Barking Dogs

The sound of silence can be a much-coveted thing in a household with barking dogs. Trust me, I live with a border collie. I know barking. Getting it to stop … that’s where so many of us go astray. (Keep reading. Details on this week’s prizes below.)

And, that’s where so many dogs end up getting choked, pinched, or zapped in the neck by a shock collar (either sound-triggered or by remote) simply for trying to communicate.

Why Dogs Bark
If you’d like to read much more about barking — why it happens, what it means — check out this book: Barking: The Sound of a Language, by Turid Rugaas

In it, Rugaas outlines the 7 kinds of barking:

  1. Excitement barking
  2. Warning barking
  3. Fear barking
  4. Guard barking
  5. Frustration barking
  6. Learned barking
  7. Breed-related barking

In addition to offering insights on how best to retrain dogs who bark, Rugaas suggests keeping a bark log that includes (among other things):

  • When it starts
  • How long it lasts
  • What it sounds like
  • What the dog is doing while barking

Because barking drives us barking mad, we tend to exaggerate the frequency and length of barking. Keeping a log for a week is a good way to really assess how much and why your dog barks.

Throughout the book, Rugaas advises … “You will see that it is completely ineffective to punish a dog for barking, no matter what kind of barking you are dealing with.”

The Never Shock a Puppy Coalition could NOT agree more!

Training / ReTraining a Barking Dog
The goal cannot be to have a dog that never barks because that simply is NOT realistic. Dogs bark. It’s what they do (in certain circumstances). The key is to have a way (or several options) of getting the dog to stop barking, once he starts.

The truth is, in cases like this, that you cannot change the behavior (barking) until you change the way the dog feels (anxious, worried, frustrated). Punishing the behavior might change the barking, but it will NOT change how the dog feels that causes him to bark.

Two Barking-Dog Strategies
I’m sure across our blop hop this week that others will offer good insights into retraining barking dogs, but here are the two methods I use (or try to, at least):

1. Train an “off button.” For us, it’s the cue SIT. Lilly was taught that no noise is allowed when she is asked to SIT. So, in the morning when she gets really excited about breakfast, I ask her to SIT while I put food in her bowl.

One of our early dog trainers joked that a client once asked, “You’re the dog trainer?” when the client arrived to find all of the trainer’s dogs barking like crazy at the doorbell.

The trainer smiled and said, “SIT.” All the dogs sat. All the dogs were quiet. Then, he replied, “Yes, I am.”

We taught a quiet SIT by only rewarding silent sitting, not noisy sitting. I’m NOT going to say it always works, but it’s one option in our toolbox of managing behaviors I find less than ideal.

2. Play on/off switch games. One of the best ways I know to better steer less-than-desirable dog behaviors is to put them on cue. In other words, you actually TEACH the dog to do the crazy thing, but only when you ask. Then, it becomes a game … of sorts.

For example, my border collie barks during play when she gets over-excited. So, I really rev her up in play and let her bark. THEN, I ask her to SIT-STAY (and by default be quiet, see #1 above). We play again and get really noisy, then I ask her to settle down again.

By working through several on/off cycles, your dog learns the pattern that says, “I can be noisy now.” and “I need to be quiet now.”

This requires some baseline self-control training, but I’ve found it really helpful with my dog — who is just naturally noisy.

Prize Drawing #2
This week, we’ll be collecting entries for the second of FIVE prizes we’ll be giving away during the Never Shock a Puppy campaign. All you have to do is post a comment to this blog entry before midnight (MDT), Sunday, Sept 26, 2010, to be entered into the random prize drawing. (Since our chosen WordPress template puts the link to comment in tiny, tiny print WAY at the bottom of the post, we’re putting a jump link here that will take you right to the post page with the comment screen showing.)

Because we hope to reach out to first-time dog owners and new dog adopters, people who self identify as such in their comment below will get a couple of bonus entries. (We’re working on the honor system here, folks.)

You can read all the official rules to learn more, but for logistical reasons, we must limit entries to those in the U.S. and Canada. We’ll notify the winner next week via email, so be sure you enter your email address correctly. Once we know via private email conversations, where the winner lives and what size is needed, we can arrange for prize delivery and for the dog training contact.

This week’s prize package includes:

You can click through here to comment.

How Your Donations Help!
Do you want to help spread the word about pain-free dog training? Then, we need your donations today!

As our service project, we’re raising money for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley‘s upcoming No-Choke Challenge. (More details on how our efforts dovetail on our About Page and on the No-Choke Challenge page.)

Just click the donation button on this handy-dandy donation widget to get started!

If for some reason you cannot see or use the donation widget below, please visit the Never Shock a Puppy Donation Site instead.

Read More!
Never Shock a Puppy coalition members (and others, we hope) are blogging from their own sites on this and related topics. Each of us explain our opposition to shock collars (and other punitive methods in our own ways), so we hope you find at least one blogger who “speaks your language” so that you can follow our campaign in a way that feels most comfortable to you. Check out this blog hop to learn more.

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42 Responses to Barking Dogs

  1. Pingback: `Never Shock a Puppy: Dealing with Barking Dogs » The Pet Health Care Gazette`

  2. Alison Stone says:

    My husband and I have a 3-year-old beagle mix who is incredibly well-behaved . . . in the house. We’ve trained him using a “quiet” command, which works almost all the time. When it doesn’t–and this is usually when he’s sitting by the sliding glass door, watching squirrels and the one rabbit that just won’t go somewhere else–we block access to the door. He’s learning that if he barks while at the door, he doesn’t get to look outside.
    Our main trouble comes when we walk him, because there’s no stopping the squirrels from running across our path or along the fence (which I swear they do to torment him). Getting him to calm down and be quiet after that is next to impossible, though we try. He’s heavily food motivated, but in those situations, he just doesn’t seem to care about treats. I’ve also tried getting him to sit until he’s calm and just making him move away from where he spotted the squirrel. We’re still trying to find a solution that works consistently. It’s so frustrating sometimes, especially when he just keeps barking at 6:30 in the morning, but using a shock collar isn’t something we’ve ever considered–and we never would.

    • Emma says:

      Hi Alison,
      I have no idea if this would work but at puppy class we were told about the different drives – prey drive being one of them. If he’s getting all excited and frustrated at not being able to chase after the pesky squirrels could offering him a game of tug or chase help to give him another focus?

      Mine barks out of anxiety and once he’s in the ‘zone’ only distance between him and whatever worried him will calm him down, but if we catch it early enough a squeaky tennis ball or food treats can work wonders.

      I’m impressed that you’ve got him being quiet in the house, that’s still a work in progress for us!

      Anyway, it’s just an idea and if it’s a really dumb one I’m sure someone will tell me. LOL!

    • Pamela says:


      I had a similar problem with my hound mix. Except she was fixated on cats more than squirrels. When I first adopted her, Shadow would follow a cat deep into the bushes and wouldn’t even break off when I put cheese right under her nose. And the baying. Oh my! We were able to stop this after a couple months of work.

      Basically, I had to teach her to focus on me–when there weren’t cats around. We started in the house and I’d call her name and toss her a treat. When she started whipping her head around every time I called her name, we moved out to the porch. And then to the street. And finally to the houses of local cats.

      Eventually I was able to get her attention just by calling her name 90% of the time. And the other 10% I learned to live with. The key was teaching her before she had the major distraction of the cat to contend with. The difference was amazing.

      Good luck with your pup.

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  5. Marian Holland says:

    We adopted a 2 y/o Yorkie mix girl about 4-6 weeks ago. She’s good with the kids, but was definitely not trained. We are planning on taking her to training asap (preferably after we get her spayed). But, she also barks at doors, people walking by, other dogs barking. Eventually she does settle down. We have her sit or lay down, but she’s still barking. Of course we don’t reward this behavior. I forgot to add that she CAME with a prong training collar as her collar, and they also gave us her barking shock collar. So, that is all she knew, and it definitely doesn’t seem to phase her when those things were on. We got her a normal flat, snap collar now, and a better groom. We just need the fine tuning stuff! 🙂

    • I would suggest that you try an experiment. Bring some super special food treats with you on your walks. The greasier and smellier the better and toss treats to her as she’s sitting or lying there barking (be sure to have a lot!). It’s counter intuitive BUT if the barking is caused by a strong emotional response, if we can change that emotional response, we will often see a change in the behavior. Emotions when rewarded decrease and when we think about barking as purely ‘a behavior’ we neglect to consider the fact that it’s caused because a dog is aroused or upset. If we lower the arousal or change the dog’s feelings from being upset to feeling pretty darn good cause ‘I love to eat roasted chicken’ we can get the dog back to being able to think and focus on us. Then we can got back to rewarding for the behavior we like.

      Give it a try and let us know how it goes.

  6. Maggie says:

    Ummmmm…. Maybe some of the suggestions we just read would work IF we happened to be home at the time of her barking. We own a Shepard that is quiet as a mouse while we are home yet will not stop barking and howling from the moment we leave until the time we get home again no matter how long we are gone for. We have tried every suggested idea that is supposed to make a dog feel less abandoned but after (3) THREE YEARS nothing has so far worked. SOOOOO…. If anyone has any suggestions that we haven’t yet tried than please feel free comment and give my neighbors some peace and quiet. Killing the dog is NOT an option.

    • Excellent point, Maggie. I’ll ask coalition members and others to weigh in with ideas, but I suspect you’ve tried everything we might suggest. Do you know for sure that your dog barks due to true separation anxiety? I ask … because that’s a whole complicated thing that might involve hard-core behavior modification work and even (perhaps) medications. If, instead, this is more of a learned/boredom barking, the solutions might be a bit less onerous.

    • Best Friends General Store, one of our coalition members, covers this kind of barking. Check out this link:

      Otherwise, my only other idea is to suggest doggie daycare (if your sweetie has the temperament for it). Maybe she just needs a few days out, with others, getting tired, so that the days she is home … she is too tired to fuss.

      • Maggie says:

        From the link:
        “One of the most challenging types of barking is boredom barking. Usually your neighbors tell you about this type of barking and it happens when you are not at home. First, let your neighbors you do not want your dog endlessly barking anymore than they do, after all this says that your dog is bored and lonely. Then ask for your neighbors help in solving the problem. If they will be part of the solution, it will keep the situation from escalating. See if they will keep a record of when your dog barks, that might give you a key as to why they are barking. Make sure your neighbor is not knocking on the wall or giving your dog a reason to bark or a reward for barking. Consider getting your dog more exercise…a tired dog is not bored. Leave on the radio or TV to drown outside sounds out. Prepare and hide dog treat puzzles so your dog is busy. You might find someone willing to come in and say hello to your dog during the day, and leave a dog food puzzle. Think like a dog; figure out how to make them feel safer in their world. When they are inside and alone, noises can be very scary…….”

        TO ANSWER:

        1) “See if they will keep a record of when your dog barks, that might give you a key as to why they are barking.”
        A) Have PLENTY of records as to when she barks – Video / Personal accounts / Neighbors / People staying over / Roommates… ECT. ANYTIME I LEAVE the house. EVEN when people are here in the house with her.
        2)”Consider getting your dog more exercise…a tired dog is not bored.”
        A) EXERCISE!!! We (My husband and I) have and DO give this beast exercise. We Live not more than ten minutes from the mountains and take her there often so she can run just as far and fast as she can for hours. We do the “Caesar” thing and “walk her till she’s tired” BUTTTTT while she is EXHAUSTED and collapses on the floor, she is STILL NOT tired enough and will start to bark as soon as I leave and collapses as soon as I get home. The more we take her out, the more she BELIEVES that we are having fun without her and the more she goes wild to be with me. Including eating a door and digging through a floor. {TRUE STORY}
        3)”Leave on the radio or TV to drown outside sounds out.”
        A) Always do. INCLUDING the “soothing” dog music and/or The Simpsons DVD’s
        4)”Prepare and hide dog treat puzzles so your dog is busy.”
        A) Have hidden/ placed EVERY treat imaginable for this dog to keep her occupied. INCLUDING raw and/or cooked meat. WILL NOT touch ANY treat while I am gone but will attack those treats the MOMENT I step through the door. TRASH BAG and TRASH CANS are considered perfectly worthy of her attention though as long as it can make the biggest mess ever seen within the house.
        5)”You might find someone willing to come in and say hello to your dog during the day, and leave a dog food puzzle”
        A) Have I mentioned that she is a German Shepard weighing approx 75 lbs and has the tendency to EAT anyone she doesn’t know, and as for the people she does know, she DOESN’T CARE and continues to bark and HOWL

        Thought this MIGHT give just a “little” more insight into my problem. At one point even tried a shock collar. PISSED HER OFF…..and she ate ALL my childhood keepsakes!!!! Needless to say NO MORE SHOCK COLLAR and she still barked…….MEDICATION!!!!! Had her HEAVILY {REPEAT} HEAVILY sedated from the vet. She fought it and, barely standing,—BAAAAARKED and HOWWWLED until I came home whereas she laid down and fell back to sleep for hours. Happy with the knowledge that I was now home.
        Hope this answers a few more of everyone’s questions. Does anyone know Caesars home phone number for a “doggy 911” visit. As you can see, she is my sweet joyful friend AND My worst enemy all in one. ALTHOUGH I still LOVE her and don’t know why

        • I have to say that while online chats and message boards are great, they are no substitute for having a professional trainer or behaviorist get their eyes on the situation. We often think we’ve ‘tried everything’ when we’ve tried many different techniques but did not implement them properly, or do them long enough. There are plenty of dogs out there that will learn despite how we train them, not because of how we train them, but then there are the others.

          You mention sedating a dog for separation anxiety. Without knowing exactly the medication your vet used it’s impossible to comment on it. There are medications which vets have used for years to sedate dogs which are not appropriate to use for fear or anxiety. Plenty of vets are not aware of this. The medications used today to treat separation anxiety are NOT sedatives. They do not work instantly and still must be used with a behavior modification program to be most effective, but there are lots of success stories along with solid research backing it up.

        • Wow Maggie you have tried a lot of things. It is obvious that you really love your dog…and your dog loves you. My heart goes out to you.

          I agree with several other people that you need someone who can come in and help you.

          I am glad to hear that you realized a shock collar is NOT the answer.

          Thank you so much for sharing.

    • And, Maggie, here is one more link from Susan McCullough (another coalition member) that talks about separation anxiety issues:

  7. I had some friends with a similar situation and we found a solution. Can you tell us what you already tried?

  8. Cindy says:

    We have an 11 lb poodle/shih tzu mix that barks at everything. We have tried a “quiet” command with a treat reward. Sometimes he seems to bark over and over just to get the treats. It almost becomes a game to him.

    • Wow! Cindy, the timing on bark training is important. If you can get a copy the barking we recommend, she goes into detail on how NOT to accidentally reinforce the barking while trying to fix it.

    • Clever dog! Dogs can learn to chain behaviors together like this, I bark, get told to be quiet, get treat. I’d like another treat so I’ll bark again! I watched this with a client and her dog and it was fabulous, almost like theater to watch.

      If indeed the dog is barking to get treats then it shouldn’t be too hard to teach him not to bark to get treats. It requires a high level of reinforcement and we often wait too long to reward the quiet, and this gives the dog the chance to bark again. Think about rewarding the dog for being quiet in 2-3 second intervals to start with. Build the duration for quiet slowly, one second at a time if you need to, making sure you get the treat to him before he barks.

      But it might be that the dog is barking because he is upset and while he’s able to eat the treats, he’s still upset and may need to be moved away from whatever is causing the barking. Finding a trainer who can watch the behavior to help you sort out what exactly is going on may be helpful.

  9. Maggie says:

    Please see my above replies to the replies to my first post

  10. Hilary says:


    Have you tried a veterinary behaviorist? Sounds like a lot of different things are going on here. Not sure how Cesar would help in this situation other than slapping a shock collar on your dog, based on his mode of operation. Maybe try a different approach–if you want a behaviorist recommendation, try the International Association of Animal Behaviorists to search for one in your area:

    I used to have Shepherds, and they can be very sweet, gentle, and loyal dogs! I had to bring one of mine to a behaviorist for similar issues, and the dog turned around. It was work, but oh so worth it. GSDs are very sensitive in nature as herding, prey-driven dogs, so diagnosing the issues is a first step. Good luck and let us know what happens! We’re very interested in what works and what doesn’t on all types of dogs!

  11. Becky says:

    I’ve had success in curbing most of my dogs barking habits. But she still barks persistently at anyone who comes through the front door, even people she knows and loves. Giving a sit or quiet command rarely works, or only works for a second before she resumes her tirade. A knock on the door usually requires me to confine her to a back room before answering. She will quiet down a lot faster and then come out to happily meet the visitor. I would rather have better behavior in response to the knock, though.

  12. Elisa says:

    Ok, I find it funny that just as I had just tried to get my rottweiler off the barking wagon he has been on all morning I read this article. I am a dedicated pet owner and foster pet parent but I am no trainer. I loooove my pets but always need advice! Thank you will work on them. Our problem over here is that the dachshund starts huffing, mind you he is waaaaay tooo cool to bark, but he sure knows how to get his rottweiler fur-brother in to attack dog mode. Which turns in to this symphony of huffs and extremely loud barks. I just try to quiet them down or ask them to go in to the other room. I am also conflicted because we live in a kind of bad area so I am afraid that if I discourage the rottweiler from barking he will just not care in the event of someone actually jumping in to our yard or trying to brake in to the house. Any ideas for that? How to have a guard dog without much barking?
    Oh and I am a first time dog parent!

    • Oh, Elisa … I know that dynamic well. It is quite the challenge to have two barking dogs. I blogged about this scenario on my blog this week, but essentially my advice is to work on the issue with each dog separately. At your house, there are times when … if I can get one dog NOT to do something, then the other one mellows out too.

      As for the guard dog thing, I’d suspect that even dogs trained NOT to bark excessively would bark in the event of an intruder. I know mine would.

  13. Woof says:

    Very interesting info to read. I have a barker – more because he is spoiled and has no impulse control. But, reading the above has given me some insite and some suggestions to try. TY.

  14. Rose says:

    I have two shih-tzu’s and the only time they really bark is when someone comes to the door, near the house or vehicle. There bark is more a territorial bark. They do pretty good at the window if you tell them quite but if someone is at the door forget it. Any suggestions?

    • Rose — One way to get around the door issue is to train your dogs to do something else whenever there is someone at the door. You’ll have to set up the scenario again and again with a family member or friend at the door, but I know dogs who are trained to run and get into their crates whenever they hear the doorbell or a knock at the door. If you don’t use crates, maybe you could teach them to run and get a toy instead.

      So, have someone be at the door, then run with both dogs to the toy basket. Make it really fun. It’ll take many repetitions, but it’s an option.

      Otherwise, you could keep some special toy near the door and use it as reward, if they sit nicely (and quietly) whenever someone is at the door.

      • Hounder says:

        Great advice. I kept a plastic jar of kibble near the door and when someone knocked, I’d start shaking the jar and divert their attention, then scatter kibble everywhere to distract them. Soon, they learned that a knock on the door meant a treat and were much more interested in that than who was at the door. I could also use the shaker jar to lead them through the house to another location and lock them up. Really a great tool…

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  16. In just 4 days our new puppy is great at sitting (especially when waiting for his food bowl to be filled) and is coming along well with ‘come’ thanks to your advice. It really is amazing what a difference good, positive training can make. Thank you so much!

  17. Beth S. says:

    I have to admit, I am new to the idea of positive reinforcement for animal training, but I am a grateful convert. Grateful to have the wealth of information I have found on this topic from talented writers. I grew up with lots of pets and negative or punishment types of training. You know what I mean, putting the dogs nose into his accidents for house breaking, smacking on the nose with a rolled up newspaper, etc.. This is how my parents trained our dogs. Didn’t everyone? 10 years ago we used a shock collar for training. We thought we were doing a good thing. Spending extra money for the “best” way to train a dog. Even as little as 3 years ago, when I took puppy classes with a new member of the family, the instructor told me to get down to the pups level and say “no barking” roughly into her face, when she barks at something as we walk. My poor baby.
    But, I digress. My biggest problem is getting the rest of the family on the bandwagon.
    Old habits are hard to break.

  18. Alyson says:

    Don’t forget about the value of management when it comes to barking. Many dogs bark due to overstimulation. While you’re working on training it is important to prevent your dog from practicing barking, particularly if it is already of the learned variety. Using white noise machines and putting up visual barriers are great ways to help prevent over stimulation.

  19. SeeDogThink says:

    barking is the most frustrating aspect of my fearful dog, too. Even as a dedicated positive training I can see how tempting it is to punish a dog for barking, especially if you feel that all your training attempts have failed. Whenever my dog starts it, I can immediately feel my blood pressure rising..

    Now that we are in the process of looking for new rental accommodations this has become the major consideration: are we able to live wall-to-wall with someone, or would the noise that inadvertently trickles through the walls/floors/ceilings be too much for her? I can manage it when I am home (we are starting to get a pretty good routine of “instead of barking, come see mom for reassurance” <= this is a vague description of what happens) but I am pretty sure that while I am away there are many things that set her off throughout the day (neighbour banging her backdoor, dogs next door barking, someone coming to read the electricity meter, etc) and when I am not there I don't know how long it goes on and I cannot distract her from it or show her a better way to deal with the anxiety she is feeling.
    My old dog was so quiet and not a "talker" and I never had to worry about this before. Thankfully this barking collie came into my life at a time where our financial situation allows us to be a bit choosier about where we live, so I can accommodate her craziness, at least a little bit.
    So for now, there is probably no fancy ski condo in our future, unless it is awesomely sound proofed or I can work from home to ensure she never gets a chance to get herself into a barking frenzy when I am not around.

  20. Rebecca says:

    So wonderful, my husband and I have an 8 month old standard poodle puppy, Im going to have to use the on/off technique! What a wonderful giveaway too, we would love to enter.

  21. Laura says:

    I don’t know if this will help anyone but the only thing that’s gotten through to Misha when she’s already worked up is stinky “gloppy” food. We use liverwurst in a squeeze tube in class but since it’s perishable we keep a can of Kong liver goop or Kraft Easy Cheese in the living room. If she’s sounding off at the window I pretty much stick the can or the tube in her mouth and she’ll sort of still try to bark for a few seconds while she’s slurping at it, then she’ll try to growl and slurp at the same time but after a few seconds of that she’s just trying to get more nummies to come out of the can or tube.

    Honestly, I was really hesitant to try this, I was afraid she would figure out she got stuff if she barked. But it seems to really be changing how she feels, her barking isn’t as intense, and when it’s one of the dogs she sees all the time she’s started prancing around whining with excitement like she’s happy to see them, instead of letting loose with an angry sounding bellow.

    She’s a somewhat fear reactive dog so the emotion we’re dealing with is more fear defensive rather than excited if that makes a difference.

  22. Brodie says:

    What solutions does your “gentle” approach provide for folks who are working and getting slapped with nusiance barking citations?? Your “gentle” solutions aren’t always practical. Mild correction when introduced correctly can reenforce consistency. This “gentle” approach is not completely practical.

    • First, dog bark…and they should bark! Unfortunately, it sounds like your situation has escalated and working with your neighbor is no longer an option.

      When your dog is doing this “nuisance” barking it is outside or inside. How far away do the “barking reporters” live.

    • I’m not sure it’s a question of the impracticality of ‘gentleness’ but rather the convenience of punishment and control.

      I understand the dilemma. Someone gets a dog and expects the dog to behave a particular way and the dog doesn’t. The results are frustrating, annoying and/or costly to the owner.

      Ultimately everyone has to make a decision regarding how they are going to manage and train their dog(s). And there are going to be owners who come up against a situation which, for whatever reason, they are either unable or unwilling to manage/train their dogs in a way which is not only fair to the dog and takes into consideration their physical and emotional well being and also gets the desired results, without hurting or scaring the dog.

      I’m not sure how one defines what is a ‘mild’ correction or not. If a punishment is going to work we know it has to be potent enough for the dog to be impacted by the consequence enough to change their behavior. If we need to keep applying the correction we haven’t corrected anything. We are managing the situation using the threat of punishment, not training and changing a behavior. We should at least be clear on this, whatever we choose to do.

      My own frustration is with excuses that are made to use painful/scary training techniques because someone has put a dog into into an untenable situation and expect it to toe the line, whatever it takes, without acknowledging their own responsibility in the equation or trying to understand the dog’s perspective.

      If you are broke you could argue the value of robbing banks to get money to pay your mortgage so your kids have a roof over their heads. The result is justification enough for the technique. It doesn’t mean that those of us who are working for a living are on the wrong track.

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