn him a treat. Then once you have his focus, you could engage in a little training session until his urge to bark is only a distant memory.
- Teach a “stop barking” cue. I suggest you forget the word no, which has likely little (or even negative) connotations at this stage. Choose something like “enough” or “quiet”. First, teach this cue when he is not engaged in a bark fest. Grab a handful of treats, say your cue word, and scatter a handful of treats in the floor. Over time, when you say your “quiet” cue, he will start to turn his attention automatically to the floor. Your treats must be a high-value option, or it might not be quite enough to entice Barking Blitz’s dog to stop barking once engaged. This might be cheese, hot dog pieces, or steak. My dog loves Ziwi Peak. But I do mix it up, so it’s not always predictable.
- Increase enrichment and behavioral outlets. Because Barking Blitz’s dog is a mixture of two working breeds, he needs lots of breed appropriate outlets for his energy and to stimulate his mind. Not only is physical exercise really important for (most) dogs, it is highly important for herding dogs. They also need a mental outlet. Enrichment goes beyond toys and physical exercise, but provides appropriate and engaging avenues to engage his senses. This might be treat hunting games or puzzle toys. But for herding dogs specifically, games of hide and seek, training games or anything that requires focus (for example, scent work or agility) can help to satisfy his innate needs.
- White Noise. We don’t want our dogs to practice this unwanted barking behavior when we are out. Leaving the radio or TV on for your dog is a good way to drown out the unfamiliar sounds. Remember, practice makes perfect, so let’s do our very best to set them up for success through prevention.
The Fallout of Bark Collars
What about all of these gadgets out there that claim they can stop your dog from barking? Surely a spray in the face with citronella can’t be that bad, can it?
Actually, it can.
In order for something to effectively stop a behavior, it has not be scary or unpleasant enough for your dog to want to avoid it.
The problem is, this punishment comes at a price. Your dog may become more fearful of not only the sounds, but of other things in his environment that happen to be close by. Including you.
It can be detrimental to a solid bond and a close relationship you have with your dog.
And, as we just discussed above, there are better and kinder alternatives.
Barking is completely solvable, but old habits die hard. It may take a while. Be consistent with your training and management. Good luck, Barking Blitz, and happy training!
Erin is currently from Alberta, Canada where she works as a canine behaviour consultant. Erin is a CDBC and CPDT-KA, working with all types of dogs with all types of training needs. She has a MSc in Anthrozoology (the study of human and non-human interactions), and is a PhD candidate in the same field. Erin will be relocating to Christchurch, New Zealand at the end of 2018.