BARKING Woof-woof (English) Jau-jau (Spanish) Wung-wung (Chinese) Ouah-ouah= “wa-wa” (French) 

The problem with barking is that while it is very normal canine behaviour it is often very difficult to work out exactly why a dog barks. A dog may bark when he senses a strange dog nearby, or when he hears unusual noises. He is also expected to bark at strangers approaching your home to warn you, especially at night.

Barking at inconvenient times and for too long causes most problems. It can lead to sleepless nights for the owners, frustration, angry neighbours, legal action and even eviction. For the dog, this behaviour can lead to abandonment, abuse by owners and neighbours or even euthanasia. 

Barking is often made worse because owners are inconsistent in the way they deal with it. Sometimes the dog is allowed to bark, even encouraged to bark and then at other times scolded for barking. This can be very confusing and stressful for a dog. No wonder some bark more when the owners are away.

Before you can start on a method to reduce the amount of barking, you need to understand why the dog is barking. Is he lonely? Does he bark at people, birds or dogs? Does he bark when you are away? Is it separation anxiety? You need to know what sets him off in order to be able to stop the barking. When he first starts barking, go and investigate the reason for his behaviour. By listening to the various tones of his barks, you may be able to tell when he is barking at the other dogs and asking them to play or when there is someone at the gate or he is barking at a bird or is frightened or bored. You will then be able to take action. Dogs each have a distinctive bark and you can quite easily tell which one is barking. For example:

Three or four rapid barks with pauses in between: “Come, there is something we need to check out.” Rapid barking at midrange pitch: “Stranger entering territory.” Continuous barking at a slower pace and lower pitch: “There is an immediate threat.” Bark-pause-bark-pause-bark-pause for long period: “I’m lonely” Bark, bark: “Hi.” Woof: Single purposeful bark: “Let me in / out.” or “Supper time.” or “Leave me alone” Continuous high pitch barking: “Bird get off the roof.” or “Yippee we’re going.” Unfortunately, although dogs learn the right barks from their mothers, they are also quite good at copying nuisance barks from other dogs. So, don’t let it happen! 

Let’s look more closely at some reasons why your dog may be barking:

A dog’s hearing is so acute that it can hear a grasshopper chewing or a chip fall on a carpet. So you can have another dog barking three blocks away from your house and while you cannot hear it, Bozo will have no problem picking it up and replying to him and inviting him to come and play. Some breeds such as Terriers, Dobermans, Dachshunds, Spaniels, Shelties and Toy dogs are very prone to this condition.

Dogs bark to call the rest of the pack to defend the den. The higher ranking animals should take over. You may have seen your dog barking at the gate and occasionally looking over his shoulder to see if you are coming. He is merely the “alarm-giver” who wants to warn you of a possible danger and expects you to come and help. Barking is a call for back-up. Your duty then, in the beginning, is to go out every time Bozo barks, day or night, and make sure that the coast is clear. Thank Bozo calmly for the warning, take him into the house and make him sit before rewarding him with a treat and a hug. If this routine is followed consistently, Bozo will soon begin to develop the ability to decide on the need for giving alarm. He will learn to control his barking and not go on and on. You will also learn not to shout at your dog! Remember also that some dogs, like the German Shepherds, take their protective duties very seriously and just don’t know when to shut up. It is part of their makeup, so set limit and start training early. 

You may find that your dog does not stop barking when you arrive. This could be because the dog does not regard you as his leader and the dog-owner relationship may need attention. 

Instead of training their dogs to control their barking, many owners set about punishing the dog for barking. This simply teaches the dog not to bark when the owner is present and it becomes an owner-absent barking problem. The problem now arises that the owner cannot praise the dog for barking when it is needed to warn him of intruders. Owner attitude can often be at the root of the problem. They either ignore the problem or make poor excuses for why they cannot find the time to train their dogs. Some owners think it is “cute” when a puppy barks at visitors and they say he is already “protecting his property.” The puppy soon realises that barking gets him lots of attention. Worse is to come when, the owners, in an attempt to quiet their dog, gently stroke the dog as they say “Shush.” This in fact rewards the dog for barking because the dog interprets the stroking as approval from the owner – they are actually training the dog to bark!

The sheer excitement of some anticipated activity such as going for a walk or a ride will have some dogs jumping and barking for joy when they see you touch their leads or the car keys. Changing your routine may have a calmative effect. Barking in the car can be interrupted with the use of the sound can (tin with stones), darkening of the windows, blindfolding the dog or securing him in such a way that he cannot rush from window to window. Getting your dog to lie down in the car also helps. If your dog is generally over-excited and has trouble settling down after some fun activity it is worth consulting your vet about a change in diet or the use of behavioural medication.

When dogs are well behaved they are ignored by most owners. Very few will go and stroke their dog when it is lying peacefully in the house or garden. They in fact take good behaviour for granted. However, when the dog barks he gets lots of attention and soon the dog learns that if he want to get attention, barking is one way of getting it even if it is unpleasant. Remember that dogs do not know the difference between positive and negative attention. It’s all attention to them.

Dogs are clever at working out what works for them. If allowed to stand at the door and run along the fence and bark at people or the postman, the dog scores a psychological victory which reinforces the behaviour. “I bark- they go away!” This encourages territorial aggression which endangers your friends and visitors to your home.

Here are some solutions to barking that may be helpful:

When the Owner is absent:

As soon as owners become aware of complaints about their dogs barking when they are away from home, every effort should be made to control the problem. Until the barking problem has been resolved, the dog/s should, preferably be confined to an area away from the road and the neighbours. When dogs have access to a comfortable bed inside they are less inclined to bark outside. Leaving a radio on and drawing the curtains can help to muffle the sound and the barking of the dog. Being inside can also help a dog to feel safe and secure and therefore stop anxious barking. Dogs that bark at night should sleep indoors. It may not be easy but clever thinking can create a situation where dogs can be kept in part of the house yet can also go outside if the need arises. 

Getting a house sitter until the problem is under control may be a good idea because it should only take a few days to break a barking habit and the house sitter need not come every day. Dogs that are alone at home are the most common barking offenders! 

However, if stress is the underlying cause of the barking “punishing” the dog in any way will only make the matter worse. The “Husher” is a new anti-bark device that has become available. It is an elasticized muzzle that allows the dog to open his mouth, drink, eat and pant, but soon causes the facial muscles and jaw to tire if the dog barks continuously. Although they come in different sizes, the Husher is not suitable for flat-nosed dogs, such as Boxers.

When the Owner is Present:

It is the owner’s responsibilities to obedience train his dog. This not only provides enjoyable mental and physical exercise for the dog, but teaches the dog that his owner’s commands are to be obeyed. If a dog can be taught to understand the meaning of “Come” and “Sit” then he should also be able to learn that “Shush” means barking must stop. Unfortunately many owners do not persist with basic obedience training and their dogs do not come when called. 

There is little point in having a dog for protection that does not warn you that the burglars are busy carting things away. When my dogs bark my neighbours tell me that they know there are strangers in the area and they lock their doors. 

 What should happen is that the owner first shows an interest in the reason for the barking, briefly praise the dog for having called and being alert and then requests it to “Be quiet.” Their next action should be to praise the dog softly for having stopped barking. In this way they are teaching the dog to understand what the owner wants.

However, if the dog starts barking again as soon as the owner leaves he must return, ask him to stop and if he continues barking, gently hook his finger in the dog’s collar and without talking lead him to a restricted area inside the house such as a toilet, bathroom or laundry. Close the door and leave him in there for five minutes. When time is up simply open the door and walk away for the dog to come out and follow you. 

This form of negative reinforcement or “Time out” is something dogs definitely do not like. The trick is to get the dog to believe that it was his barking that brought about the unpleasant circumstances. It may be necessary to repeat the confinement another time or more for the dog to connect that it was his barking that caused the isolation. The beauty of time out is that it is painless and done calmly and consistently.

The area for the Time out restriction must not be in the dog’s crate, kennel or sleeping place.

Training the dog to be quiet requires consistentrealistic intervention by the owner. Start by making sure the dog understands “Shush” or “Be quiet” etc. When the dog has barked a few times, go to it and say “Shush.” If he continues barking, shout “SHUSH!!!!!” Loud enough in an angry voice to make Bozo sit and pay attention. When barking stops, talk in a normal voice and tell him that you do not want a lot of barking. The moment barking starts again, grab the dog by the jowls to steady the head, stare into his face, giving him your full attention and in an angry tone command, “QUIET!!” When barking stops, talk softly and tell him that when he obeys you, he is indeed a good dog. Repeat as often as needed to convince Bozo that he is going to have to cut out his long barking habits or get time out. A little is OK but when he hears “Shush” or clapping of the hands, he better shut up. Remember that Shush time has limits and does not go on for ever.

Other helpful ideas are as follows: 

Teach your dog to bark and stop on command: I did this with Juno as follows:

First I considered appropriate words which I could use such as “speak” or “alert” etc. I settled on the German “geblout” for Juno. I started by repeating the word whenever she barked naturally, for example at the postman, in order to get the association with the word established. Later I tied her leash to a post and held her favourite food just out of reach and frustrated her for a while. As soon as she started making sounds to demand her food, I encouraged her with “geblout” and as soon as she barked she was rewarded enthusiastically with clapping of the hands and her food. Soon I had her working for a treat by having to “geblout” for it.

It may be easier for you to use your doorbell. Get someone to ring the bell or knock on the door. The dog barks and you praise, “Good bark.” After a few barks you say “quiet,” “shush” and wave a treat under his nose to quickly stop the barking. Praise the dog, “Good shush” and “Very good shush” and treat the dog. Praising him in whispers will encourage him to listen and not to bark. Repeat this until your dog understands the game i.e. when you do not need the doorbell any more to get him to bark. Gradually increase the quiet time and treat. “Shush…Good dog 1…Good dog..2” treat. If the “quiet” is broken you do not treat. Be prepared to be very patient with the dog and to do as many repeats as may be necessary. Practice the sequence on walks and in many different places. Once the dog can bark on command you can begin to teach him what he is allowed to bark at. This can be a very useful command when you see unwanted persons approaching.

Relieve boredom by providing chew toys:

Kong toys are made from 100% natural rubber that is puncture resistant, dishwasher and chewer friendly. Kongs are widely used for therapy in treating serious behavioural issues such as excessive barking, destructive chewing and digging and separation anxiety. In nature dogs used to eat meat off the bone which satisfied their hunger, exercised their jaw muscles and cleaned their teeth. The Kong design is based on this. It has a hollow centre which can be filled /stuffed with food and other treats that will keep your dog contentedly busy (working) and out of trouble for long periods of time. I coat the inside of my dog’s Kongs with a bit of honey before I stuff them with kibble, cheese, peanut butter etc. Hooves are also a good way of occupying your dog’s jaws. Remember that a dog cannot chew and bark at the same time. Lunch bag; Put some treats and toys in a paper bag and tape it up and then leave it for the dog to get into it. This will keep them busy without barking.

Exercise your dog regularly: A dog that is full of pent-up energy is more likely to bark at minor things. Once a dog is leash trained he should be taken out and exercised regularly, not only to tire his body but also his mind. If you exercise your dog before you go out he will be more likely to sleep in your absence than look for things to bark at.

Join a club and get your dog trained. Dogs that bark at people walking past your property or the postman can often be stopped when they are obedience trained by calling them and ordering them to go “Down” when they start barking. Praise enthusiastically when the dog lies down and does not bark at people. It is also easier to call a dog into the house when he has learnt to obey your commands. Calling them usually stops the barking and dogs seldom bark when lying down.

Teach your dog to accept “quiet time”: Your dog should get used to spending periods of time lying quietly and chewing his toys nearby while you are involved in some other activity. Start by giving your dog a treat and leave the room or area for a short while at first so that the dog cannot become anxious. Gradually extend the time away. Avoid going over and fussing your dog at these times so that he learns to relax and accepts periods without any attention from you. It may be helpful to signal “quiet time” by hanging up Wind chimes to remind your dog to stay calm and not expect attention. After a while he will begin to associate the ringing of the chimes with calmness and no attention. These chimes can also be hung up each time before you leave home. By hanging the chimes in such a place that the wind can produce the occasional chime, it will remind the dog to stay calm.

Stop it before it starts: Train your new puppy to be quiet. Whenever he barks, gently put your hand around his muzzle and say “Shush,” or “Quiet.” As soon as he is quiet, release your grip; give him a treat and praise. Do this regularly and soon you will merely have to say, “Quiet” or “Shush” and the puppy will stop barking. The treat must be a reward for silence. The dog must be allowed to bark sometimes, but you must control when. Instead of using the hand to stop frenzied barking, when you can accidentally get bitten, the use of a halti may be a safer method.

For some dogs barking may have become a firmly entrenched habit. Rescue dogs in particular who have been in kennels for some time may have learnt to bark at visitors. For such dogs aversive methods might be appropriate. A squirt with a good water pistol or spraying the dog with a hose when it runs up and down the fence could put an end to barking. However, if stress is the underlying cause of the barking “punishing” the dog in any way will only make the matter worse. Remember to remain concerned about your neighbours’ peace and quiet! Keep them informed about what you are doing to solve the problem. You may even be able to ask them to help by letting you know, daily, exactly when and for how long the dogs were barking. How soon after leaving the house did the barking start – right after you leave, ½ hour later or 3 hours later? If the barking starts within 20 minutes after leaving the cause is likely to be Separation Anxiety. If it starts much later, after 3 – 4 hours, then it could be due to boredom.

When your dog first starts barking go and investigate the reason for his behaviour and then lead him away in a calm way to show that it was not important. I have found that by giving a loud clap on my hands when I was at the gate to indicate that barking should stop, I now can stop the barking at the gate by merely clapping my hands from inside the house. As soon as the dogs hear the clapping sound, they stop barking and come running to the house for the occasional treat. This teaches the dog to discriminate and not to bark at just anything. Remember that a dog only matures as a watch dog by the age of eighteen months or two years. A good watchdog only barks when someone tries to enter your property or in emergencies such as fires. 

Excitable dogs that bark non-stop while playing needs to be calmed down by stopping the game for a while. Quietly fetch him and isolate him in a confined area to teach him that if he continues to bark he loses his freedom and has no one to play with. Too much barking puts an end to fun times.

Your aim in dealing with a barking dog, stressed by something or someone, is to calm the dog down as soon as possible. However, be sure not to unintentionally reward the dog for barking by petting, hugging or saying soothing things to it. Call the dog away or inside and distract with toys or treats. If you have difficulty in doing it, your vet may be able to provide you with a course of medication to do just that.

Try different methods until you find out what works for your dog. Be patient. Teaching a dog to stop barking takes time and many short sessions. Make sure that all the members of the family understand and use the same commands and methods to teach bark discrimination.