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An End to Excessive Barking

Up to one in seven dog owners identifies excessive barking as a concern, says the American Veterinary Medical Association. Barking dogs also constitute the majority of animal-related complaints in some locales, the organization says. And the complaints can get legal, leading to eviction proceedings and other actions.

Dogs bark for as many reasons as people talk: to communicate with each other, as a warning to people or other dogs, to help ensure their own safety, and simply to shoot the breeze, so to speak. Some just like to “yak” more than others. But they inhabit the same world we do, and sometimes a dog’s incessant or ill-timed barking becomes too disruptive.

Is there a way to make a dog less talkative that does not involve de-barking surgery — a solution decried by every group from the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association to the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals? They liken it to other operations that provide no medical benefit, including ear cropping and tail docking. The answer is yes.

Training your dog out of over-barking

Training a pet not to bark is not difficult. But like any training, says the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, “it does require time, energy, consistency, and a commitment to long-term care and understanding.” You have to make room for it in your schedule and also call up your store of emotional reserve. If you’re ready for that challenge, here are the four steps you need to succeed. Let’s use the hypothetical of a dog that won’t stop barking when someone comes to your home.

1. Ask someone you know but who your dog might not be familiar with to come ring the bell or knock on the door at a pre-appointed time. Let them know they’ll be investing some wait time to help you and your dog.

2. Your barking dog will immediately run to the door and begin vocalizing. Use a single word cue — “shush” or “enough” — and say it just once, calmly and cheerfully but briskly.

3. Now, wait patiently for the dog to do his part. He will. Just keep relaxed and do not pet your dog or gesture in any way. (Make sure the person on the other side of the door knows to ring or knock just once and only once.) The dog will quiet down, if for no other reason than that he needs to take a breath.

4. At the exact moment your dog finally stops barking, even if you know he plans to start right in again, reward him with warm praise and a wonderful food treat for complying with your cue.

You are going to need to repeat this exercise — a lot — over the course of several days, or even a few weeks, until your dog gets the hang of it. And each time must be like the first. You cannot lose patience or show any exasperation, or it won’t work. Dogs see your annoyance as a form of engaging with them, and that will goad them on.

Image at top of page courtesy of © Yastremska | Bigstock

Caption for image at top of page: Trying to out-bark your dog probably won’t work to quiet him.

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Tufts Your Dog