Courteous Canine: Barking–It’s What Dogs Do!
by Jane Finneran, Certified Dog Trainer
Dogs do bark. . . . and they shed and they chase things and they dig and any number of other doggie activities. To take any of these away from dogs is to take away their—well, their dogness. It’s so very sad when people want a dog that doesn’t do anything. How boring! To ask dogs not to bark is like asking a person not to talk. This is how they communicate, so pay attention!
The saddest barker is the dog that is tied out or penned 24/7. Dogs become “nuisance” barkers because they are bored and/or lonely. For that poor dog, the only attention is when someone comes to the back door to yell or throw something. To a dog, even bad attention is better than none at all, and if the barking gets rewarded with attention, the dog barks more.
The solution is to give the dog something to do. The average dog needs 20-30 minutes of exercise daily. If the dog is a large athletic or herding dog bred to work, the dog needs even more. Also, interactive toys and puzzles on the market will keep a dog busy. Feed the dog from one of these. Hide treats in the yard and ask the dog to find them. A tired dog will sleep and not bark.
Dogs will also bark for warning. If the dog is outside all day on patrol and barking at every squirrel, every passerby, and every leaf or bug that moves, the dog will be exhausted. Dogs usually sleep 16–18 hours per day. Without that, the cortisol level goes up, and the dog is a constant motion machine. I recommend vigorous exercise first thing in the morning and again in the evening. Then give the dog plenty of time for naps.
Dogs bark for excitement when someone is at the door, when you come home, when it is time for a walk or a car ride, or when it is mealtime. The excitement bark can quickly develop into “demand” barking. Be careful. When trying to control the barking, the last thing you want to do is to chime in and yell (which from the dog’s perspective is barking!).
What I recommend is taking a treat—the smellier and the tastier the better. Hold this treat under the dog’s nose and say “enough” or “quiet” or whatever other cue you want to use. I put a finger to my lips like a librarian. Keep the cue consistent. Give the reward when the dog stops barking. Hold off for longer and longer periods of quiet so the dog does not learn to bark for another treat. If the dog is barking at something, move them away from the stimulus. I want my dogs to bark when someone comes in the drive or to the door, but I also want them to stop when I ask. It takes time but is well worth the effort.
Train with kindness!
Jane Finneran CPDT
Certified Professional Dog Trainer