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Barking is natural for dogs, but sometimes barking can be a thing of excess, which can lead to frustrated owners, and sometimes neighbors. Generally, excessive or nuisance dog barking involves a dog repeatedly barking for prolonged periods of time that interfere with neighbors engaging being able to enjoy their own property. Everyone’s definition of what “excessive barking” is will look different but if you have a dog who is barking excessively there are things you can do to bring peace to your dog and quiet to your home.
Why Dogs Bark So Much
If you are struggling with a dog who barks excessively, it’s important to try and understand what is causing the barking. Vocalizations are one way that dogs can communicate about how they are feeling and what they want. Dogs may bark to get attention, because they are alerting to something going on around them, because they are bored, anxious, frustrated, or feeling defensive of their homes or families.
Some barking is normal, but when barking becomes excessive not only is it frustrating for owners, but it’s also a sign your dog may be stressed, or their needs aren’t being met. Dogs use their barking as a means of communicating with us when they need things: to go outside, to play, because they are hungry, or because they are concerned about things. There is always a reason for the barking, and it’s our job to figure out what our dogs need.
A common reason for excessive barking is in response to things going on in your neighborhood. Historically, many breeds of dogs were kept guarding their owner’s homes and properties, or to alert owners about the presence of intruders. Although today many owners find alert barking frustrating, it’s important to remember that this behavior is natural for dogs.
If your dog is spending their day looking out the window and barking — at people, dogs, and vehicles in your neighborhood — a key step to stopping the barking is to remove the distraction. By managing your dog’s environment and their access to distractions you may be able to reduce or even eliminate excessive barking.
Adding blinds, curtains, or adhesive privacy film (which comes in plain frosted or decorative patterns) to your windows can block the visual distractions from your dog. In addition to creating visual barriers from neighborhood distractions, it can be useful to use a white noise machine or to turn on a white noise playlist, radio, or television to help muffle distracting noises from outside your home.
Develop Alternative Behaviors
In addition to managing your space to reduce your dog’s engagement with triggers that cause them to bark, it’s helpful to teach alternative behaviors for your dog to do instead of barking.
If you know your dog barks excessively when a package is delivered, you can teach your dog that when the doorbell rings they should run to another area of your home to get rewarded (instead of your dog rehearsing the barking behavior at the door.)
To start teaching this new behavior, have a friend or family member ring your doorbell (or use a doorbell recording online), and when the doorbell rings, get your dog’s attention with a high-value treat and rush quickly with a lot of verbal encouragement to the area you want them to go. When you get to that area, jackpot your dog with lots of high-value treats. Repeat this interaction multiple times over several practice sessions. With practice, your dog will shift their behavior and anticipate running to that area of your home away from the front door to get treats instead of barking when packages are delivered.
Excessive barking can be a sign that your dog is bored. When dogs don’t have enough enrichment in their day, they may develop destructive habits including too much barking.
In addition to making sure your dog gets enough physical exercise by walks, and active playtime if you’re struggling with excessive barking, it’s helpful to increase the amount of mental and enrichment your dog gets during the day. If you know your dog barks while home alone, make sure to spend quality time with your dog before you leave and provide stimulating activities like a stuffed KONG for your dog to solve and eat while you’re away.
Providing brain games for your dog can help alleviate boredom barking. If you’re going for extended periods of time, it’s helpful to have a friend, family member, or professional dog walker come and visit your dog midday to get exercise and break up the alone time.
Barking At You
When frustrated or bored, some dogs will bark at their owners for attention. This is known as demand barking. Generally, this behavior is a result of your dog trying to get attention or another need met. If your dog is barking at you excessively, ignore your dog’s barking and reward what you do want – the quiet moments between barking, engaging with toys etc. When your dog stops barking, praise and reward your dog. While your dog is quiet, engage your dog in play or practice a trick. The idea is to give your dog engagement and attention while they aren’t barking.
Having a dog barking too much can be stressful. The frustration can also be heightened if you have neighbors complaining about your dog. When you’re stressed, it can be tempting to get loud yourself. However, getting into a “yelling match” with your dog doesn’t solve the barking problem. The louder you yell, the louder your dog barks and generally ends up just escalating your dog instead of calming them down.
Instead of getting frustrated, try to recognize that your dog isn’t actively barking to make you mad, rather they are communicating a need or desire in the only way that they know. Punishing your dog for barking through yelling or using an electronic (shock) bark collar, citronella collars, or ultrasonic machines that produce unpleasant sounds doesn’t address the underlying issue of why your dog is barking excessively. In addition, being aversive doesn’t help your dog learn anything — it just punishes behavior without giving an alternative.
All dogs are individuals, and some will bark more than others. How much a dog barks can have a variety of causes including a dog’s socialization and training. In addition, some dog breeds are naturally more vocal than others. Some breeds tend to bark more because of the jobs (like guarding) that they were bred to do.
Additionally, because of their size, some dogs will have larger and louder barks than other dogs. If you are sensitive to barking or live in an apartment, it’s important to keep in mind how large a dog’s bark is, as well breed characteristics, before getting a dog. If you have a breed that is naturally very vocal, you’ll need to be especially attentive to supporting your dog to avoid issues with your neighbors.
Regardless of what type of dog you have, the key to changing your dog’s behavior is recognizing and addressing the underlying cause for the barking. Once you know why your dog is barking, you can make lifestyle changes to prevent barking and you can teach alternative behaviors.