It is perfectly normal for a dog to barking a few times as part of their normal communication, and they shouldn’t be scolded for this. Some of the normal and appropriate reasons for barking include warning their owners that somebody is coming, communicating with another dog or during playing and games. Some of the less acceptable reasons for barking include when they are anxious, seeking attention or bored.
However, if the barking continues for a longer time or they’re yapping for no particular reason, owners should definitely try to correct the behaviour. Barking dogs will get worse over time, and the problem becomes harder to fix, so training should be started before the barking becomes a major issue.
Helping Dogs who Bark Excessively in the House
Firstly, I would suggest that a specific command word is used, such as “Quiet”. All family members should use the same word. When the dog barks at the door the owners should let it go on for a few seconds, then if the dog doesn’t stop barking the owner should say “Quiet”. If the dog continues to bark the owner should say “Quiet” again, then close the hold the dogs mouth closed for a few seconds. Gently release the dogs mouth. If they start barking again then repeat the above steps. When they’ve stayed quiet for 15 seconds reward them with praise and maybe a snack.
On that note, it’s important to be careful with praise and rewards. Owners will often accidentally reward bad behaviour by praising a dog when they are barking. If a dog starts barking or yapping don’t try to calm them by patting them or saying “good boy” – they’ll think that you approve of the barking behaviour and will yap more in future. Only praise a dog after they have stopped barking for 15 seconds or more, so they understand the correct behaviour.
Dogs barking when they are at home alone are often bored or anxious. The first step is to properly tire out a dog before leaving – the best way to do this is a good walk first thing in the morning. I’d also feed the dog before leaving – they’re often more relaxed on a full stomach. Then when you leave, give the dog treat or toy to occupy them. There are excellent ‘treat puzzle toys’, where kibble or snacks are put inside the a special plastic toy and the dog has to play with the toy to get the treats out. These toys serve two functions – firstly, they keep the dog occupied, and secondly the dog associates being left with a toy and treats, which is a positive reward. Some people also find leaving a radio or television on quietly can help. If a dog keeps barking I suggest to people to do desensitisation training – start building a dog’s confidence by leaving for only short periods, even just 30 seconds to begin with, then slowly build up the time to allow them to get used to being alone.
One last option is using an electric collar. These are designed to give a dog a small electric shock if they bark. I really rather avoid these if at all possible because they are painful and are a very negative way of training, but if the situation is becoming critical and all other possibilities have been tried I will sometimes use them for a short time to get the training started.
Helping Dogs who Bark Excessively Outdoors
The best way to prevent this kind of behaviour is to take control before the barking begins. If you see a situation that may trigger barking such as another dog approaching, first get your dog to sit. Keep their attention focussed on you and give them reassurance and a pat or stroke. When the trigger has passed and your dog hasn’t barked give them a treat. This is called counterconditioning, and makes your dog now associate that trigger with a good reward. If your dog does bark use your control word (such as “Quiet”). If they continue barking use your hand to close their mouth, as described above, as long as it is safe to do so. It will take some time and some repetition, but over time this type of training works really well. And again, make sure not to accidentally reward bad behaviour by patting or praising a barking dog.