Barking is an important way for dogs to communicate – whether that’s to express themselves or to ward off strangers. The trick is to understand why your dog is barking so that you can know the best way to train them to stop.
Why is my dog barking?
There are lots of different reasons why your dog is barking. The most common reasons for barking include excitement, fear aggression, territorial aggression, frustration or trying to communicate with other dogs. While barking is perfectly natural behaviour, excessive barking can be a nuisance. Sometimes your dog’s barking should be allowed and encouraged, other times — like if your dog is scared — you may want to step in and improve the situation.
When someone comes to the door
If your dog barks when someone comes to the door, it’s a form of territorial aggression. Your dog is barking to mark or guard their territory and ward off strangers – even if that ‘stranger’ is actually an invited guest or simply someone like the postman. Your dog’s behaviour is reinforced when visitors like the postman walk away again – he’s just doing his job, but your dog thinks they’ve succeeded in theirs.
When they’re out and about
Your dog barking at strangers or other dogs when you’re out for a walk could be due to fear aggression, either through unfamiliarity or having had bad experiences with strange people or dogs before. This is especially true if they’re on the lead as that stops them from fleeing or hiding. Fear aggression is your dog’s way of keeping others at a distance, so you need to be careful that you don’t appear to be rewarding their behaviour when they bark like this – for example, picking them up and reassuring them it’s okay, or taking them away from the situation without allowing them to realise there’s nothing to be afraid of. Importantly, don’t shout at your dog – they’ll think you’re encouraging the barking by joining in.
However, your dog could be barking simply out of excitement at seeing another dog and wanting to communicate with them. They just want to be let off the lead and play so will bark quite eagerly. This can develop into negative interactions with other dogs if not managed well.
When they’ve been left alone
Dogs can suffer separation anxiety, and they’ll bark while left alone to try to communicate with their ‘pack’ – you or other members of their new family. If they’re still barking when you return home, don’t make a fuss over them as this will reinforce this behaviour.
Related blog: Separation anxiety in dogs.
Top tips to stop your dog barking
There’s no single or simple way to stop your dog barking – again, it depends on the reason your dog is barking in the first place. Generally speaking, you need to show them that being calm and quiet is the appropriate response by encouraging and rewarding non-barking behaviour. These methods may take a little time, your dog will gradually learn to stop barking at strangers both at home and while out for walkies.
To stop your dog barking every time someone comes to the door, set up visits from people who won’t just walk away again. You need to introduce response substitution – teaching your dog alternative behaviours like sitting, going to their bed or performing a short trick instead of barking – or ignoring their barking and rewarding them only when they quieten down.
Meeting other dogs and people while out needs to be a positive, social interaction so don’t try to stop them barking by avoiding the situation with late-night walks in remote places. Instead, find a way to prevent the problem before it happens – learn to recognise the triggers and start using distraction techniques or training commands before your dog can start barking. Reward your dog for focussing on you and the desired, calm response. You can set this up with other dog owners in the park, starting from a distance and gradually getting your dog closer and closer until they’re largely unphased by meeting strangers while out and about.
Related blog: training your puppy to not bark at strangers.
Related blog: socialisation of your dog outdoors.
Should I use an anti-barking collar?
There are many anti-barking collars and aids on the market which employ aversion therapy – using a negative response to discipline your dog. We always recommend reward-based techniques that encourage positive behaviour, rather than aversion methods.
If you’re thinking about using an anti-barking collar, there are a few things you need to consider. Some anti-barking collars simply spray citronella, dispersing an unpleasant smell for every bark. But at the other end of the spectrum are shock collars that give the dog electric shocks, and we really can’t condone such treatment of any dog.