Sometimes, to the dismay of humans, dogs use their barks to communicate in reaction to a trigger. This can get very frustrating when your dog is an “over communicator” and is triggered often. There are several reasons your dog may be an excessive barker and identifying why they bark so much is the first step in helping them learn to remain calm when a trigger is in their vicinity.
As stated above, there are several reasons your dog may be an excessive barker. We will discuss 3 of the more common instances that could be at the root of your dog’s unnecessary barking. As you learn to control your dog’s barking, remember to stay calm as they learn. You yelling at them or soothing them can contribute to reinforcing their barking and deepening your issue. As a precursor, you’ll want to learn how to read your dog’s body language and the reasons for its reactivity so you can identify when your dog is or is about to be in an aroused state. Further, you will want to have taught your dog, at a minimum, the basic commands – sit, come, down, and no.
One of the most common and simplest reasons your dog could be barking (or misbehaving in general) is that they are bored, and you are not providing them with enough stimulation throughout the day. You should understand the breed of dog you have and their general needs. If you have a high-energy dog, they should be engaging in very stimulating exercise whether physical or mental - a mixture of both will give the best results. If this is not addressed, barking could increase as energy levels do.
Has your dog learnt that they get what they want when they bark? When your dog barks, do you react in a stimulating way? Perhaps as a puppy, you thought it was cute when they barked for attention, so you gave it to them. A stimulating reaction can take many forms. For instance, you could yell back at them or straight up give them what they want. Most likely, you have caused this issue if you have been with the dog for its whole life.
If you’re lucky, you may get warning signs before your dog starts to excessively bark. They may come into your area and start brushing up against you… they are getting ready to demand things like a treat, a walk, or some play.
Ignore the Bad:
Do not acknowledge with any heightened verbal responses or actions at all – ignore the demands. When there is a lull in the barking or they stop completely, give them what they are looking for or praise/reward. The goal is to have them understand that they get what they want when they are calm.
Change the Behaviour:
As they begin to calm down on the barking (and it may get worse before it gets better), you can start to think about training them to do a certain action to let you know what they want. If they are looking to be walked, you could place their leash in the same spot and have them go sit by it so they can let you know.
Dogs got their start as our companions for their use of alerting us to threats we couldn’t detect. Nowadays, it can be hard for dogs to identify if a trigger (a mailman, jogger, passing car, etc.) is a threat or not. To further compound the issue, as these threats come close to the house, and the dog starts barking, they start to leave the vicinity. The outcome is that the dog is rewarded, in a way, for the barking.
First off, you need to identify any triggers that may set your dog off. This can help narrow down how you may need to address the barking.
Block Access to Triggers:
Once you have identified the triggers you can start by trying to pre-emptively stop your dog from being triggered. Perhaps this is as simple as blocking off access to a window. If it is not as simple as that, you can try giving them something to do during the time a trigger may occur. Such as giving them their meals at times the trigger is likely to happen.
Your dog may need assurance that the trigger is not a threat. Go to the window, or wherever the trigger is, and look. Follow that up with an ok to your dog.
Reinforce Good Behaviour:
The above may not do the trick or you may be looking for a more permanent solution that changes the behaviour entirely. If this is the case, you will need to stay close when you know a trigger is about to enter your dog’s periphery. Having them on a lead will help. As they become aroused, break their attention (perhaps a pull on the lead), and bring it back to you. When their focus is on you reward them with a high value. Ideally, you will learn the warning signs they have, such as their hair standing up on the back of their neck and be able to break their attention before they start to bark. When they are about to bark, bring their attention to you, have them lie down or sit and reward them heavily. There is a good chance you will need to continue this conditioning for some time.
As part of our training, we work towards proper socialization of your dog. Many people don’t realize that proper socialization is achieved when your dog can stay in a calm demeanour no matter the stimulation or trigger, they may encounter. If you are experiencing issues with your dog and are considering training, please don’t hesitate to reach out.