From the Basenji yodel to the Beagle yowl, our top dogs certainly have a colourful way of chatting. And being individuals, even the ‘quieter’ breeds can still be big talkers.
But what happens when those vocalisations get too much? Dog behaviourist Philippa Short shares her expert advice on how to manage excessive barking in different situations.
Barking (and whining, howling, and baying, depending on the breed) is used as a way of communicating with us.
Some breeds are known for being highly vocal and bark more than others, but expecting a dog never to bark is unrealistic.
If your dog’s barking has become problematic, you need to look and understand why they’re vocalising so much. This will then help you know what to do next.
There’s lots of reasons why dogs bark, including:
Any behaviour your dog practices becomes habitual, including barking.
Barking can also be self-perpetuating because of the endorphins it releases. Even if it doesn’t get your pooch what they originally wanted, they still get some satisfaction from it.
It’s important to remember that a dog will seek out attention from you, even if you only ever give them negative feedback.
But they’d much rather do things they like and get praise from the start. So remember to acknowledge and reward them when they do something you like, such as being quiet.
And if they do start barking, you can try teaching them an alternative behaviour.
Are you reinforcing to your dog that barking is a great way for them to get what they want?
You never want to shut down your dog’s ability to communicate with you. But if barking gets them what they’re after, they quickly realise it gets them other things too.
One of the most common reasons for an excessively vocal dog is that they’re demanding things from you.
So don’t encourage them to think shouting is going to help them get their way – teach them a different way of talking to you.
When it comes to shifting how your dog communicates:
Going back to the toilet example:
Keep in mind that there’s a fine line between stopping bad manners and asking for a big display of obedience.
If your dog is barking for their food, their bowl doesn’t go down on the floor until they’ve stopped. But don’t make them keep waiting to eat as this builds frustration and anxiety around their food.
Watch out for the two common pitfalls of trying to manage your dog’s excessive vocalising: permanently ignoring barking and unintentionally rewarding barking with food.
The first trap is following the idea of ignoring unwanted behaviour and then praising positive behaviour. So in this case, you’d ignore your pup’s barking and praise them when they’re quiet.
Although this can work with some dogs, just be wary that it won’t always work for others, as barking is self-perpetuating. So you may have to try teaching them an alternative behaviour instead.
Unintentionally rewarding barking
The second trap is asking for another behaviour when your dog starts barking, and then immediately giving them a treat.
Dogs who bark for attention interpret this as ‘bark and do the alternative behaviour to get a treat’.
So what you want to try instead is to teach them a mutually exclusive behaviour (MEB). This is where they learn that two different behaviours can’t happen at the same time, so they have to pick one.
Barking for attention is another common reason for your pup to get overly vocal with you.
A dog can suffer from two types of anxiety: generalised anxiety and separation anxiety.
To find out more about separation anxiety, take a look at our handy going on how to look after a dog with separation anxiety.
If their excessive barking comes from an anxious place, you’ll need to work with a qualified behaviourist.
Barking is just a symptom of the underlying cause, and a dog expert can help you figure out what’s causing the anxiety, such as:
Your dog may even need to take anti-anxiety medication to help manage their generalised anxiety. To help figure out what’s going on, a behaviourist will look at:
Like a dog with anxiety, you’ll need the support of a behaviourist for dogs who bark excessively from excitement.
General excitement barking can be seen when:
A bored dog can easily become a vocal and even destructive dog. See if sufficient exercise (for their breed and energy levels) helps to beat their boredom.
It may be that your pup struggles to manage lots of exercise, or perhaps some days you have time constraints. In these situations, the good news is there’s plenty of other activities to tire out your dog, like:
You can find lots of ways to give your physical and mental stimulation in our handy guide to dog enrichment.
Your pup soon learns that a knock at the door/ring of the doorbell means something or someone is there.
Barking at this noise could mean they’re afraid or excited at someone’s arrival. Either way, they’re alerting the visitor to their presence and telling them it’s their house. So you can either:
With the ‘go to place’ cue:
Any breed of dog can learn ‘go to place’, it just takes practice. Remember:
Older dominance theory taught many pet parents that it was better to eat before their dog does.
But it’s very unfair to eat in front of your dog when they’re hungry, especially if they’re a puppy or adolescent. They’ll be going through a growth period and are genuinely starving.
So feeding them before you sit down to eat will leave them feeling more satiated and relaxed around other food.
If you’d prefer to manage excessive barking during your meal times, put your pup in a crate or behind a baby gate while you eat.
If you’d like to be more proactive, teach your dog to settle quietly on a bed in the room.
It’s completely normal for dogs to alert their family to what they think is a potential danger or problem.
Some pooches think they control the street outside because they see a moving visual, bark at it, and it goes away.
To manage this, you can:
When it comes to the training side of things, use a three-step bark rule (which can also be used for door barking too):
After a minute, let your dog back out and act normal. Restart the three-step barking process again each time it’s needed.
Your pup learns to respond to the first thank you as they’ve alerted you to the ‘danger’ and know you have it handled.
A car journey to a fun dog walking location may make some pups overly vocal with excitement.
So be wary of parking up and letting your dog charge straight out of the car (or unclipping their lead) while they’re still barking. This tells them they can be vocal and the door will open or they’ll be let off to do their own thing.
Remember, we don’t want a robotic, emotionless dog – body wiggling is OK! We’re teaching them that excitement is fine, but shouting isn’t acceptable.
With Petsure dog insurance, you can claim for behavioural sessions with a qualified animal behaviourist.