Barking dog driving you crazy? Your dog might be barking for various reasons, and barking is a natural dog behavior — just like talking is for humans!
All dogs will bark (or yodel if you have a Basenji), but there are things you can do to minimize nuisance barking.
Knowing the why behind your dog's barking will help you better manage their environment and train them to be quiet when needed. Let's look at the different kinds of dog barking and what you can do for each type.
Alert barking is your dog saying "Hey! There's something there! I see something!" Others might hear a dog down the street or in a yard nearby that barks first, and they respond with an "I hear you!" Many dog owners appreciate it when their dogs alert them to someone approaching the front door. If you have a dog who barks at any and everything outside the window, this can become quite frustrating.
Alert barking can be especially tough for those that live in apartments or have neighbors close by. And apartment living often means that a dog will hear more sounds outside and, without proper acclimation and training, will bark to alert their people.
My dog will bark when she hears someone knock on the door, and I do allow her one or two barks before saying, "thank you!" (which is her "quiet" cue). When humans domesticated dogs, alert barking was a desired trait. We wanted our dogs to tell us if someone or something was approaching. Expecting our dogs not to follow this natural instinct is a tough ask. However, you can lessen alert barking in three ways. For an in-depth look at alert barking training steps, read my article "Alert Barking: Your Dog's Equivalent to 'Get Off My Lawn!'"
Watch this example of alert barking starring Marshall and Mabel:
Remove the Opportunity to Alert Bark
Close your blinds or curtains to remove any visual triggers that cause your dog to bark. If your dog alerts to noises outside, set up a fan, noise machine, or turn on the radio or television to drown out the noise. This is called noise masking. Some dogs like to perch by the window to watch the world go by — if they alert bark from their perch, move the furniture away from the window so they can't settle there to keep watch. If you don't feel like rearranging the furniture, simply block off their access to that room with a gate.
Teach Your Dog the "Quiet" Cue
Take advantage of your dog's barking to teach them to be quiet. By teaching what's called "paired cues," you can quickly train your dog to both speak and be quiet during the same training session. Read our step-by-step instructions for teaching your dog the quiet cue here.
Watch this video from Zak George to see paired cues in action:
Acclimate Your Dog to Sights and Sounds
If your dog alert barks, you can desensitize and countercondition them to the particular sights and sounds that trigger their barking. Some dogs have an easier time getting used to new sounds, while others need more time to learn. Work on creating a positive association with sights and sounds at which your dog would usually bark.
Let's use the example of someone walking past your home:
- When you're not training, make sure you've drawn the curtains or blocked your dog's ability to see someone passing by.
- When you're actively training, grab a few high-value training treats.
- The instant your dog notices the person, but before they begin barking, say "yes" (or click if you use a clicker) and give them a treat.
- If they look right back at the passer-by, say "yes" or click again before they bark, and give another treat.
With practice, you will have trained an alternative behavior to alert barking (looking at you and keeping their mouth shut). Plus, you've now created a positive emotional reaction to seeing someone walk by. It's a win-win!
Territorial barking is similar to alert barking. Your dog is responding to the presence of someone or something near their home. Territorial barking intends to protect the area and make the "intruder" leave the premises. While alert barking might stop after you've been made aware of what's happening, territorial barking usually lasts longer — until the perceived threat is gone.
Territorial barking is what we call "self-reinforcing." Barking usually makes the thing your dog is barking at go away — the behavior is successful for your dog! They learn that their barking makes the thing they wanted happen, and are more likely to do the same thing next time. For example, your dog might be home alone and watching out the window.
They see the postal worker walk by your home on the sidewalk and begin to bark. While the postal worker was already planning on walking by and "leaving" the territory, your dog doesn't know that. They're making the association that their barking made the postal worker leave. The dog is thinking, "mission accomplished!"
Training a dog who engages in territorial barking is the same as alert barking training (click here to read these training steps). You want to teach your dog that it's okay when someone (or something) is on or near their territory, and you can do this by creating a positive association with its presence.
Play and Excitement Barking
Many dogs bark out of excitement or during play. Play barking tends to be higher pitched than other barks. I do not worry about training play barking behavior unless it's a nuisance to the other dog that's playing, hurts my hearing, or results in complaints from neighbors. Expecting a happy and exuberant dog not to vocalize during play is like asking children to stay completely silent while playing together on the playground. However, having a solid "quiet" cue trained is always useful when the barking gets to be too much.
If you need to curb your dog's excitement or play barking, it's all about management. If a particular type of play, such as chase, tends to increase barking, interrupt your dog before they start to run. Give them another game to play, such as tug with you or playing with a flirt pole. If they're just so amped up that they can't settle into more quiet play, end the play session and give them an interactive toy or puzzle.
This type of mental enrichment goes a long way in burning energy and, since their mouth is busy working on a stuffed KONG or another toy, they can't be barking at the same time!
How to Train Your Dog to Have Calm and Quiet Greetings
Some dogs begin to bark out of excitement when approaching other people or dogs while out on a walk. This can be quite intimidating for others, especially since it's often accompanied by pulling on the leash or rushing up to them. Focus on rewarding what you want your dog to do instead of barking — walking calmly and quietly to greet someone.
- If greeting the person or dog is safe and appropriate (always check with them first!), only allow your dog to approach if they are quiet and not pulling on the leash.
- If they start to bark out of excitement, stop your approach, and redirect their attention back to you. You can do this with name recognition, the touch cue, or the sit cue. You might need to use a training treat to get their attention and lure them to focus on you. If they are successful in refocusing and stop barking, continue to approach for a greeting.
- If your dog has trouble paying attention to you and keeps barking, turn and walk away from the person or dog they want to greet. At the distance that your dog can focus on you, stop and try the approach again. Consider using a higher value training treat to keep your dog's focus while you approach or ask for simple cues (like those mentioned in step two) earlier in the process. You want to set your dog up for success and not completely take away the happy greetings of other people or dogs.
- This exercise teaches your dog that approaching calmly and quietly = getting to greet that person or dog! Barking or pulling = the person or dog they want to greet gets further away.
This does take practice and repetition for your dog to learn. I recommend asking a friend or neighbor to help and be your "decoy," as this way, you won't feel rushed in the process as you might with someone you pass on a walk. Working with a certified dog trainer can also help you troubleshoot and prevent your dog's excitement from turning into frustration (which can become reactive barking, as explained further below).
PRO TIP: If you're working with a friend or neighbor for the above exercise, switch between who is approaching and retreating. Mix it up between you and your dog standing still while they approach you to say hi, and you and your dog are approaching to greet. If you're sitting still while they approach and your dog gets overly excited, they can turn and walk away. This is a great way to generalize the behavior and work on your dog's impulse control. Remember to reward your dog for staying calm and not barking while someone approaches.
Your dog might be barking because it's worked to get them what they've wanted in the past. Like your attention. Or getting their fetch toy thrown for them. "Throw the ball! Throw the ball! Throw the ball!" This type of barking can be quite frustrating — trust me, I know. I have a Cardigan Welsh Corgi and she has her demanding moments.
Here's a video example of Preventive Vet pup Finnegan's demand barking (he wants attention and playtime!):
Often demand barking stems from excitement barking that has evolved into our dogs figuring out how to train us humans. They've learned through association that if they bark, we usually look at them. We might inadvertently throw their toy for them when they're barking, effectively rewarding the bark. If only our dogs weren't so smart! This means that if they're demand barking for your attention, looking at them and yelling NO is, in essence, giving them what they wanted. You paid attention to them, even if in your mind it was negative attention.
In the above video of Finnegan's demand barking, he isn't rewarded with any attention and he chooses to walk away to find something else to do. Ignoring the bark may work for your dog's demand barking (if you can handle being barked at for a while), but it's often easier to train preemptively and show your dog what works instead of barking in the first place. Let's look at how to do that.
How to Teach Your Dog Not to Demand Bark
In some cases, I see demand barking happening during dog-dog play when one dog barks at another to get them to play. In those instances, I simply redirect the barking dog to another playmate that's more interested, or give them something else to do, like a short training session or interactive toy.
If your dog is demand barking at you, think about what it is that they're asking for. If it's your attention, make a plan to train a different behavior that is rewarded with your attention. It can be tough to nail down an incompatible behavior to barking since a dog can bark while still performing different actions. Practicing your timing is key!
For example, you would like your dog to sit for attention rather than barking. If they approach you, train proactively and ask for a sit before they begin barking. Once their rear hits the floor, reward them lavishly with praise and attention! If your dog approaches and sits on their own, have an even bigger praise party. If you miss the opportunity to reward a quiet sit and your dog begins to bark for your attention, ask them to sit to interrupt the barking behavior.
Sometimes even asking for an incompatible behavior to barking just doesn't stop the demand barking. Your dog might be overstimulated and not know what to do with all their excess energy. It can help to increase their physical exercise during the day, as well as providing lots of mental enrichment to keep their brain busy.
When Demand Barking Is Warranted
For young puppies in the middle of potty training, pay close attention to any barking or whining — this can indicate they need to go outside to use the bathroom. While it might feel like demand barking, you don't want them to have an indoor potty accident and set back the hard work you've put into house training.
Adult dogs might bark to get your attention if they need to go outside to potty as well. This has happened to me with my own dogs when they have an upset stomach. I certainly appreciated that type of demand barking, as it saved me from a messy accident indoors and alerted me to the problem. Watch their overall body language for any accompanying pacing or panting — my dog has barked and whined at me and then moved towards the door to indicate she needs to go to the bathroom.
In other cases, what might seem like demand barking to you might indicate your dog is feeling anxious about something. This could be something such as an approaching thunderstorm (our dogs can sense the change in barometric pressure before storms, or might feel the vibrations of distant thunder through the ground). Take into account the whole picture when it comes to the context of barking to narrow down what the underlying cause might be.
Bored dogs often bark because they are under-stimulated. This kind of barking is usually repetitive and has an even pitch and tone throughout. A dog barking because they are bored can last hours if not addressed. Many dogs who bark out of boredom do this when their owner is away, and many owners don't realize their dog boredom barks until a neighbor complains. Giving your dog appropriate and safe things to do while you're home and while you're away is the easiest solution to boredom barking.
It's easy to mistake boredom barking for separation anxiety barking, and vice versa. Setting up a pet camera to monitor your dog while you're away can help you determine whether your dog is bored or if they are barking due to anxiety. Click here to read more about how to use a camera and how to tell if your dog has separation anxiety.
How to Stop Your Dog's Boredom Barking
Exercise Your Dog
Providing sufficient physical exercise can help prevent boredom. If your pup has gotten a good walk or jog in the morning, they are more likely to nap during the day while you're at work. Physical exercise shouldn't be limited to regimented walks — think about other ways you can get your dog more physically active. This might include games of fetch or hide-and-seek, playing with a flirt pole, or chasing a Jolly Ball around your yard (an excellent outlet for herding breeds). Short training sessions are another fantastic way to burn physical energy while also working your dog's brain.
Need more boredom-busting ideas? Read more in "10 Boredom Busters for Your Dog."
Provide Mental Enrichment and Brain Games
Beyond physical exercise, your dog's brain needs a workout too. Incorporate interactive toys and work-to-eat puzzles into your dog's mealtimes. Change up your walking routine and go on a sniffari! When you leave your dog home alone, make sure to leave them with safe and appropriate things to do by themselves. This might be a stuffed KONG or a few different options of chew toys.
Check out our article "Dog Enrichment: Toys, Games, and DIY Ideas" to see how easy it is to provide a mental workout for your pup.
Set Up a Safe Space for When Your Dog is Left Alone
Give your dog somewhere to settle quietly while you're away. This helps prevent boredom barking, but it also helps prevent destructive chewing or your dog from getting into possibly dangerous situations while home alone. Use a crate if your dog has been crate trained and enjoys spending time in their crate. You can also set up a larger playpen or "puppy zone" to give some more room to move about. Learn all about how to set up a safe space for your dog in this article.
Fearful and Reactive Barking
Many dogs will bark when they encounter something that worries or scares them. This type of barking is often labeled as "aggressive" barking and is usually a fear response. Fear-based reactive barking can develop after a traumatic experience or due to a lack of socialization as a puppy. In some cases, reactive barking might even be a result of frustration and is not necessarily rooted in fear.
Reactive barking while on leash is more common than you might think — it's the most common issue I work on with private training clients (followed closely by separation anxiety). Many dog owners are embarrassed to take their reactive dog on walks or worry about what might happen if their dog gets away from them or an off-leash dog approaches them.
Leash reactivity and fearful barking are best addressed by working with a certified canine behavior consultant or a veterinary behaviorist. The goal is to change the emotional response your dog has when confronted with their "trigger" for barking. A certified professional will help tailor a training plan specific to your dog and their triggers and walk you through each step so you can feel confident when you take your dog on a walk.
This type of behavior modification requires:
- Learning canine body language
- Environmental management
- Practicing precise timing of classical and operant conditioning
- Confidence-building exercises for your dog
- Leash walking and emergency leash handling skills
For a more in-depth overview of a leash reactivity behavior plan and tips for what you can start doing right away, check out my Leash Reactivity Yappy Hour:
What NOT to Do if Your Dog is Leash Reactive
If you have a dog who is a reactive barker or is barking out of fear, the worst thing you could do is punish your dog for barking. I talk extensively about the use of punishment in my article "Dog Training Aversives: What Are They and Why You Should Avoid Them." If you punish a dog who is reacting to something because it scares them, adding something unpleasant does nothing to fix the underlying problem — in fact, it only adds fuel to the fire.
For example, if your dog barks at another dog across the street and you give them a leash correction to make them stop, what do you think they learned? See a dog = neck gets yanked (or a tightening of a choke or pinch collar). Dog = unpleasant or painful things happen to me.
While these techniques might work to stop the barking in that instant, all that's happened is the suppression of the barking, not treatment of the fear or frustration. In extreme cases, you might end up with a dog who really does "bite out of nowhere," as their lower-level warning signals have been punished out of them. I cannot stress enough how important it is to work with a certified canine behavior professional who will teach you the correct way to manage and change your dog's fearful and reactive behavior. The potential consequences of incorrect and outdated training techniques can be life-altering (in a negative way) for both you and your dog.
Learn how to screen potential dog training professionals in our article "What You Should Ask a Dog Trainer (and What Their Answers Should Be.)"
Barking Due to Separation Anxiety
Barking, whining, and howling when left alone are the most common symptoms of canine separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a condition where a dog becomes distressed when separated from a particular person or people and can range from mild to severe. In more severe cases, a dog might even injure themselves trying to escape and find their owner. Dogs with separation anxiety cannot help themselves and are not "acting out" on purpose.
Separation anxiety barking can be very difficult for dog owners to manage, especially if they live near neighbors (such as in an apartment). It's also heartbreaking for owners to see their dog so distressed, and in many cases, it feels impossible never to leave the dog alone. Don't lose hope — separation anxiety can be treated!
How to Tell if Your Dog is Barking Due to Separation Anxiety
Setting up a pet camera, like a Furbo Dog Camera, makes determining whether your dog suffers from separation anxiety much easier. Having video means you can monitor what your dog does when they are left alone. What symptoms do they exhibit, and for how long? Do they settle at all while you're gone? Do they do okay for a certain amount of time before starting to bark? Are they barking for other reasons besides anxiety when alone?
As with fearful and reactive barking, treating your dog's separation anxiety barking will be easier and more successful if you have the help and support of a certified training professional and your veterinarian (or veterinary behaviorist). In some cases, anti-anxiety medication can be incredibly helpful in jumpstarting behavior modification and training, and provide your dog with much-needed relief. There are many non-prescription treatment options. Your veterinarian and dog trainer can help you decide what might work best for your dog.
Watch this video about how to tell if your dog has separation anxiety and what treatments are available:
Check out our Separation Anxiety Resources page for more helpful articles on what to do if your dog is barking and anxious when left alone.
Barking Due to Old Age
As your dog ages, you might notice more barking that seems to happen out of the blue or for no apparent reason. This type of wandering barking could be due to a decline in your dog's cognitive functions. Often referred to as "doggy dementia," canine cognitive dysfunction is a neurobehavioral disorder that can happen to older pets. Think of it as Alzheimer's for dogs. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your barking dog may be suffering from cognitive dysfunction, what the best treatment options might be, and what other steps you can take to improve your dog's quality of life as they age.
Dogs can have increased barking episodes due to a variety of other medical conditions and problems, too. Dogs can bark as a result of pain (such as from arthritis), blindness or deafness, elevated blood pressure (hypertension), or even a tumor or increased fluid production around their brain.
A check-up with your vet should be your first step when faced with a dog that’s exhibiting increased barking, especially when it has seemingly come out of the blue or when it’s accompanied by other signs, such as changes in thirst, sleep/wake patterns, or the development of more aggressive behaviors.
Get help for your dog's barking in our Dog Training Essentials: All About Barking Workshop
Includes self-paced training modules and a LIVE 1-on-1 virtual training session with me – all for only $29.