How to STOP your dog barking excessively

Bark up the right tree with these noise control methods.

The relentless loop of a dog’s bark at night-time can test even the most patient dog owners (and their neighbours…). And visitors don’t often appreciate a full decibel greeting from your hound when they approach! So what’s to be done? Dogs bark, right? Yes, all dogs do bark. But if your poochy pal is making an excessive racket, there are definitely things you can try to make it more of a hushed puppy.

It won’t be possible to silence your dog completely, and neither should that be something you strive for. It’s natural for the dog to need to communicate, so you are attempting to control the noise, rather than stop it entirely.

The first stage is to identify the reason for the barking. Tuned-in owners may intuitively know what their dog is yapping on about, but it’s otherwise a good idea to observe the triggers of the behaviour. You won’t be able to solve the problem until you know where the problem is actually coming from.  Once you’ve figured out what’s causing all the noise, you can use the tips below to try to reduce your dog’s reaction to the trigger.

There’s a range of possibilities as to why your dog is making a fuss. Some breeds are simply more prone to it than others, so this could be a consideration for prospective pet owners when making their choice of who to bring home.

Age is also a factor. Puppies are often insecure after separation from their mother, so they might call out during the night to see who comes. If you’re a “dogs on my bed” kind of person, then keep the puppy close to you, maybe in a bedside crate while it gets toilet trained. If this isn’t a habit you want to start, keep the puppy in a crate in a separate room, but give them a blanket from their mother’s bed, or a shirt you’ve been wearing: any familiar smell should give some comfort. You could also drape a sheet over the crate to reduce visual stimulation, which might be causing some of the noise.

When did your dog last have a bathroom break? If you were struggling to hold it in, you’d be pretty desperate too! Maybe it’s as simple as answering the call of nature. If your garden is well secured, consider a large pet door that enables your pooch to do their business whenever they need. Alternatively, let that dog out last thing at night and first thing in the morning, to avoid midnight frustrations.

If your dog’s barking is due to loneliness while you’re at work during the day, you should be able to find a local dog walker to give them some social time and exercise. You can also leave a range of fun pull toys around the house for them, and balls and puzzles which release a treat when played with correctly.

Some dogs will bark purely for attention, so don’t reward them by acknowledging it. In the past, maybe you tried to quieten them down by giving food, strokes or a walk, but this will have reinforced the habit. If your dog is well fed, has been exercised and is loved, then you should be able to shun the attention seeking behaviour until they learn that it has no outcome and is not worth the effort. Equally, do not punish them for barking.

If your dog is trying to tell you something with their barking (“I’m hungry!”, “I want to go outside!”), teach them other ways to tell you this. Bash the food bowl on the floor a few times before filling it. Soon, this noise will become an announcement for dinner, which your dog can emulate by knocking the bowl with its nose or paw. Before letting them out for a run in the garden, have them sit on the mat for a minute (use sit command, reward with a treat, then let them out). After not too long, they should go and sit by the door when they want you to give them some fresh air.

The type of barking that most dog owners appreciate is the sounding of the alarm. This is one of the great benefits to having that shaggy companion around the house, as most burglars would do a U-turn back down the driveway when they hear the growl or raging of a dog in the house. However, if your dog exhibits this behaviour at all times of day, and with all types of visitor, it’s a behaviour that needs curbing. Many guests will be frightened to enter if it seems that the dog is over excited or defensive. Instead, create a daily role play activity where someone presses the doorbell, and you wait silently for 30 seconds before calmly getting up to go to the door. If you typically jump up to run to the door, the dog is going to mirror this behaviour. In time, the dog will un-learn that the doorbell is the most exciting noise in the world.

For meaningless, random bouts of barking, you might try the distraction technique. Not with anything rewarding like a toy or a treat, and not with anything clearly from you (a shout or throwing a ball), but a disembodied, mildly startling noise. If it’s obvious that you’ve caused the noise, the dog will assume that its barking has got a reaction from you, which is like a reward. Instead, use an ultrasonic noise device in your pocket, which can only be heard by dogs. Act completely natural and oblivious as you use it. Alternatively, jingle keys while your back is turned.

You can also try a general approach to barking prevention: if there’s no particular scenario that makes your dog bark, but they are prone to bouts of it, encourage them to carry toys around a lot. This will keep their jaws too busy to bark. Try to make it an everyday activity, because if you give the toy during the barking, it will seem like a reward. Also try to ensure that your dog gets a good amount of exercise and play suited to its age and breed. Tired dogs won’t put anywhere near the same level of effort into barking! Teach patience by creating a short delay before any gratifying activity (lead on for a walk, food into the bowl). This experience with waiting should benefit the dog’s general demeanour.

All of these methods can be combined with verbal or body language cues, to reinforce your message. Sometimes, dogs pick up on body movements faster than they do words, so teach “speak” and “quiet” along with an accompanying gesture. At first, it might seem tricky to teach “quiet”, but if you say it and give a treat as soon as quiet falls – even if it’s just for a short moment between barks – the lesson will eventually sink in.

Whatever the cause of the barking, try to control your reaction to it. If you’re tempted to shout at the dog, rein in your tone and volume. All this will do is perpetuate the noise, because the dog will think that you are barking along with them. Conversely, don’t be too much of a softie in trying to stop the noise. Giving cuddles and compliments is going to tell the dog that they are doing a great job with all that barking!

Of course, one type of bark that should never be ignored is the warning or aggressive bark. If you feel that your dog is exhibiting this kind of behaviour, you will need to identify the cause of the threat and use entirely different methods to address it. When danger is involved, seek a professional for guidance. A vet or dog trainer should be able to offer appropriate support.

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