Dog Behavior: Barking

Table of Contents

Overview | Stop Barking by Cause | Collars


"Dog behavior such as barking is quite normal, but can be problematic. Some breeds are predisposed to bark more than others. Changing the behavior involves understanding the underlying cause and then working with your dog until the barking subsides."


Dogs bark for a number of reasons, many of them quite reasonable. For instance, they bark at strangers, which can serve as a warning. However, we don't want them to continue barking at strangers; we want to be able to have guests at our house without our dog barking the entire time.

Dogs bark when they need to go outside, and we want them to let us know that. They may bark when they are hungry. Those are good reasons to bark. They may bark when they are playing and get overly excited. Then we need them to calm down.

Dog behavior barking too often is known as "nuisance barking".

Changing dog behavior barking starts with understanding the underlying reasons why your dog is barking. The ASPCA has identified a set of reasons for this behavior:

  • Territorial or protective defense
  • Distress vocalizations due to fear or separation anxiety
  • Excitement or greeting
  • During play
  • To gain attention or to make requests
  • Frustration
  • Socially facilitated barking (hearing other dogs bark)
  • Compulsive behavior

If you cannot change your dog's behavior by following the advice listed below then you should hire a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, a Veterinary Behaviorist, or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer.

Changing Dog Barking Behavior

Changing your dog's barking behavior starts with an understanding of what is causing the barking. What follows are some tips to stop dog barking caused by each of the following:

Territorial Barking Behavior

Territorial barking happens when your dog sees strangers or a possible intruder. This is also called an "alarm bark". We've all seen the dog who behaves wildly when it sees something out the window or when you go to a friends house.

You might even notice differences in the way your dog barks. For some people your dog might be excited while it may be threatened by others. To prevent dog barking when threatened you will need to associate what is considered threatening with something positive such as a treat using a technique called counter conditioning which you can read about below.

How to Change Territorial Dog Barking Behavior

Try changing your dog's behavior by trying the following steps. Only move on to the next step if you've tried the step for 10 to 20 times and it didn't work.

Stop Dog Barking Step #1: Remove the Barking Trigger

This can include covering a window that your dog stands in while barking or bringing your dog inside if he or she is barking outside. If barking is in the car, then have your dog ride in a crate which restricts the view and change the dog behavior barking.

Stop Dog Barking Step #2: Reward and Train Better Behavior

Make it clear when barking should stop. Allow some barking and then provide a verbal queue when it should stop such as the word "quiet". Don't shout the word. Gently hold your dog's muzzle closed when you say the word "quiet" again. Then ask your dog to sit and provide a treat. Give another treat if your dog remains sitting and doesn't bark. Try this between 10 and 20 times before trying the next technique.

Stop Dog Barking Step #3: Use a Startling Noise

After allowing your dog to bark up to 4 times, then make a noise which startles your dog such as shaking a bottle of pennies or shake your keys. Your dog will react to the sound and stop barking. Then ask your dog to sit and provide a treat. Continue providing treats the longer the silence lasts. Continue treats until the trigger for the barking is no longer there. If your dog starts barking after providing treats then you should seek a professional dog behaviorist.

Stop Dog Barking Step #4: Distract Your Dog

If your dog barks when walking then try to distract in order to change the behavior. For example provide a treat that is just far enough into the mouth to be tasted when the trigger is present such as another dog or person. Praise while you are providing the taste of the treat. You might also want to consider a dog halter, but only when in a situation where excessive barking may occur.

How to Stop Barking at Visitors

We've all seen how excited dogs get when someone new comes to the house or how your dog reacts when in the backyard. Stopping dog behavior barking which is a greeting is done by following the following steps:

  • Instruct your dog to sit and not move/stay when a visitor comes. Get in the practice of doing this for every visitor.
  • Keep a toy near the area where your visitors enter. Have your dog play with the toy every time a visitor arrives. A toy that is being held in the mouth makes it very difficult to bark.
  • Use the method described above to have your dog nibble on a treat every time you pass something that causes your dog to bark.

How to Stop Barking During Play

Many dogs like to bark when playing with people or other dogs. The best way to change this behavior is to substitute alternate behaviors. For example play with your dog using toys that go in his or her mouth. Dogs that bark when playing with each other cannot be changed other than separating the dogs or moving them to an area where they do not disturb you or the neighbors.

Stopping Barking Dog When Excited

If a dog is excited and looking for a form of expression, then dog behavior barking becomes an obvious outlet. This is often out of the innocent desire to play with you or people that are outside.

This type of behavior is impulsive. They see an object such as a squirrel or another dog and then bark.

The best way to change your dog is through obedience training designed to change dog behavior barking. In this type of training dogs are taught substitute behaviors such as waiting and sitting.

If other animals in the backyard are a problem you can try devices that discourage the animals from entering such as the Amtek Critter Gitter, or the Scraminal Deterrent Device which uses heat and motion sensors.

How to Stop Barking for Your Attention

Barking is a way for dogs to let us know that they want something. If they barked for more water in their bowl, and then you provided the water, you reinforced the behavior that barking for water not only works,it is rewarding.

The key to changing this behavior is to remove the reward and be sure not to associate the bark with what your dog wants. The best practice is to ignore your dog when he barks and stare in another direction. Note that it is cruel if you ignore barking for food, treats or a bone.

You can also try and create a way for your dog to help himself. For example a dog door will allow entrance to the home without barking for someone to open a door.

If your dog barks when you are trying to work consider providing a toy with treats inside such as a Extreme Goody Toy by Kong.

Compulsive Dog Barking

It is possible that your dog barks more than is normal. This is a behavior called compulsive dog barking. If it appears that your dog is barking for not reason or barks at objects such as a mirror, light flashes, opening doors or at other odd times, then he or she may be suffering from this condition.

If you believe this is what your dog suffers from then you might want to try changing some things in your dog's life. This could include shortening time where no one else is in the house, exercise routines and how long your dog is tied up on a leash.

A dog behaviorist or medications may be prescribed to help with this condition. You can also research natural remedies known to calm the nervous system such as Calming Treats for Dogs.

Stop Barking Collar

A stop barking collar uses punishment to train your dog. Because of this you want to select a collar with the gentlest "punishment" possible. These devices use some type of unpleasant stimulus at the time of barking including electric shock, noise and citronella.

A Citronella No Bark Collar is preferred since it uses a safe burst of citronella spray to interrupt your dog's barking. It's considered equal to or better than electric shock collars.

In general these devices can be effective.



Barking: A Common Behavior Problem
Holly Nash, DVM