Last week’s post on teaching dogs “Enough,” when you are tired of being a petting machine, elicited a request from reader Nana-Mary: “Speaking of our two dogs, I would love some tips on controlling the BARKING! I know that we don’t want to discourage ALL barking, but sometimes it gets way out of control. It’s like a game. They seem to bark to get the other one riled up. I would love to hear how to make them STOP!!”
Whaaa? Barking? Dogs? In my first month of working as an applied animal behaviorist, I literally asked a potential client–who was calling about a barking problem–to repeat herself because I couldn’t hear her. Because–you know where I’m going here–my dogs were barking.
Unlike adult wolves, who rarely bark, most domestic dogs are veritable opera singers, from bass-playing Great Pyrenees to soprano Miniature Poodles. Of course, some dogs are more vocal than others. One of my favorite online jokes is “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to see it . . . A Chihuahua 500 miles away will bark at it.” [From ifunny.co] On the other hand, some dogs seem to have taken a vow of silence. Skip has barked twice since we got him almost 3 years ago. Each time, only one note: Boof. Like the dog in the children’s book, Only One Woof, by James Herriot. Bless him. I’m not a fan of noise, and it doesn’t take much to send me out of a room, holding my hands over my ears.
This photo cracks me up. I knocked on the door to get Maggie to come and bark, which she predictably did. Is Skip barking out the window with her? Nope, he’s trying to lick my face, which made getting a shot a bit tricky.
Maggie, unlike Skip, is quick to bark at visitors, cars coming up the driveway, trucks slowing down on the road, and, I swear, sometimes that tree that fell 500 miles away. So, I sympathize with anyone who would like to be able to say “Enough” to barking, not just to a solicitation for full-body massage. Maggie isn’t perfect, in that one quiet word from me does not result in her going full-out mute, but she’s pretty darned good now. Here are the most important things I’ve done myself, and advised clients to d0 that are generally effective.
DON’T BARK BACK! Most importantly, please please do all you can to refrain from barking back at your dog. Because that’s what yelling “Stop Barking!” or “Shut Up!” or saying anything, printable or not, in a loud voice is, right? Dog gets loud, you get loud back, and there you go, Bob’s your uncle, the pack is barking its head off. Barking IS contagious, that’s why it’s so much harder to squelch it if you have multiple dogs barking together. So keep it down yourself, hard as it might be sometimes.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE ALERT: If your dog is barking because there is something they think you need to know about–a car in the driveway, visitors–then I like to thank them for alerting me. I go to Maggie, look out the window with her, and thank her for the warning. “Oh yes, Maggie, thank you. I see that a branch fell down in the woods and made a thumping noise. Good to know.” Does it help? It does with Maggie, and it seems to have helped many clients, but I’m sure it wouldn’t work with all dogs. The issue, of course, is whether going to your dog is a reinforcement for their barking, or acts to relieve your dog of the burden of being the only pack member who SAW THAT A BRANCH FELL AND YOU ALL MIGHT DIE IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT IT. You need to know your dog here, but you might give it a try if you haven’t already.
SET IT UP: Get your dog barking when YOU control the stimulus. Knock on your own door, or ring the doorbell, then follow the steps below. Now there is nothing for your dog to continue to bark at, so it’s easier to distract and reinforce them. This way you can start with an easy win and build up from there.
DISTRACT & REINFORCE: First, figure out a cue you want to use like, “Quiet Please,” or “Enough,” and pair it with something highly desirable and distracting. I started with Maggie by going to her when she was barking with a piece of cooked chicken in my hand, holding it to her nose and luring her away from the window. Once I knew that worked, I paired it with “Quiet” cue. Gradually I stayed farther away, phased out the chicken, and reinforced her with praise and play. Note that this simple explanation requires working your way up, step by step, to “real” life when your dog sees something barkable out the window.
BE PERSISTENT: Like your dog is when she’s barking, right? Maggie now comes away from the window when asked, but has trouble not belting out a few more woofs. I keep her busy–I ask her to do tricks, throw one of her toys, or anything to keep her mind off THE KIILLER BRANCH OUTSIDE. Sometimes I ask her to go into her crate (which she and Skip do for visitors at the drop of a hat), where she might bark a few times but is easily ignored because she’s in another room and it’s not very loud. I have to say, that since I’ve started going to her and acknowledging what’s she’s barking at (“Oh good girl, I see the deer across the road too, aren’t you clever!), I’ve found it is much easier to get her to stop once I’ve asked..
STAY CALM: I know, easier said than done if you have three dogs going at it at 110 decibels and you’re waiting for a raid from OSHA to fine you for a noise violation. But the more agitated you are, guaranteed, the harder it is to calm your dog and get them to be quiet.
MULTIPLE BARKERS?: First, everyone reading this please take a moment to sympathize. It’s one thing to quiet one dog, another altogether to stop a pack in full voice. As said above, barking is contagious. My best advice is to work at one dog at a time, put the others away in another room while you’re doing it, and set each dog up by pretending to be a visitor. (I should note that I rely often on having taught my dogs to go into another room (away from the doors, and where their crates are). I consider it as basic a cue as “sit” or “down.” If I was teaching a family dog training class, I’d include it!)
That’s the basics, but below I’ve copied my post from 2017, which is more detailed. I’ve amended it a bit, but hopefully there’s enough here to help get someone starting on having a quieter house.
I love it when my dogs bark as someone drives up to the farm, and I’m not alone in appreciating being alerted by a dog. Masai villagers keep dogs, they told me, because they bark when lions try to break through the thorn bush barrier to kill their cattle. Tulip, our Great Pyrenees in years past, began low, deep barking whenever she heard coyotes. In addition, her barks saved her own life one cold and snowy night–she would have died if she hadn’t barked at just the right time to help us locate her, trapped under a log in the woods.
In other words, barking is good. It’s a wonderful way of communicating, from alerting us to visitors, to signaling “help!”, to intimating individuals with dangerous intents. So yup, barking is great. Until it’s not.
Few people have a problem with a dog barking a few times. It’s how to stop the barking once one has been alerted or warned that is the challenge. This must be the derivation of one of my favorite book titles ever: HELP! I’m Barking and I Can’t be Quiet, by Daniel Estep and Suzanne Hetts of Animal Behavior Associates. Of course, it’s not the dogs who are bothered by continuous barking. It’s us. When I recently asked blog readers what they’d like to talk about, “problem barking” was number one on the list.
Aware that too much barking is a problem for many of us, I thought it would be interesting to review what a range of experts say about the issue. I delved into all the books in my library that have sections on barking. Initially I was planning to review everyone’s advice but quickly realized that I could spend many hours doing so, and most everyone’s advice came down to a few suggestions, most of them very general. I’ll just summarize by saying I was a tad surprised at how little detail there actually is on teaching dogs to stop barking–lots of advice was so general that I doubt any novice training could use it effectively. But then, stopping a dog from barking isn’t easy. If it was, I suspect I wouldn’t have gotten so many requests to address it.
It makes sense that “barking” is a tricky issue because first, there are so many different types and contexts that elicit it. From “Yo, put my dinner bowl down already” to “Oh No No No, the UPS monster is walking up the driveway,” the motivations for barking are numerous and varied.
I thought it would be helpful to begin thinking about how to deal with problem barking with advice from one of my all-time favorite classics, Karen Pryor’s, Don’t Shoot the Dog. With a tip of the hat to Ms. Pryor, here are her 8 ways to deal with any problem behavior:
Method 1: Shoot the Dog. Effective, but a bit draconian. In our case, a riff on this method would be exchanging your dog(s) for aBasenji. Except, Basenjis still vocalize and the sounds they make are, well, weird. Or you could get a cat, a lizard or a hedgehog. Individuals of these species are easy to teach to stop barking, because they never start.
Method 2: Punishment. As Ms. Pryor reminds us, (positive) punishment is a very common and human response, along with being ineffective and the least benevolent way to handle the problem. In my experience, yelling is probably the most oft-employed and the least effective method employed by owners when dogs won’t stop barking. I describe yelling at your dog to stop barking as doing little but barking back. Since barking is contagious, how would this cause your dog to stop? I found that it helps Willie and Maggie to stop barking when I join them at the window, look in the same direction as they and very quietly say “Yes, I see that. Thank You.” That is literally the opposite of yelling at dogs to stop them from barking, and I swear it seems to help them settle down.
Other oft-used punishments include spraying with water or “bark collars” that shock the dog when it barks, either automatically or because the owner hit the button. I am not a fan of “bark collars,” and that is putting it mildly. (I’ll leave it at that for now; I started writing more and realized it needs an entire blog. But see Turid Rugaas’s book Barking: The Sound of a Language for an important reminder that barking is an important part of canine behavior.) With rare exceptions, Method 2 is a lousy one. Moving on.
Method 3: Negative reinforcement. As example of this would be to stop yelling when your dog finally becomes quiet. You’ve taken something away (your yelling) to increase the frequency of your dog being quiet. Except, see Method 2 for a reminder that yelling is basically barking and accomplishes little but a sore throat for you. Dogs can seemingly bark forever without getting tired, but yelling is no fun for most of us. Moving on. . .
Method 4: Extinction, or letting the behavior go away by itself because it is never reinforced. This actually can be an effective method for many problem behaviors. It’s a tricky one with barking or whining however, because dogs seem to be able to do this for eons and eons with barely a pause. But, it could be effective for dogs who have learned to bark to get your attention. Just be prepared for the “extinction burst” when they bark five times as long before finally giving up. Moving on . . .
Method 5: Train an incompatible behavior. Jackpot! This is what works best for most of us. I’ve trained Willie and Maggie to stop barking when visitors come by teaching “Enough,” which to Willie, probably, means “move away from the window, come over to Trisha.” I’m not even sure he equates it with “no barking” (it’s hard to teach a negative after all, as in: “Don’t think about red!”). But I don’t care, because all I care about is the behavior. I say “Enough,” he stops barking, although I sometimes have to work to keep him from starting again. I deal with that by asking Willie to go pick up a toy after he gets a treat. Harder to bark with a toy in your mouth…
Barking appears to be almost involuntary for some dogs in some contexts (note I said “almost”) and I think it’s up to us to help them find ways to do something besides barking. This is, of course, especially tricky with barking because dogs can do any number of things while still barking. Sheila Booth in Purely Positive Training suggests teaching puppies “Quiet” by putting a tab of peanut butter on the roof of their mouth in association with the word. I’ve never tried this but it sounds like it has potential: Dogs can’t bark when they are sucking on peanut butter. But be careful that it doesn’t contain Xylitol and don’t use too much. Anyone tried it?
Method 6: Put the behavior on cue (and then never ask for it). I’ve suggested this to several clients, and did it myself with one of my Border Collies years ago who was a problem barker. Also a possibility, but it does feel like going backwards to some people, and can be a bit harder than it sounds.
Method 7: Shape the Absence, or reinforce “anything and everything” that is not the undesired behavior. This could be tricky with barking, because there’s usually not much time between barks. I certainly use this once I’ve gotten a dog away from the door/window and it’s focused on me, but you have to start by distracting it in my experience. Anyone else?
Method 8: Change the motivation. This might be described as another way of using classical conditioning to change an animal’s interior motivation or emotional state as a way of changing external behavior. A Functional Analysis perspective on this is to change the Antecedent conditions in the ABC formula of Antecedent, Behavior, & Consequence. (See Dr. Susan Friedman in her Living and Learning with Animals course and her many seminars and workshops for an in depth analysis of using clear and humane science-based methods to influence behavior. I’d advise moving heaven and earth to attend as many as you can.)
I’d guess that I’ve used this and Method #5 more than any other two, both in my career as a behaviorist and as a dog owner myself. In the case of barking, it works beautifully for dogs who are alarm barking because they are nervous about visitors. If visitors toss treats before entering, the dog begins to associate visitors with good things instead of threats, and the fearful barking is replaced by tail ways and silly grins. (See The Cautious Canine for details on how to do it.)
I trained “Enough” by first manipulating the environment or antecedent conditions to make success more likely. I simply loaded up with treats, walked to the door where visitors enter and knocked on it. Willie started barking, and as he did I said “Enough,” and moved a treat to his nose. And by that I mean one inch away from it, or less. When he focused on the treat, I used it to lure him away from the window just one step and then gave him the treat.This was all relatively easy, of course, because there was no real visitor and no other trigger for the barking than my knocking twice on the door.
That was step one; the next steps involved asking him to move further away from the window before getting a treat, or doing it when there was someone standing outside the window. I started with friends who wouldn’t mind standing there for longer than usual while we did the training. Each step was done one at a time, and gradually I began to put the elements together. I should say here that Willie still struggles not to bark when people are at the door; he does what I ask but then a bark will burst out of his mouth as if he belched. I actually feel for him, he clearly is trying, but I’m asking something very hard for him. That is part of why I help him by asking him to go get a toy. Nothing wrong with a little distraction.
I should add here that I also taught the BCs to run into a back room into their crates when visitors come. It was easy to teach, and it feels as though it is easier for the dogs to do than stand at the door and not bark. (Willie at least.) Just another example of teaching an incompatible behavior and changing the environment–they are much less likely to bark if they are standing at the window watching visitors get out of their car.)
It’s much easier for Maggie to stop barking when asked, but Tootsie has some barking issues too that we’ve basically ignored for a while. Writing about barking has motivated me to get working on polishing things up–so thank to all of you who asked me to write about it. I’ll keep you posted.
The last thing I want to say about barking to those of you who struggle with it is to first write down in detail exactly what barking bothers you, what elicits it and what you’d like your dog to do in its place. And please join in with your own experiences: What barking bothers you, what doesn’t? How have you handled it? What has worked best, or not worked at all?
BACK TO THE PRESENT: Well. That was a lot. Perhaps you were tempted to say “Enough!” to me? But, hopefully, it will be helpful; barking can be a tricky issue to deal with–no quick answers I’m afraid. Care to join in the bark fest? What do you do? What don’t you do, which is as important? I hope this helps Nana-Mary, not to mention others, let us know!
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Winter arrived with the time change, but a girl can still work in the garden if she puts hand warmers in her nitrile gardening gloves, right? It’s been in the 30’s, but I can work outside for an hour or so before my fingers get too cold. Jim, bless him, fills the wagon up with mulch, and I weed, weed, weed in the ice cold soil, and then spread the mulch. (Thank you Duluth Trading Company for your lined pants! They keep me so toasty.)
I love our colorful tubs from Gardener’s Supply. Here’s the garden I’m working on, the Day Lily garden that is a riot of color in summer.
There are still a few flowers blooming, like this native Honeysuckle Vine. Love it.
A girl can’t live on flowers alone. I made a carmelized onion, bacon, and cheese quiche last night. Yum. Does eating lentil soup for lunch make up for it?
It’s only appropriate to close with a photo of a dog! Here’s a shot of Skip I got a few weeks ago, during the evening after-dinner walk. He’s looking, of course, for the sheep.
Here’s to beautiful skies for all of us. Let us know your best tips for stopping barking on cue. I’m all ears!
I live with a pair of Great Pyrenees with the exceptional hearing of the breed. As Livestock Guardian Dogs their genetics mean they know everything that happens in a five mile radius and, apparently, are required to comment on all of it. In short, they bark–a lot (the perils of living in the suburbs with them). I manage it by going out when they’re barking and thanking them for letting me know. Once they see that I know they usually stop. The interesting thing is that doing this I’m learning to recognize what the barking is about even before I go out the door to them. I can tell when a package was delivered and the delivery person didn’t pet them vs when the package was delivered next door and the delivery person didn’t even acknowledge them. I can tell when it’s commentary on the dog barking five miles away and when it is them announcing “help needed” because the toddler next door is walking around without a grown-up. That one I actually find a bit frustrating. We’re the last house on a dead end street. I have a little free library with a couple of toddler size chairs. The parent or grandparent is letting the toddler walk by themself the approximately 50 feet to the chair sit and look through the Little Free Dog Library (an addition to my LFL where I put toys my dogs have decided they don’t care for anymore). The parent or grandparent is standing at the end of their driveway watching but the toddler is getting to feel very grown up going for a walk by themself. The problem is my dogs don’t connect the adult watching to the child walking and they don’t think the little person should be unattended. We’re working on it.
I do have to share one amusing if one barks they all bark story. D’Artagnan was sleeping downstairs and Falkor Bash was with me upstairs. D’Art barked once in his sleep and Falkor went flying downstairs barking his head off to back D’Artagnan up. D’Art woke up, heard Falkkor Bash barking his head off and joined in to back him up. They ran from room to room looking out the window trying to figure out what the threat was. They realized there was no threat and stood in the living room yelling at each other about false alarms. I was laughing so hard they were so disgusted with each other for calling an alarm when there was no reason.
Oops, I gotta go thank the dogs for letting me know about that leaf that is acting very suspicious.
Jeanine H says
I had 2 beagles whose barking my neighbor called “the opera at the window”. I used your method #5 to teach whisper, which got a muffled “mmff” from them. They could still bark, but with their inside voice! Being beagles it worked only sometimes! One of them was always so happy. He’d barkbarkbark when we were out walking; I always imagined he was just telling the world how happy he was to be out. I never corrected him or asked him to whisper at that time, because he was just expressing joy. Now that he’s gone, some neighbors tell me they miss not hearing him. Who doesn’t love a beagle bark/howl?!
P. J. Grath says
Oh. My. God. I am halfway through a cross-country drive and had to stop early in the day yesterday because of snowy, icy road conditions. When we are at home, my 11-month-old Australian shepherd barks when a car drives into the yard or someone comes to the door, but she stops as soon as she realizes it’s a friendly visitor. (Then we have to focus on not-jumping rather than not-barking.) But in a motel, no one is coming to our door. They are just walking past, talking outside, opening other doors, etc., etc., and she takes every incident like that as a cue to bark her warning. LOUD warning. I kept her on-leash all night so she couldn’t run to the door. Endless night! And then your post arrived in my e-mail. Nothing could be more timely. I’ll be working on this before the return cross-country trip in spring, you can be sure!
P.S. I thought this night would never end, and I may not have been the only one in the motel to think so.
Jill Leggio says
Our BC is not much of a barker. However, he has one bark which I’m now familiar with that took a while to figure out. He barks at dolphin that are swimming in the river in back of our house. The sound of their breathing makes him nuts. Who knew!
Chris Wells says
Thank you for this subject. In the past all my dogs were raised by me from puppies and I never had trouble with barking. They alerted me and it was over. I am grateful I only have one dog that barks. My Golden Retriever has maybe “woofed” 3 times in the 7 years she has lived with me. But my rescued Terrier type dog, Chili Bean, knows when a car hits the gravel road a mile from our house. We bark at squirrels, that’s a happy bark, we bark at deer, that’s a challenging bark, but the sound that comes out of him when a car pulls up to our house is a pitch that is hard to describe and it doesn’t stop. I am definitely trying the peanut butter since my dogs regard that as a high value treat. Both dogs can hear you remove the lid from the jar several rooms away! I am guilty of barking back even though I know it doesn’t work so I will do my best to change course. I also will add that Chili’s alarm bark for visitors is the same bark he uses when he has discovered a rattle snake. I know instantly when he has spotted one, I go out to get him and be sure of where the snake is. He then follows me when I ask him to come to the house and barking is over. But for visitors there is no end to the barking, especially if it is a stranger and not someone who regularly comes to the house. I just need to work more diligently on the stranger danger barking,
Judy Chaet says
The oldest old man only has to make a quiet “oof” and then the youngsters all go full out alarm. I guess they trust his instincts?
In the house I go to the window or door and look, thank them and then distract with a toy or lets go see what’s over here! And we usually go either get a toy or treat for them following me and leaving the window.
When we are out on a walk it’s a different story entirely. My dogs who can walk around at an agility trial with hundreds of high drive excited dogs around and ignore them all,with scarcely a glance, go ballistic in the neighborhood while walking and any innocent dog walks past. I have trained them to come sit in front me me, and quietly look at me. Even better if they look at the dog -quietly!- and then back at me. Tons of rewards.
Then in the backyard I have learned to distinguish what they are barking about. Like Kat, I vet learned their oh no! There is a deer, or bear, nearby! From the that little dog next door is out and the delivery person is here . I generally try and see what’s going on that started things, say thank you and call them to me. It took quite a bit of time and training to get them to come off of what can be very reinforcing for them.
I think stopping or controlling barking is probably one of the number one issues for people. And it seems like it is very hard to help folks carry through with all of the sometimes slow, but necessary, steps needed to control the behavior. I’m guessing that’s it’s right up there with reasons that dogs end up in shelters. I’d love a resource that explains the steps simply and effectively so that the average pet owner would be able to follow through. Know of one?
Thanks Trish, as always your blogs are enjoyable, informative and thought provoking.
Debby Gray says
One thing that has helped me ( and I hope my dog Monty too) us to put ” Bark” on cue and then put “Quiet” on cue.
This works well when we are driving to a favorite walking place. The barking starts as soon as he realizes where we are heading. When the barking starts with 3-4 miles still to go, I can say” Quiet” and treat. He will treat the “quiet” like a trick and pound his paws asking for more treats, which he gets as long as there is no further barking. Then when we make the last turn I say ” bark” and Monty barks the rest of the way to the parking lot. No treats for this. Reaching the favorite spot and the barking itself is the reward.
For other barking about things he sees from the house windows, I also try to go to the window and comment on what I see ( though often I see nothing!)
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Post has been printed, and I can’t wait to get started!
Wendy S. Katz says
My heart dog had that “you HAVE to know about this!” attitude. Thanking her from across the room didn’t cut it, but if I walked to the window, acknowledged the thing and thanked her, she would come away with me. On the other hand, sometimes the boys would bark at something frivolous; she would go check it out and then silently turn away with a contemptuous expression on her face. She was also the only dog I’ve ever had who was discerning enough to crack a pistachio, extract the nutmeat, and leave the shell. She’s 14 years gone and I still ache for her.
Curtisy Briggs says
I have three dogs and two of them are young (2 and almost 4) and they are half-brother and half-sister. They frequently engage in rough play and wrestling and jumping on each other, and bark at the top of their lungs while doing this. Is there any way to stop this? I want them to play–just don’t want them to bark like this, and I can see it increases their arousal, so they get rougher with each other. I’d appreciate any suggestions–thanks.
As you said, stopping a pack of dogs hysterically barking is a big job! The old blind Shih Tzu only barks when he needs to go out (good boy!). Jax (born feral weirdo) also barks to go out, but is happy to join the others in full howling barking mode when someone who has the temerity to walk down the street is spotted. Dusty (Chow mix) is the last to join the serenade and the first to stop when I tell them “Enough!”. Brody (Saint/Rottie mix) is the worst. He watches out the front window nearly all the time, guarding the pack from that suspicious mail carrier, the dreaded Amazon delivery guy, and particularly people walking their dogs down HIS street. He even starts in when Alexa says there is a person at the front door… before he can even see anyone! He also barks just fine with a stuffed toy in his giant mouth. He apparently has no clue that barking his ‘stranger danger’ alert with a big pink bunny hanging out of his face isn’t very scary. Needless to say, the noise of three big dogs barking is deafening. I have had some success with doing this: I go and look out the window, say “Thanks. I see it.” Then I lure Brody away from the window into the kitchen with a treat while adding “Enough!”. Where he goes, the other two follow. Everyone gets a treat and there is blessed silence until the next time. It’s an ongoing process.
Lynda Costello says
Two Newfoundlands. One barks when necessary or playing. The other one barks a lot. To alert, to say he wants something from family or the other dog. His whole litter are barkers. He’s a work in progress. And he’s great!
M.H. Deal says
When I adopted my 14 year old Dutch Shepherd rescue, I was told not to encourage his barking because in the kennel he’d been trained to bark as an alert for drugs for the handler. During his three years with me, he barked only twice. Once when we saw a police K9 demo with a bite sleeve [an activity at which he had excelled] and again when we attended a protection sports dog weekend competition at Cher Car kennel in St. John, Michigan. When the bite sleeve was discarded against the fence, Jiri ran over to try to get at it. He also barked at dogs going throughtheir paces. I suspect he was giving the dogs advice. Other than that, when we did therapy visits and he was surrounded by preschoolers, he did only one “woof” which gave him some space.
Through the animal communicator after Jiri’s death, he said he barked because he was so happy to see other dogs doing at what he used to excel. As for the “woof” that was to remind
kids to be respectful of him, then he would be respectful of them. Dog of a lifetime.
Marcia McGinnis says
We have two PBGVs who bark, or really aroooo! together and sometimes in harmony. Friends where we train them in many performance sports say they love it. But we have a window seat that looks out to the front yard and street where neighbors with their dogs, cats, squirrels, possums, UPS, the mail carrier, and occasionally other critters pass by. When the chorus begins, I may also “bark” to knock it off when the song reaches multiple verses. When I have presence of mind, I can call them to the cookie jar, and will praise them for “coming.” I fear I’m just reinforcing the singing. The PBGV AKC standard includes the statement that PBGVs should be “free of voice.” They definitely are!
My parents raised cocker spaniels and we lived a block from a highway where emergency vehicles with sirens blaring would pass, setting off the kennel of cockers. Because there were a few neighbors who complained about the dogs, we would yell “shut up!” out the door. Our parakeet whose cage was near eventually had “shut up” in his vocabulary.
Cathy Balliu says
My 4 border collies sleep in crates in another room. When they hear me awaken (and I’m vewwy,vewwy qwiet lol), they all start barking. And they back until I reach their crates. I’ll admit I’ve been barking back and I do know that that merely encourages the conversation but I’m stumped about what to try next. Any thoughts?
I once had a Cattle Dog who woke me every now and then with a restrained bark. Usually a mild “Enough” from me did the trick, however, one night my “Enough” wasn’t enough. For the better part of an hour he continued to utter a somewhat stifled “Woof” every few minutes. You’d think I’d be concerned, but he wasn’t acting alarmed and never even moved from his bed. I ignored him and eventually fell back to sleep. The next morning imagine my surprise when I discovered all the horses were loose and milling about in the back yard. The moral of the story: your dog isn’t always just a barking fool. Sometimes they know more than we think.
Our Shetland Sheepdog, Kammeron, barks at some unusual — as well as the usual — stimuli. The usual ones are Amazon and other delivery trucks in the driveway; “killer” branches or heavy rain or hail hitting the skylight; UPS trucks driving anywhere near our house; visitors at the door (family as well as strangers); & neighbors with or without dogs walking by the house. The more unusual provocations: paper shopping bags and using the Guide to surf channels on our t.v.!
We go to the window and thank him for alerting us to whatever “danger” has set him off — it mainly slows him down. But NOTHING seems to work well with paper bags or channel searches on the tv. We’ve tried making him approach, sniff, & touch the paper bags, but he won’t stop barking until they’re moved into the garage. As for the Guide to tv channels, I had partial success standing between him & the tv & backing him away from it. Lately my husband is having more success by asking him if he wants to “go into time out.” Surprisingly, that appears to work equally well with him & with our two grandsons, ages 6 and 9. We follow up with a verbal reward – if and when they comply!
Anne: Paper bags? Oh, that’s a new one. And I have to add, that I was tempted to change “chihuahua” to “sheltie” in the post! The breed is high on my list anyway, of super star barkers. Thanks for chiming in!
Ah, rontuara, how right you are! Just this morning Maggie started barking at nothing, and I said “It’s okay, Maggie, I just made some noise in the kitchen.” She got quiet, but then the mailman drove away from our front door. It just snowed, so I heard nothing, but eagle-ear Maggie knew!
Cathy Balliu: Barking back? It is okay if I’m laughing out loud? If you want to change things, (it sounds sort of endearing from here–because I can’t hear it?), maybe teach “enough” as described? Maggie will whine to get us up and we say “Go lie down,” and she will.
Marcia: Love the parakeet story! Good thing “shut up” is all you yelled!
MH Deal: What a wonderful story about your Dutch Shepherd!
Carole: Sounds like you’ve done a great job handling the full-blown opera in your house! The image of Brody with a pink bunny in his mouth, while barking like a junkyard dog, is hysterical!
Ah, Custisy, barking while playing is as tough one! Maggie will bark, an ear-splitting, high-pitched ARF, when we play fetch with her. I just stop and stand still til she’s quiet, then start again. I think I’d try something like that–a “stand still” or “stop” cue or “lie down” when they get loud. See if that works!
Oh Wendy, your story made my heart ache too, just reading it. How lucky she was in your life!
Good luck Nana-Mary, keep us posted!
Love the barking on cue Debby! It’s often a good method, but hard to pull off for many people, so kudos to you for your training skills!
Judy: I love that your dogs key on “the old man” and take his cue. Good on you for handling what sounds like it could be a challenging choral group! Have you seen Dan Esteps’s book, Help, I’m Barking and I Can’t Stop? Ie admit to not having looked at it in years, but I love the Estep’s work, so it’s worth checking out. https://www.amazon.com/Help-Barking-Cant-Quiet-parenting/dp/0974954233
Chris, love that Chili Bean has a rattlesnake bark. Not something many of us worry about! My Great Pyrs all had different barks too. My favorite was the “announcement bark,” given as if to an audience the actor could see, while walking up the hill. I am 100% I knew what it meant: “Guard dog on duty, and I’m coming through!”
Jill L: Wait, wait, a dolphin bark? Okay, you win the prize for most surprising bark generator!
PJ Grath: Oh, I’ve been there with Willie! He used to bark at people walking by motel rooms. Exhausting. Maggie picked it up but after Willie died it wasn’t very hard to get it to extinguish. It helps hugely that Skip, Mr. Mute, is there. In part because she feels so secure with him around. It’s fascinating to see how her behavior has changed since Willie died and we got Skip. (Hmm, subject for a blog?)
Jeanine H: Love the happy beagle bark. Will you forgive me for not always loving a barking dog, but I love your story and that you never corrected the happy bark! Happy is the best!
Kat: I love your stories about D’Art and Falkor. Amazing that they bark to an unattended child. I would be skeptical, except I trust you completely, and have occ’ly seen other dogs make the same distinctions. You’ll appreciate a client I had once who called with a barking problem. He lived in the suburbs, had two GPs who he let out ALL NIGHT LONG (yup, I’m yelling), and wanted me to stop them from barking. I struggled to explain that his dogs were doing EXACTLY (there I go again) what they were bred to do. Good dogs! I think I finally convinced him to not get a bark collar, as many had advised, and let them in at night.
I have two older spaniels and a younger rough collie.
He has superb hearing and therefore can alert us all to many things outside the house, some that no one else can hear. Trains, lawn mowers, squirrels chattering, dogs across town and maybe even those that live outside town! We are alerted to them all.
I tried your go to the dog approach and receive the alert, then had him change his focus to me and get a reward. It’s been about 12-18 months now and he now will bark (less volume and frequency) in the house, and at times I’m pleased to notice he has come to where I am and lay down waiting for his treat! Thank you!
He can still lose his mind outside barking, last time it was a thunderstorm who would “bark” back. I couldn’t get him to come to me or let me approach him. So there’s always something to work on, like me paying attention to the weather forecast!
I’ve joked that he has to bark, to prove to the world that he exists. I bark, therefore I am.
Pat Moss says
I had a darling Mini Dachshund who barked for many, many different reasons. One of the ways to shut her up that worked for me was to start talking to her in a whisper, which intrigued the heck out of her. She would get quiet in order to listen to me.
Debra Morgan says
This is one of those teaching moments that is very breed specific. Yes, I could have commanded our previous dog, a Border Collie, to find a toy and distract him from barking. But that will not work for our current dog, a rescue terrier/whippet. We live on the very end of a quiet peninsula in Maine, only a handful of houses, and yet she manages to find a million things to overreact to each day. Peanut butter might help…
Strangely enough, the other side of the coin is that I miss my dog’s bark. He’s 14 years old, sleeps a lot and is almost deaf. He stopped barking I assume because he can no longer hear all those noises that used to get his attention. I did get to hear his voice yesterday – one loud raspy bark that made me take notice. He led me to the window to point out his nemesis (squirrel) in the bird feeder. Sometimes the house just seems a little too quiet.
Pat: Love the whisper idea!
Barbara: Awww, made me all gooey.
Oscar used to start barking as soon as I started preparing his food back when he was a pup. Living in a Berlin apartment the neighbours weren’t happy with us at all. I did the exact opposite of what he wanted me to do. I believe he was telling me to hurry up and feed him. So everytime he started barking I would stop making his food and turn to the window. When he stopped I continued. In the beginning it took some self control for me to not start telling him off. But after a couple of days the problem was in the past, he never barked again. Oscar has taught me many things over the years. He is the very best teacher for young dogs. When they get annoying he will just lie down and ignore them which is so much more effective then telling them off.
Also I wanted to thank you Trisha for continuesly writing your blog, I always enjoy reading your updates on sheep work your garden and your thoughts on dog training! One day I hope to be able to do sheep dog training as well. But for now I will stick with my working Golden Retrievers doing dog sports and dummytraining living in my Berlin apartment.
Our podenco does not bark in case of visitors, not even when the bell rings. Whenever he barks to warn us about something, thanking him really helps (Thanks a lot for that suggestion, it works magnificently!). But hell breaks loose when he sees an animal fleeing (a cat, a squirrel, a deer). Then he screams insufferably loud, so shrill that people come hanging out their windows to see who is being mistreated. It is typical of podencos, but quite annoying, as it is a blood-curdling sound. Also when he finds a track, he freaks out like this. I now distract him with rewards when he needs to be quiet because I don’t want to wake up the neighbourhood at midnight. I’m not sure there is much else I can do about it, given that it is linked to his intense prey drive.
Oh my goodness! I have a 6 month old golden retriever puppy that is driving me nuts! I have never had a dog that barks so much. I do not mind barking to alert me to something outside but she barks about everything!! She wants to go outside, come in, I left the room, she is confined, she wants my other dog to play with her, she gets bored at class… the list goes on and on. Her bark is very high pitched and irritating. I started working on teaching a bark command but she has yet to bark when asked. My other dog, a 4 year old lab, will bark when asked which scares the puppy and she takes off making the training challenging. I have tried thanking her, making a different noise to distract her and out of frustration yelling. None has been very successful. I have found the thanking them very successful with other dogs in the past but since she uses barking as her main form of communication I am not sure what to do in the other situations. I have been considering getting one of the speech buttons for her to ask to go outside. I had a bell but the lab was constantly just playing with it. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I should note that my lab is overall a very quiet dog though she does know if she barks while outside I will call her in and she gets a cookie. Being a lab that means she does a certain amount of barking just to get a cookie.
Ooooh, Rachael, I sympathize. A LOT. I would struggle with such a loud dog too. My first thought when reading your comment was “Why is this dog so aroused?” If she was mine, I would wonder about her food, whether Chinese medicine, massage, etc etc. would help. I get that she is just inherently vocal, but I can’t help but wonder about her internal state. My other thought is that she’s 6 months old, and possibly going through a lot of disturbing physiological changes. Maybe she’ll get quieter as she gets older. For now, I’d do all I can to ignore it when possible, especially if for attention or cuz she’s bored. Maybe even just leave the room, or put her in a crate, no comment from you, (and no energy to bounce back at her). Not at all as punishment, just a clear and simple consequence. Won’t help at class, for example, but maybe class not best for her now? Anyone else? Jump in to help keep Rachael sane!
Jana: I had to look up “podenco,” (thank you! love learning about this breed. did I mention they are gorgeous?) and the first site said “Tendency to bark: Low”. LOL. But it also said that they are a hound, which seems contradictory to me. I think distracting and reinforcing quiet is your best bet, so good on you. (Headphones for you and your neighbors?)
Alice R. says
Love this topic! I was lucky to have access to a good and caring trainer who said something in class that helped me handle many things: “You have to be more interesting than what has their attention”. This led to me calling my barking puppy away from the window or door by jumping up and down, dancing around, making happy excited noises, and calling his name while throwing turkey around the kitchen. It worked like a miracle and I now have a dog who will stop barking to run to me wherever I am. I also teach “bed” when the door bell rings so he barks then runs to his bed to see if it is company, take out, etc. and stays until released. The barking stops as he has something to do. He’s a bit of a nervous Nellie so it gives him a chance to asses the situation from a safe distance as well.
Jealous of how beautiful your garden will be in spring; you are so ahead of the game. I’ve been fighting a neck problem since early spring so mine has had the bare minimum and less than that all year. PT is helping, but I’m a little daunted by what I’ll face next year when it comes back to life.
That last photo is breathtaking…as is that quiche, yum!
Alice R: Love the training methods; please send video! 🙂
I have to share this story from today when I rewarded the UPS guys by yelling at my dogs. The dogs were barking their “we’re getting a package” bark so I went out to collect it. Unfortunately, the truck failed to behave appropriately. During the holiday season UPS is sending out teams, a driver and a deliverer, to save time. While one runs the package to the house the other can turn the truck around. The problem is my dogs are used to just one so the truck stays put when the driver is running the package down the driveway. Today there was a guy coming down the driveway and the truck MOVED! This was clearly WRONG WRONG WRONG so they’re barking their heads off about that. I had just picked up the package and the delivery guy was almost back to the truck when I called to the dogs in the corner barking “Thank you, guys.” The delivery guy turned and waved in appreciation for being thanked and the dogs shut up. I’m still laughing. All the guys dogs and humans alike were appropriately appreciated, lol.
John Verona says
When I was a mischievous teenager in a century far far forgotten I would walk home from my friends house at night. I would bark to see how many suburban dogs that Would answer me. Yes I was a wild kid.
In our country lot our dogs sleep in our bedroom where they cannot look out any window to warn us about rabbits, raccoons, etc.
Steve Kalko says
I wrote this awhile back, it’s been pretty effective in many cases. I actually have video of the results after a few days.
Pyr’s excessive Barking
A Pyr can bark for a little more than a few different reasons, but there is always a reason. If they’re not injured or ill, then they’re most likely on duty. The breed is known to stay with the flock within their boundaries, and their first line of defense is their extraordinary hearing ability, then their vision. If they hear a potential threat, they will try to verify it with sight, while trying to intimidate it to stay away, hence the bark. If they can’t verify the threat is gone, they will stay committed to their job, that’s what they are bred to do. The part some people don’t know is, when the bark changes somewhat, they are seeking assistance from another guardian. The other guardian doesn’t have to have 4 legs and long white fur.
What can be done
The key to relieve the excessive barking from your Great Pyrenees is a successful partnership. The Great Pyrenees work in teams and protect by dissuasion and intimidation. Never forget, there is always a reason a Pyr barks. One of the reasons is medical, a Pyr that doesn’t feel good, is a grumpy Pyr, so make sure you clear the medical first. The perquisite to the partnership is, your Pyr needs to know he/she can turn to you for help, guidance, approval, and protection. If you don’t have that, then your Pyr is probably “ruling the roost”, and you won’t have a say, you’ll need to work on that first. For almost everyone else, if you have excessive barking issue outdoors, then you most likely have the issue indoors too, and that’s where you start. Please understand, every Pyr parent sees their Pyr through different eyes and have different expectations. Every Pyr has a different personality, and rescues may have unknown backgrounds like neglect, and/or abuse, and nobody knows your dog better than you do. There are no textbook technics. If you don’t feel comfortable doing something with your dog, then don’t do it! Reach out to someone that knows your breed. Rescues can usually point you in the right direction. Ok, back to the barking. When your Pyr goes to the window to bark, they’re doing it because they see a potential threat. Go to the window with your dog, kneel with him/her, see what they see, thank them for doing their job, talk to them, then call them away from the window, then give them a different job. A job= peanut butter Kong, puzzle toy, snuffle mat, or something that stimulates their brain. If you have multiple dogs, there will be one that always barks first, partner with that dog, the others should follow.
Then it will be much easier to “clock them out” outdoors.
Chris from Boise says
P.J. Grath “Oh. My. God. I am halfway through a cross-country drive…” We too are on a Road Trip With Dogs – our two alarm-barking border collies. We feel your pain, but I can share what has worked tremendously well for us. Every time the dogs barked at a strange noise in the motel, we showered them with Really Good Treats. It seems counter-intuitive to ‘reward’ them for barking, but we weren’t training them, we were trying to change their emotions about strange noises. It wasn’t long before they connected the noises with Opportunity For Treats, and would turn to us as soon as they heard something, bypassing the barking altogether. Within an hour, nicely sated, they were able to dismiss the motel sounds and settle down with frozen Kongs, then fall asleep. In the mornings, they’d alarm bark when startled awake by the first early risers – startling us awake too – but I had a cup of treats on the night table and we’d play the Opportunity For Treats game again and they’d settle down. One key is to remain completely neutral or even cheerful; if we are even a little grumpy about the barking, the dogs pick up on our mood and ramp it up. Every night we had to play the game less. We’ll get to play the game again on our way home in a few days. (I suspect this would work at home too, but it’s so much easier to do in a short, concentrated time than with the intermittent barking around the house when we’re not focused on it).
Trisha – I know what you mean about your winter arriving early. We’re huddled in Milwaukee visiting family, thanking the gods that we packed enough longjohns and layers to be able to take the dogs for walks in this frigid, blustery, wet cold. Mike pointed out this morning how different our crisp dry Idaho winters are. We’ll wave as we drive by on the way home.
I have to share this story from today when I rewarded the UPS guys by yelling at my dogs. The dogs were barking their “we’re getting a package” bark so I went out to collect it. Unfortunately, the truck failed to behave appropriately. During the holiday season UPS is sending out teams, a driver and a deliverer, to save time. While one runs the package to the house the other can turn the truck around. The problem is my dogs are used to just one so the truck stays put when the driver is running the package down the driveway. Today there was a guy coming down the driveway and the truck MOVED! This was clearly WRONG WRONG WRONG so they’re barking their heads off about that. I had just picked up the package and the delivery guy was almost back to the truck when I called to the dogs in the corner barking “Thank you, guys.” The delivery guy turned and waved in appreciation for being thanked and the dogs shut up. I’m still laughing. All the guys , dogs and humans alike, were appropriately appreciated, lol.
Judy Thompson says
Here is a little funny story about my encounter with a barking golden retriever about 30 years ago. I was an estimator for PG&E and was figuring costs to move gas meters from back yards to side yards where they would be accessible. At one residence two loose dogs came running down the driveway barking at me. One was a beautiful golden retriever. I looked at the golden and said “Your a golden retriever!” The dog immediately sat down and wagged its tail at me. I love this breed and have had six of these dogs (usually two at time) in the last 25 years. Most where very quite except for one out of hunting line that barked at rocks!
Sophy decided at around 8 months that she was now responsible for warning the household about possible threats – lacking the experience to decide what was and was not potentially dangerous she barked at every falling twig dropped by the jackdaws trying to nest above the back door. They dropped a twig every few minutes… Stepping between dog and noise, checking, then thanking calmly worked eventually. It would probably have worked faster had I not regularly snapped and joined in the barking! From there it became easier to tell her other things were Allowed, and Enough. Poppy, following 7 months behind, learned partly from Sophy and partly from me. Some things take more than just saying Enough! – an attack by the window cleaner’s terrible flapping brush requires singing the Flappy Flappy Bang Bang song until he has finished, preferably in another room!
Then came Freddy, with two older dogs to watch and imitate. I realised the true meaning of those warning barks when the dogs were out in front of the house and an unknown labrador suddenly came round the corner of the house next door. Sophy let out a single sharp woof and Freddy headed for home like a streak of lightening. Totally instinctive response to a warning of danger. He now joins in the alert barking when appropriate, but has never barked at anything and everything as Sophy did when young.
He is, however, prone to barking when it is time to go out. I tried the usual – moving away from the door at every yap and only going towards it when he was quiet – and it helped a bit, but then I remembered Sophy’s response to unwanted puppy noise: a very soft Hmmmmm grumble in the back of her throat, and I tried that. Instant silence. No startle, no confusion, no dropped tail or other placatory signals, just an immediate understanding that it was time to be quiet. Whether it would work with a dog not raised by a Sophy I do not know, but it has to be worth a try!
Frances, I LOVE these stories. Especially the warning bark–one note–like a wolf, and the quiet growl you used! I might give that a try.
Trisha- thanks for the resource I’ll look for it.
Drools hypoallergenic says
Thanks for sharing these methods. My dog sometimes barks continuously and didn’t stop, I think I can try these methods on her.
Sarwar Abdullah says
I’m having a problem suddenly with my American Bullie being behaved when someone asks to meet him, then on occasion getting in their space barking over and over.
Needless to say, this scares people and the majority of the time he is friendly and patient when I’m visiting.
Makes me apprehensive to stop and visit strangers when they really want to meet him as it could be the one he reacts to.
He is just two and had been pushing his boundaries a but.
Looking for a corrective measure to avoid those situations.
Any help it’s appreciated!
Sarwar, two years of age can be tricky, and I worry too about your dog scaring visitors. Best for sure is to contact a progressive trainer or behaviorist in your area and make an appointment. You can look for a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist in your area by going to Applied at
The Animal Behavior Society,
Sarwar Abdullah says
Okay. Thank you Trisha
This is my first time commenting on a post – I decided to add my experience because it is so frustrating when they won’t stop!
I have a 2 year old miniature Australian shepherd who is very reactive. We did the “teach bark/quiet” when she was a puppy and it did help. She would get so riled up and intense that it was hard to get her to focus at all to hear me. I ended up using a spray bottle – really a plant mister – to get her attention. She hates it so much she would move away and it would break her concentration. I’ve also used the hose outside in a similar way. It took her a couple of times to make the connection….My person looked, and thanked me, and said enough and then I got sprayed. It was fascinating to see her figure it out…Now I can be watering plants all around her and she hangs out near relaxed (I can water all around her) and if a dog walks by she will look at the hose and decide not to bark. So not a total cure but helpful. If I don’t have the hose she may or may not listen as well. She can be swimming, and if she barks at another dog and doesn’t stop I’ll splash water near her and she makes a different choice. I wouldn’t have created her dislike of being sprayed, but it does help. It seems to reset her brain just enough to think again.
And like the rest of you I’ve learned her barks! She has her “there is a friend coming” bark, her demand bark, her “there is a possum outside” bark, etc.
The other day she hit the back door and barked with all her fur standing up to tell me there was a vulture out front. Aussies were also bred to tell people things, and her level of communication is really amazing. I definitely have to get up and go see what she has noticed before she will stop – I just need her to stop at that point
I have active rowdy kids – if it was just her and me I might be able to use different methods more successfully, but it’s very hard to teach calmness when you get the puppy relaxed and they run screaming through with nerf guns!
To Joy: A barky Aussie and rowdy kids? I suspect I’d retreat drooling into my closet and never get out!