Barking problems




Why does the problem develop?

In the wild dogs do not necessarily bark but usually whine.  Barking has developed and become more evolved because of the constraints of domestication.  The bark is usually a frustration response because they are separated, by man made devises such as walls, windows, doors etc. from returning members of the pack, new arrivals to the pack or intruders to the pack.  It can also be a warning in the case of nervous dogs.  They bark to try and send an intruder away which in the dogs mind is often successful as, for example, the postman who always leaves once the letters are left but in the dogs mind because he was "barked away". This success spurs the dog on to barking more.  Also, the initial response then turns into a habit as the dog can derive comfort from the "sound of its own bark."  The bark can also be used as a prelude to biting if strangers intrude into its self proclaimed territory.   Excitement can also give rise to barking especially when the dog is artificially separated from the source of its excitement and thereby the release of its normal behavioural responses which in the wild would be used to great returning members of the pack.  Unfortunately, in the domestic situation prolonged or repetitive barking by dogs are one of the most common complaints received by local councils.  Often where owners fail to take action after investigation by local councils or the dog warden court orders, fines and other legal problems can ultimately result for owners of barking dogs.  In addition, re-homing of dogs often needs to take place


The following help advice is for dogs which tend to be over enthusiastic with their barking rather than dogs that bark because of separation problems i.e. they bark when left alone at home, for example.  If this is the case you need to have different more specialist advice.  The following procedure will not help with dogs barking because of separation problems.




Ensure your dog understands the sit and/or down command prior to retraining and make sure he will respond to the command in a normal calm environment.

Have a command to indicate you wish the barking to stop e.g. No


Understanding the concept of barking management


In order to stop barking we need to do several things:


1. Use an alternative action (and therefore verbal cue/signal or command) for the dog to perform such as “SIT” and praise or reward it for carrying out this action rather than barking.


2. Use a command to indicate you wish the dog to stop barking e.g. NO to be given in a firm but not aggressive way.


3. Ensure we carry these actions out in a variety of situations to generalise the good behaviour to different situations and occasions.


4. Do not get into the position of nagging a dog to stop barking by not ensuring your command is carried out.  Issuing idol threats and not ensuring the barking stops makes the dog much more likely to ignore us (both with the stop barking command or signal and in relation to other commands given).  In other words he/she stops taking you seriously.  Therefore, it is better to ignore the dog initially and wait until you are in a position to ensure you can stop the barking by having control of the dog prior to giving the No or Sit commands.  For example, he is on a lead or long line (see how below).





1. At home we often want a short spout of barking to deter intruders.  However, you need to set a limit on the amount of barking you will accept, e.g. 5 or 6 barks (you can also say "bark" to the dog which helps put the action on cue making it easier to stop it when you need to by giving the alternative command).  


2. After the 5 or 6 barks say "quiet" or "No" (whatever command you choose but ensure you always use the same one).  If the dog does not stop or starts up again quickly, call it to you, take hold of its normal collar or lead and  tell it to "sit" then praise it for sitting (not barking be careful of the timing of your praise it should be within half a second of getting the dog to sit).  


3. If. It barks again, give it a jerk on the collar or lead (just to gain attention) and then tell it to sit or better still lie down and then praise for obeying this command.  


4. If necessary walk it away (from what it is barking at) as smartly and quickly as you can by leading it by the collar or lead and repeat the sit or down commands as above but further away from the source of the directed bark.  This can help if the dog is very excited or in the early stages of the training whilst the dog is still learning.


5. If your dog will not come to you when it is barking you have to set up a management system to enable you to improve its training and keep in control of the situation.  You may need to put your dog on a long trailing lead or light weight washing line for a few weeks. so you can always get hold of this and then proceed as in 2 onwards above.  (SEE HOW TO USE THE LONG LINE OR FLEXI LEAD PROPERLY BY READING THE MY DOG WON’T COME BACK TAB)


6. Until the dog’s recall command improves and depending on individual situations.  The long line may need to be on either just when you are expecting visitors, for example, or permanently until the dogs “COME” command improves.  You will notice improvement once the dog starts coming without you having to check or pick up the long line to enforce your command.  Therefore you must stage manage situations to put yourself in a position where you can ensure you are obeyed.


7. Rather than just go from a situation of the dog wearing the long line directly to not wearing the line you can gradually shorten it over several weeks, as the dog’s responses get better, eventually you will have it just has a few inches dangling from its collar.  It should get to the stage that as soon as the dogs sees you approaching to pick up the line it will start coming as it anticipates that you are going to make it come.  Therefore the quicker you enforce your come command by instantly using the line to ensure the dog comes the quicker you will improve its behaviour.


Anti-bark collars

There are such things as anti-bark collars which can be used.  If you need to use one (primarily for dogs which bark in the car or somewhere else where it is hard for you to enforce a sit command such as in a kennel)  The gas collars (plain gas or if necessary citronella gas) are the most useful.  I do not recommend Electric anti-bark collars (see why below). The automatic gas anti bark collars give off a cold gas stream whenever the dog barks.  This "punishment" or distraction stimuli helps the dog to learn that barking does not result in a pleasant response and is therefore not in its best interests.  It also goes off each and every time the dog barks, at the exact time it barks and whether or not you are present.  This means in the dog’s mind the action is coming "from god" as it were, and is much more salutary and ensures better behaviour even when you are absent or not able to enforce the "stop barking command" such as when you are driving a car.  To be most effective however, you should also carry out the behaviour modification explained above.  Otherwise, your training will be mainly of a negative nature with no reward for the dog when it does well.  This can lead to the training “breaking down” and the dog learning to bark through the collar until it has used up all the gas.  


Electric anti-bark collars

This learning to bark through the collar is one of the reasons the Electric anti bark collar is not recommended.  Apart from the argument that they are un-necessarily harsh, dogs can actually get hardened to them and once this occurs they stop being effective and then it becomes impossible to find another deterrent.  In effect, you have nothing left in the kitty.  In addition, they can be unreliable as they are difficult to set to an appropriate level that is not too weak or too strong.  They can also be set off accidentally by other electronic equipment.  This can occur without the owner knowing and therefore lead to anxiety and aggression problems with the dog.


Other suggestions


If you have or can clicker train your dog this can help stop barking.  Each successively lower pitched bark can be rewarded by the clicker.  


Consider whether your dog has other things to interest him that would reduce his barking.  Does he/she get sufficient exercise?  Do you spend some quality time with the dog to exercise his mind?  For example, training him/her or teaching tricks or having a game.  Board dogs do tend to bark more than happy dogs.


If postman or other trades persons are the main cause of the barking.  Enlist their help in dropping some tit bits through the letter box or on the ground for the dog to experience a more positive encounter.  You may need to teach your dog what to expect by, for example, dropping them through the letter box yourself to start with.  Do this initially when the dog is in a calm state of mind and the postman is not around.  Once your dog understands the “game” then ask the postman to do the same thing.