Dogs bark for a variety of reasons; it’s a natural and important method of communication. Common causes include excitement, play initiation, fear and an alert of danger. Occasional, appropriate barking shouldn’t be discouraged. Persistent barking is not suitable for the domestic environment and can be curbed.
Identify the cause of barking. Common causes of persistent barking include attention seeking, fear and boredom. Observe the dog and monitor changes to his environment to determine the cause of barking. If it occurs only when the doorbell rings, he's likely trying to alert you to possible danger. If it occurs only when you bring out the vacuum cleaner, it could be caused by fear.
Remove all distractions, such as other dogs, food or toys. In order to correct barking, you need a controlled environment. Simulate the environmental conditions that tend to cause your dog to bark. For example, if the barking is related to anxiety when you leave, put on your coat and grab your keys as if you were leaving the house.
Neutralize the barking stimulus by introducing pleasant consequences. For example, after leaving the house or room momentarily, return and give your dog a food treat. Similarly, bring out the vacuum cleaner, but leave it turned off and place a food treat next to it. This builds a positive association. If the dog barks only when under-stimulated and bored, create a routine with regular periods of play and training that challenge the dog both physically and mentally.
Ignore any barking. In the early stages of training, the dog will react to the stimulus by barking. If you fuss over the dog at this stage, you reinforce the unwanted behavior by showing that barking results in attention. By ignoring the dog and behaving normally, you teach him that barking has no positive consequence.
Reward periods of silence. In situations where your dog usually barks, reward him for not barking. This reinforces his understanding that not barking is the preferred behavior. Use whatever motivates your dog as the reward. Some dogs respond best to food treats, other dogs respond better to play. Praise your dog — "Good boy!" — when he does what you want.
Teach the "speak" command. Bring out a ball or other item that signals play and allow the dog to become excited. Use food if that's what stimulates him. Anticipate when he will bark by observing body language. If necessary, use other stimuli to prompt barking, such as the door bell. Just before you think he is about to bark, say "speak." Give the toy or treat to the dog immediately after he "speaks." This shows the dog that barking when he hears the command has a positive outcome. Teaching him to speak enables you to reward appropriate barking and curb inappropriate barking.
Teach the "quiet" command (after he has a solid grasp of "speak"). Issue this command after allowing the dog to bark and give a toy or food reward as soon as the dog stops barking. Once the dog learns that the "quiet" command immediately precedes a treat, he will learn that not barking has a positive outcome. You can then use this command to correct minor indiscretions.
- Don't discourage all barking. Dogs bark when excited or when trying to warn of intruders. These are healthy, natural instincts that enable the dog to communicate.
- Never yell at your dog or use negative reinforcement. This can make the barking problem worse, especially if the barking is driven by fear, and damage your relationship with your dog.
- Give your dog breaks during training sessions, and don't be discouraged if you have to go back and retrain some steps. It might take several sessions over days or weeks for each step. Consult a certified professional dog trainer in your area if needed.
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.