Written by Ella White
Dogs bark for any number of reasons: defence, fear, anger, anxiety, and sometimes for no apparent reason at all. Usually your dog barking can be considered a totally normal part of their communication or a reaction to something that has triggered the response. But if your dog begins to bark more frequently than usual, it could be a sign of deeper problems.
Owners of new puppies will benefit from anti barking training while their pet is still young. But dog foster parents, adopters of rescue dogs, and owners whose older dog has developed a barking habit will all empathise with how frustrating it can be when your dog just won’t be quiet. It’s disruptive for you, your neighbours, and often distressing for the dog themselves.
If your dog only barks occasionally when they’re excited, frustrated, or nervous you probably have nothing to worry about – there’s no need to prevent your dog from barking completely. But if you’ve noticed that they bark for long periods or consistently, there might be a reason for their distress that you’ve not yet considered, and that could hold the key to stopping your dog from barking.
Dogs often bark to get their human to notice them. This could be because they’re hungry or can see their food being prepared, because they want to go outside for the toilet or exercise, or just because they want a little love.
The problem develops when your dog learns that barking is the best way to get something to happen. Because barking is a quick and easy way to get attention, it makes sense that your dog could believe this is how we can be alerted to whatever it is they want.
If your dog barks at night or whenever you’re out or away from them, they may have separation anxiety. In rescue dogs this could be due to previous distressing experiences, while in puppies it’s a normal step that most dog owners must overcome when their pet is old enough to be left alone.
Dogs are social, so they may not like it that we have things to do – like going to work or to bed - without them. Training a dog to feel relaxed and calm when you’re not around is an essential element of the training process, as simply expecting your dog to overcome their distress alone and ‘get used’ to you being away is not going to happen.
It’s a dog’s instinct to bark when it feels threatened, whether or not that threat is obvious or real. There’s no need to prevent your dog from barking at real threats, as long as they stop barking when that perceived problem has gone away. However, if your dog is frightened by normal occurrences that should not be causing them stress, or if they continue to bark after the threat has gone, they may need further training or support.
Often, a dog barks to alert us to their fear as well as to try and scare it away. If we show them that we don’t fear what they are barking at, they may stop barking. Similarly, if the problem goes away your dog may learn that their barking has a positive effect – which may lead to problematic barking habits in some situations.
There are some natural human reactions to dogs barking that might seem like an obvious response but, in reality, will do little to ease your dog’s fear or break their barking habit.
No matter how much we love our dogs, their constant barking can be irritating if not downright annoying. But if they’re already anxious or confused, telling them off is likely to exacerbate the issue. After all, your dog is barking for a reason and they won’t understand you making more noise as a signal for them to stop.
Especially if your dog suffers with anxiety leading to barking, leaving them alone to get over the problem won’t help. In fact, it’s likely to lead to more barking.
If a dog is distressed and needs comfort as a short-term solution, then stay with them and help them to feel calmer. Of course, if your dog barks for attention and is not distressed, there are ways in which ignoring them can help, which we will outline later.
If your dog barks to get what they want, wait until they have stopped before giving them whatever it is they’re after whether it’s food or a walk. Teaching your dog that they’re rewarded for silence will teach them that it’s the quickest way to get the thing they want. You might need to distract them, for example with a toy while you prepare dinner or with something in another room while you get ready to take them on their walk.
Every dog is unique and their reasons for barking are down to their owners to decipher. But, depending on why your dog barks, there are various ways to help them stop.
If your dog thinks the best way to get your attention or get what they want is by barking, show them another way. An easy way to do this is to train them with diversion tactics. So if your dog is likely to bark when the postman comes, turn their attention to sniffing out treats. They’ll be too distracted to bark, and will eventually learn that not barking at the postman leads to treats.
If you know the things that scare your dog into barking, avoid them where possible. It sounds like a no-brainer, but blocking their view of passers by that make them bark, not leaving them alone if they bark out of anxiety, or keeping them away from other dogs or animals they’re scared of is a quick fix while you seek out further help and training.
Okay, we know we said ignoring barking can be a solution, but that isn’t always the case for all dogs. If your dog barks for attention, ignoring them for as long as it takes them to stop can be a way to teach them that their barking is not effective. As soon as they stop, reward them immediately with a treat to reinforce their positive behaviour.
However, if your dog’s barking doesn’t stop and appears to be a genuine sign of distress, keeping them barking for longer will only cause them further anxiety. In this case, comforting them and seeking out professional help to calm them may be the better option. The ignoring tactic is best reserved for loud dogs with no anxiety issues present.
Helping your dog grow accustomed to the stimulus of their barking can help them get used to the trigger and understand that they will be rewarded for not barking at it. First, introduce them at a distance where they won’t bark and begin rewarding them with treats as the trigger gradually appears in their view. When it moves out of sight, don’t treat them – this will be counter productive and teach them that just the appearance of the stimulus leads to treats.
Getting your dog to do something that won’t allow them to bark is a good way of training them to stay quiet. For example, sniffing out treats is incompatible with barking as they can’t do both at once. So giving them a treat to sniff out during situations that may otherwise trigger barking is a simple way to teach them that they are rewarded for sniffing out treats, but not for barking.
In some cases, dogs bark because they’re bored. A lack of mental and physical exercise can wind them up, so make sure they are engaged and exercised every day. As well as mental stimulation, exercise makes dogs tired, and in turn more likely to be well behaved. So if your dog barks out of frustration, it could be because they’re not getting the right amount or length of walks.
If at-home training techniques don’t work or your dog needs professional care, working with a certified behaviour or obedience trainer could stop them from barking. They will be able to sustain the training methods that might not be so easy to enforce at home.
A healthy dog is a happy dog, and if they’re getting all the nutrients they need in their food they might feel less frustrated or anxious. But there are extras you can feed them to help. Front of the Pack’s Harmony supplement helps promote a sense of calm and stress-free, relaxing mindset in under 90 minutes. It’s made from a blend of adaptogens, nootropics, and clinically proven ingredients, and comes in stick packs that you can carry with you on the go.
Calming supplements can help with barking due to their specially selected blend of anti-anxiety ingredients. Harmony is made with Magnolia Bark Extract that eases anxiety and stress and protects immune defences, L-theanine triggers the release of serotonin and dopamine and stimulates calming alpha waves in the brain, and Ashwagandha regulates cortisol in the bloodstream to reduce anxiety.
A calmer, happier dog is a dog that’s less likely to bark and more likely to feel confident in themselves. A mix of these stress-relieving methods should help train your dog not to bark. But if you feel you need further support, don’t hesitate to contact a vet or professional dog trainer or behaviourist.