How to Calm Barking Dogs

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How to Calm Barking Dogs

“Their bark is worse than their bite.” This proverb may sound comforting, but barking dogs don't just take their toll on your nerves, but on your neighbours' too. But why do dogs actually bark? And can this annoying yapping be stopped?

Of course, barking is part of a dog's identity and is its way of expressing itself. But when dogs don't stop barking and yapping over a long period of time, you should sit up and take notice: if your dog barks excessively, a serious behavioural disorder could be behind it.

How much barking is normal?

As is the case with us humans, there are both “more talkative” and quieter types. For example, Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Pugs, Appenzeller Mountain Dogs or Sheepdogs are generally speaking classed as more communicative breeds. Mastiffs, St Bernards, Eurasians or Irish Wolfhounds are usually calmer. As long as barking is kept within an acceptable range and the dogs immediately stop barking upon their owner's command, you don't need to worry. However, if your dog barks at every person out on a walk and every visitor and cannot be calmed, there are often other reasons behind this than simply a bark-happy character.

Why do dogs bark?

The fact is that dogs don't bark for no reason. Barking can have reasons ranging from expressing happiness, fear and excitement. In fact, insecurity, fear, frustration or boredom are some of the most common causes for excessive barking.

Barking due to insecurity

If your dog barks at other dogs or people out walking and loudly announces its presence as soon as someone approaches you or your property, the reason is mainly that it feels insecure or fearful. In general, the blame for this insecurity lies with the behaviour of the owner. People who themselves are nervous when other dogs approach them on a walk or who flinch if a horde of children rush over to them transmit this feeling to their dog. You convey the message that you don't have the situation under control and that you need its help. Hence, dogs that bark in such situations believe that their owner needs protection.

Barking due to frustration and boredom

Frustration can be a further cause of constant barking. Dogs that are frustrated because they are under-occupied, get too little exercise and suffer from boredom, for instance, bark whenever their owner enters or leaves the house or when someone comes to visit. In the eyes of the human family, such dogs often bark for no reason, simply because their caregiver is in close proximity. As a result, the reason for loud barking is actually very clear: the dog is looking for your attention! They want you to devote yourself entirely to them, to consider them and to spend time with them.

Barking due to pain

Of course there also dogs that do not fit into these named categories such as insecurity, fear or frustration. Perhaps chronic pains or other ailments connected to an illness are behind their barking. Before you start to break your dog away from the habit of barking, it's recommended to visit a vet. Only by doing so can you exclude without a shadow of a doubt the cause of regular barking being of a psychological nature.

How can I break my dog's habit of barking?

It's not just important to know the background to your dog's excessive barking in order to rule out physical symptoms as a cause, but also to successfully combat it. Only when you know the reasons for its loud clamour can you change this behaviour through targeted training methods. It's important that you initially observe your dog closely and analyse in which situations it barks. For example, if your dog barks at other people when they approach you, this generally means that it wishes to protect you. If you leave the house and drive away without your dog, barking mostly means “I'm bored and frustrated that I can't come with you!”.

Possible reasons for why your dog is excessively barking:

  • Your anxiety can be contagious to your dog
  • Heightened expectation: If you are holding a ball in your hand, your dog will expect playing
  • If you are shouting your dog will think you are barking too
  • Your dog is made to approach a perceived danger and is scared

More sport, less barking

If the latter is the case, your dog urgently needs more exercise and activity. A short walk around the block is only sufficient for very few dogs. Hardly any dogs were born to be their family's “lapdog”, and in the past they often had important tasks and functions to carry out.

Physical and mental stimulation is key

Long walks, little retrieval games, tracking down treats and learning small tricks will satisfy most dogs. If this isn't sufficient, dog sports are recommended as an alternative. Agility, obedience, dog dancing, man trailing or many others: there's something for almost every sporty canine when it comes to dog sports. Doing activities together will definitely have a positive effect on your relationship with one another. You will get to know each other better and build up an important relationship of trust. Dogs that are physically and mentally stimulated generally appear calmer.

Give your dog a sense of security

If a feeling of insecurity or fear is behind your dog's constant barking, you have to convey to your dog that it does not need to worry. You need to construct a new relationship of trust which naturally requires a great deal of patience and discipline. Convince your dog that you possess sufficient self-confidence and authority to sort out your issues yourself. It goes without saying that this isn't always easy and certainly won't work straight away. However, the following examples should give you some initial practical behaviour patterns to demonstrate to your dog:

5 tips to train a barking dog

When the doorbell rings and your dog starts to bark loudly, most owners try to calm them down with words. Since dogs do not understand the meaning of your words and merely observe that you are also agitated or stroking it to give praise when it barks, this means they think they are doing everything right. Hence, the owner's reaction unconsciously strengthens the dog's belief that the situation requires it to intervene.

Stay calm and be consistent

Before opening the door, you should lovingly but decisively relegate your dog to a fixed spot behind you. Show it that you are able to manage the situation. If your dog remains sitting there behaving well and not barking, give it praise. If it still barks, ignore this and give it no attention whatsoever – neither with words nor with eye contact. Your visitor should do the same. Only when your dog has stopped barking – even if this is to quickly catch its breath – give it praise. You can have a pivotal influence on its behaviour by praising the positives and ignoring the negatives.

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In order to give your dog a sense of security during your walks together, you should initially take it on the lead – not as a punishment, but as an extension of your protective arm, so to speak. Don't let your dog lead the way and set the tempo and direction yourself. By doing so, you give your dog a feeling of security and show it that barking is not necessary. Absolutely do not attempt to calm it down with soothing words or a scolding. This will unsettle your dog even more and validate its behaviour. Only offer praise when it stops barking.

Behaviour is similar with dogs that bark because their caregiver has left the home. Only when your dog manages to stay calm in this situation should you offer praise. You're best off practising this step-by-step by leaving your dog alone for certain periods every now and then. You ignore your dog for as long as it barks. When it stays calm – even if this is only for a very short instance – offer praise. This can come in the form of loving words or treats too. 

In general, almost all dogs long for security and structure. They need an owner who consistently shows them the way and who they can trust. One possibility to convey a sense of security is through fixed daily routines and structures they can follow. You decide how the day pans out – not your dog. For instance, start every morning with a little obedience training during a walk. Teach your dog the most important commands and offer praise when it does them right at the drop of a hat. Establish fixed times for meals, walks or games together and show your dog that you are immediately taking the lead. You should only praise your dog for things it has done correctly upon request. Don't punish it when it does something wrong, for instance, barking loudly, but offer praise when it goes quiet upon your command.

When dog schools can be worth it

You can teach your dog a huge amount with the help of such positive reinforcement. Even dogs that have got used to incessant barking over the course of many years can be taught to change their behaviour through consistent training. The older they are and the longer barking has been “part of their life”, the longer the re-education process will take. Even if you don't have puppies though, there's no need to despair: even the biggest yappers are able to quieten down! Don't hesitate to seek help from experts who can give you and your dog individual pointers. For many, attending a dog school or going to see a vet or dog therapist is very helpful as the path to a calmer coexistence.

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