by Nicole Rogers

Why do dogs bark?

Barking is a way of communication for dogs, and the reasons are varied. It is important to identify what type of barking your dog is doing in order to apply the proper training techniques.

How can I stop my dog from barking at strangers?

First you must decide what type of barking your dog is doing. Territorial barking is when your dog barks in response to strangers (human or animal) coming near his perceived territory whether that is your yard, house or car. Greeting Barking can be identified by your dog’s relaxed and excited body language when greeting people or other animals. Alarm barking generally creates a stiffer body language and can be similar to territorial barking except they also bark in other locations not considered their territory (on walks, at the park, at a friend’s house for example)

Due to a dog’s natural instinct to be motivated by fear and guarding their territory, punishment training methods have very little if any affect on the barking.  For this reason, the best methods include decreasing your dog’s opportunity for alarm and territory guarding or experiencing triggers for their barking.  Some suggestions would be:

  • If your dog is inside you can try blocking their view of the outside where they can see strangers.  If outdoor you can try a solid fencing to keep them from seeing strangers on the other side.
  • An effective training tool can also be to not allow your dog to greet anyone as they enter your property or house.  By training your dog to quietly wait at another location such as a specific rug, another room, or in their crate, their territory guarding motivation will diminish.   To begin quiet training, when your dog begins to bark, calmly and firmly say (try not to yell) “quiet” then you can either go over to your dog and gently close your dog’s mouth with your fingers and repeat the quiet command.  If you are not comfortable closing your dogs mouth, or if your dog will not allow you to, then you can try distracting them by allowing them to nibble on treats from your hand, and as soon as they are distracted from barking and taking the treat, repeat the quiet command.  At this point you will then call your dog away from the entry to your property and place them on your designated quiet area.  Be sure to repeat the quiet command at this point.  Repeat these steps increasing the amount of time you ask them to be quiet in their quiet area until your dog responds to the quiet command by going to their quiet place without barking until you give the command to come.
  • If your dog barks at strangers on walks, it may be helpful to have a pocket full of small treats (pea sized). Before your dog starts to bark at a stranger, distract them with a treat by holding it in front of them and allowing them to nibble on the end of it while passing the stranger.  Keep your body language calm and confident and be sure to praise your dog once the stranger has passed with an improvement in their barking or no barking.  You can start to then add in a training word such as “quiet” while distracting them so they associate not barking with the command “quiet” and a reward.
  • Greeting barking can be decreased with distraction and by decreasing their excitement levels.  Try asking your dog to sit and stay while you invite your guest into your home.  When he is calmly waiting, you can allow your guest to briefly greet your dog calmly.  If he becomes overly excited again and begins to bark, ask him to sit and stay again and repeat the process.  He will then associate being calm and not barking with being allowed to greet guests.  If your dog likes toys, you can also distract him by having him hold a toy in his mouth while you greet your guests and this may lessen the barking as well.

How do I get my dog to stop barking at me for attention?

Does your dog bark at you to get you to play with her or to feed her?  To be successful in training your dog to stop barking at you to get your attention you have to be very consistent.  To a dog all forms of attention (even just making eye contact) is a reward for barking at you.  Instead try looking elsewhere (at a wall or ceiling) or walking out of the room.  As soon as your dog stops barking at you, then give them praise and the attention they were seeking.  It is important to note, success will not only depend on consistency, but your ability to eliminate all attention barking.  For example, if you do not want your dog to bark at you every time she wants to play, but will allow her to bark at you to get let outside, then her attention barking training may not be successful.

My dog barks constantly; should I use a bark collar?

Bark collars come in a variety of options now including citronella collars, ultrasonic noise collars, and electric shock collars.  While studies have shown the different types of collars have similar effectiveness, many dogs will be sensitive to the collars and will not bark while wearing the collar, but will revert back to their barking behaviors while not wearing it.  It is also not recommended for barking induced by fear, anxiety or compulsive barking.  Behavior training is recommended to be the first line in training a dog with barking problems.