A barking puppy can drive owners and neighbors crazy. Barking can’t be totally eliminated as it is a natural behavior and a form of puppy communication, but you can teach your puppy to reduce barking.
Why Puppies Bark
Puppy barking serves many purposes. Puppies bark when they play, to greet you (or another animal), or defend against scary or intimidating interlopers. Consider your puppy’s bark as a doggy alarm: it serves as a warning about anything unusual, interesting, or exciting, like a friend or stranger’s arrival, a sudden sound, or an unexpected sight. Rather than trying to fully eliminate the barks, figure out why the pup barks and teach him the difference between appropriate barks and problem barks.
How to Stop Your Puppy from Barking
Once you've determined why your puppy is barking, you can start to train it appropriately. Bear in mind that some puppy mental development is similar to a young child's, so many of the same reinforcement rules apply as you teach your puppy appropriate behavior. Specifically:
- Provide consistent rules and responses. If your response to excited barking is sometimes positive and sometimes negative, your dog will get confused. Stick with the same response to the same behavior, and make sure other family members do the same.
- Be sure there are no physical or psychological issues causing the behavior. If your puppy is frightened, in pain, or feeling ill, it may well whine or bark. Be sure you've taken care of any environmental or health issues that could stand between your puppy and good behavior.
- Use appropriate techniques to train your puppy. Remember that your puppy is just a baby, and it only knows what you teach it. Avoid harsh discipline; praise and kindness and other types of positive reinforcement can help your puppy grow up to be a well-adjusted, well-behaved dog.
- Don't let your emotions get in the way of training. If your puppy whines when it's left alone, you may feel you need to comfort it. When you do that, you are rewarding the behavior and therefore teaching the puppy that whining or barking is the best way to get attention.
Once you've removed barriers to training, you should see good results. If you're still having trouble reducing the amount of barking you hear, however, these tips may help you troubleshoot the problem.
- Don’t bark back. When speaking with your puppy, the tone of voice and body language are just as important as the words you use. For some dogs, barking is a joyful expression. Use a calm voice when addressing your dog. Yelling can make it think you’re joining the chorus and bark even louder.
- Remove the audience. If your dog barks and you come running every time, you reward the behavior. Instead, the instance your pup stops barking, praise it and offer a treat. If it keeps barking, turn your back and leave the room. Most dogs want company, so leaving tells your dog it is doing something wrong. Your dog will learn to be quiet if it wants you to stay.
- Address situations that occur regularly. Barking at the mailman teaches pups to repeat the behavior over and over again. You may want to enlist your mail carrier’s help to eliminate the barking. Ask the postal carrier to feed your pup a treat once it is quiet and praise your pet for being silent.
- Provide door drills. Ringing the bell, knocking on the door, and arrivals or departures can excite or scare shy pups. Create an association between the door and door sounds with good things for the puppy. Stage arrivals at the front door with an accomplice “visitor” loaded up with treats to toss. This helps it to stop seeing visitors as threats. This is a form of desensitization training.
- Relieve the boredom. Many pups bark because they’re lonely or bored. Even if the dog has nothing to bark about, barking may be better than silence. Chew toys that reward the puppy’s attention with tasty treats also fill up the mouth—it can’t bark and chew at the same time. Puzzles and toys like the Kong Wobbler can be stuffed with peanut butter or kibble treats and must be manipulated to reach the edible prize.
- Block scary sounds. Inexperienced dogs hear lots of “new” sounds that may inspire barking. When barking arises from fear, the pheromone product Comfort Zone with D.A.P. may help relieve the angst. White noise machines are available to mask sounds, or simply turn the radio to a normal volume and tune it to static.
- Try a new tone. Tone collars emit a loud, short tone at the first “woof.” That’s often enough to make the pup stop and search for what caused the tone. It eliminates boredom and the barking, often within minutes. However, the collar must be adjusted properly or it can “punish” the wrong dog if a canine friend is barking nearby.
- Curb barks with scent. Researchers found citronella collars to be effective in bark training. Citronella collars give a warning tone first; additional barking prompts a squirt of scent that stops the barking. Some of these collars even have remote control activators.
Because each pup is different, not all the techniques listed above work for every dog. Most training techniques require an investment of time and consistency. If you haven’t seen improvement in three to five days using one of the anti-bark techniques, try a different approach or consider working with a professional dog trainer.