Barking is a normal way of communicating for dogs. But barking too much or too often is one of the most common problems owners have with their dogs.
Why does my dog bark?
To tackle problem barking, you must first understand what is causing your dog to bark. From there it will be much easier to come up with a training plan.
Certain breeds are a lot more vocal than others, depending on what they were bred for. So, it's important to do your research before buying a puppy if you're looking for a less vocal dog.
Important: If your dog continues to bark and the training in this advice doesn't help, it's best to contact an animal.
My dog barks when there’s someone at the door
Some dogs bark a lot when they want to tell you about something specific they have seen or heard. This can be a visitor at the door, a car pulling onto a driveway, or the phone or doorbell ringing. This is called ‘alarm barking’.
For some, this won't be an issue and you may even like your dog alerting you when someone is at the door. But, if this is something you would like to change, here are some tips.
What to do
Giving your dog something to do instead of barking will help keep their mind occupied.
If your dog likes to play fetch, try teaching them to retrieve a toy or other item when the situation occurs that sets them off.
Go to bed
Asking them to "go to bed" is also something you could try. It removes them from the area that the trigger is coming from and asks them to concentrate on a neutral task that they are already familiar with.
Make sure that your dog understands this cue before you begin this training.
Tip: Always reward good behaviour with a treat to encourage them to do the good thing again next time you ask.
Desensitising your dog
Record sounds that trigger the barking, like the doorbell, and play these back to your dog. Start very quietly at first, and gradually increase the volume while rewarding them with food if they don't bark. This is a process known as desensitising or counter conditioning.
Tip: If you do decide to take this approach, you’ll need to make sure you don’t expose your pet to the real sound while you are training them. Pick a time when you aren’t expecting visitors and pop a note on your front door asking visitors not to knock but to phone you instead.
My dog barks at cats or birds in the garden
Dogs are natural predators and many have been bred to hunt small, furry things.
Of course, this doesn't always mean that your dog wants to hurt wildlife. But it does mean that lots of them are excited by seeing them and are likely to chase and bark at cats and birds.
What to do
It can be difficult to change this behaviour because whatever comes into your garden is out of your control. Add to this that a lot of the time your dog will be in the garden without you and you can begin to see why training can be tricky.
It's not ideal for this to become a habit as it can lead to upset neighbours. So, if this is something you want to address, then the best option is not to leave your dog in the garden unattended.
Additionally, you can teach your pet to come back to you whenever you call. This rewards them for turning away from the thing that triggers their barking and come to you instead - where they'll get a tasty treat.
My dog barks at people walking past the house
This type of barking also falls into 'alarm barking' and can be a way that your dog tells you that someone is passing your property. It can also be caused by:
What to do
If your dog likes to sit on the window sill and bark at everyone passing by, first block access to the window and then ask them to do something that isn't barking, like going to their bed.
If your dog is in the garden and barks at passersby, call them back to you and praise them for returning to you rather than barking.
When you can’t supervise your dog in the garden, don’t leave them there on their own.
My dog barks when left alone
Dogs are social animals who like to live in family groups. It’s common for them to become upset when they are left on their own for longer than they feel comfortable with. This is called separation anxiety.
Often when dogs bark or howl when you're out of the house it's because they are using their voice to try and reach out to you so that you'll come back.
What to do
If your dog barks a lot when left, and you can’t resolve this by following our separation anxiety advice, you may need help from a qualified dog behaviourist to address the problem.
You can find one by contacting your vet, or on the Animal Behaviour and Training Council website.
My dog barks to get my attention
Take a moment to think about how you react when your dog does this. Do you raise your voice, shout or tell them off for it? If so, stop. When you respond to your dog’s barking with noise and attention, you are rewarding your dog by giving them the attention they are asking for.
What to do
- Try ignoring the barking - at first your dog may continue or get worse but this is perfectly normal. Keep going and eventually they will understand that barking doesn't get your attention.
- If waiting silently doesn’t work, calmly ask them to "sit" or "lie down"
- Only interact with your dog when they are calm
Solving attention seeking behaviour is not always simple, and you may need to seek professional help.
My dog barks when bored
Some dogs bark because they may be bored. This can vary depending on their breed. For example, a working dog will have a lot of energy and will be looking for more mental stimulation throughout the day. If you think this is the case, you may need to look at their daily routine. Increasing their physical and mental exercise can help to occupy their busy minds.
What to do
If ‘free time’ is a large chunk of your dog’s day, it might be a good idea to:
- up their exercise – like taking longer walks or playing in the garden
- provide more mental stimulation in the form of training, food toys and scent games – this tires them out and gives them something to do that isn’t barking
My dog barks at other dogs or other people
This is usually caused by one of the following:
- your dog wants to get to you or another dog, but they can’t – either because they're on lead or in another room. This is known as frustration-related barking.
- your dog is saying “go away, you’re scaring me” – also known as fear-related barking
What to do
You’ll need to get professional help for this behaviour, as it’s likely to worsen the longer it goes on. It can make what should be a fun dog walk very stressful for both of you.
Be realistic about your expectations
It’s important to start by setting yourself a realistic goal. Planning for your dog to stop barking completely is not realistic. Barking is a natural dog behaviour and dogs will bark whether we want it or not. You can reduce the amount of barking, but stopping it entirely will never be possible.
None of these reasons fit. Why won’t my dog stop barking?
If you're struggling to understand why your dog is barking and the above advice has not helped, don’t panic.
The reason a dog barks is not always straightforward. Your vet or an Animal Behaviour and Training Council qualified behaviourist will be able to help you and your pet.
Do bark collars work?
We are against training tools that cause pain and fear in your dog. Items like bark collars seem to offer a 'quick fix' but they do not address the cause.
There is a huge array of ‘tools’ on the market that claim to stop barking in dogs and offer a ‘quick fix’. These include:
- spray or electric shock collars
- compressed air sprays
- rattle cans
Their main function is to startle, cause pain or discomfort, or scare a barking dog to teach them that barking brings unpleasant consequences.
While some of them might work in the short-term, this is only because it stops your dog from barking while the device is being used. They do little to address the reason behind the barking. So, they do not solve the real issue.
They can also do more harm than good by causing your dog unnecessary stress and even pain. Using devices that punish pets will likely damage the bond between you and can lead to further behaviour problems.