content top

Dogs Bark For A Variety Of Reasons

1) Watchdog Barking serves the dual purpose of alerting pack members that there is an
intruder and warning the intruder that they have been noticed.
2) Request Barking is the dog’s way of communicating to the owner that he would like some-thing
NOW. Typical requests are “open the door NOW,” “pay attention to me NOW,” “let me
out of here NOW,” “I wanna see that dog NOW” etc.
3) Spooky Barking occurs when the dog is uncomfortable about something in the environment
and barks to say “I’m dangerous! Don’t come any closer!”
4) Boredom Barking can result when the dog’s daily needs for exercise and social stimulation
are not met. The dog has gone essentially mad from boredom. Controlling Excessive Barking:
Watchdog Barking
The standby technique is to teach the dog a competing response – such as fetching a certain
toy or doing a down-stay on a mat (which cuts barking in many dogs) for tasty food rewards.
Practice out of doorbell or “intruder” contexts first and then incorporate the game or command
into real-life situations. The dog will need some coaching and prompting the first few times in
the real-life situation so prepare to budget some time for that. Even better, set it up with a
cohort to play “visitor,” so you can focus on the dog rather than being forced to attend to the
person at the door. When the dog is more advanced, you can also incorporate penalties. If he
gets it right, he is rewarded as usual. If he barks, he goes into the penalty box – a back room
or crate that is far from the action. Another technique – high effort but great result – is to teach
the dog the meaning of the words “bark” and “quiet” (or any word you want to use as an “off”
switch). First, you have to teach the dog to bark and quiet on command as a trick.
To elicit the barking so that you can practice, you must use something you know makes the dog
bark, like the doorbell or a weird noise outside (you may need a helper). Arrange the following
1) your command “bark!”
2) the doorbell or other prom
3) barking from the dog
4) praise from you: “good bark!”
5) your command “quiet”
6) showing him the treat
7) his (eventual) distraction from barking by the treat
8)3-5 seconds of quiet during which you praise “gooo-oood quiet”
9) giving him the treat after 3-5 seconds of perfect quiet
10) repeat, gradually lengthening the duration of the “quiet” up to a minute Do it over and over
until the dog knows the game. He knows the game when he barks on the command and
doesn’t need the doorbell anymore, and he quiets on the first quiet command without having to
be shown the treat (you still give him one from your pocket, you just don’t show it anymore).
If ever he interrupts a quiet with even one bark, say “oh! too bad” and start counting the quiet
time from the beginning again. Barking during the quiet time will cost him his treat. You must
be able to yo-yo the dog back and forth reliably between bark and quiet before you try out your
“quiet” command in real situations.
The most common mistake is trying to use the quiet command before it’s well-enough conditioned
in training sessions. Think of quiet on command as a muscle you’re making stronger.
When you can turn barking on and off anytime, anyplace as a trick, you may now start commanding
quiet after a few barks when your dog barks on his own in real-life situations. The
first few times the dog will respond poorly to the command. Don’t give up. Have really good
treats handy. Go back to showing him the treat up front the first few times. Practice makes
perfect. If your dog “goes off” for the smallest sounds and changes in the environment, it
would help the cause to get him better habituated. Take him out more, invite people and dogs
over to socialize, expose him to a wider range of sights and sounds.
Request Barking

When they want something, dogs will experiment with various behaviors to see if any of them
work. They quickly figure out that barking works with their owners. If you don’t like barking,
stop rewarding it with attention, door-opening services, releasing from crates etc. Period. No
buts. Rather than the dog telling you when to take him out, take him out at regular intervals,
making sure none of them are preceded by barking. Don’t let a barking dog out of a crate until
he’s quiet. Ignore dogs who bark at you. Keep in mind that if you have been rewarding it for a
while, the barking will get worse before it goes into extinction. You’re changing the rules and
the dog will be frustrated at first. Whatever you do, don’t crack and reward the WORSE
version of the barking! Above all, start noticing the dog when he’s quiet. Teach him that there
are payoffs for lying quietly, chewing on a chew-toy and refraining from barking.
Barking When Alone

This is a common form of request barking: the dog is requesting that you come back. There is
also often some anxiety involved. When you get a new dog or puppy, set a good precedent
right away. Don’t smother him with your constant presence and attention. Come and go a lot
and never go to him when he’s vocalizing. Wait until he’s quiet for at least 30 seconds so you
don’t risk rewarding the noise making. If your dog already has a habit, you must start a multipronged

1) When you’re at home, don’t let him shadow you around: lock
him in various rooms away from you to practice “semi-absences.”
Reprimand or ignore any barking (ignoring is actually a more
powerful tool). If you choose to reprimand it, burst through the
door, scold the dog and then immediately disappear again, closing
the door behind you. Remember that he’s barking to get you back:
with some dogs, a reprimand is better than nothing so you may be
rewarding him...
2) Practice loads of brief absences every day. Go out and come
back in after 2 or 3 seconds over and over to get the dog desensitized
to your departures. Do it in a matter of fact way, more or
less ignoring the dog whatever he does. Then do outings of 10
seconds, 30, a minute, 10 minutes etc. Mix it up. Dogs who are
anxious need to learn that your departure doesn’t usually mean a
traumatically long period of isolation. Keep all your departures
and arrival greetings low key. Never enter when the dog is barking.
Wait for a lull of at least 30 seconds.
3) Dogs are a highly social species. They don’t cope well with
prolonged isolation. Consider a second dog, daycare or dog-walker
at lunchtime if you work all day.
4) Increase physical and mental stimulation. In a natural environment,
a lot of your dog’s energy would be spent acquiring his
food. He would have to find prey, run it down, hang onto and kill
it and then rip it apart to eat it. He’d have to attempt several finds
and run-downs before he successfully made a kill. That’s work!
Tire him out more before long absences. Walks don’t cut it as
exercise for dogs. Most dogs like getting out and checking out
the environment but it’s not exercise. Exercise means exertion.
Start working your dog out with high-intensity games like ball-fetch,
Frisbee, tug-of-war, hide & seek, free-play with other dogs
etc. Make him work to acquire his food. Hide it around the house,
scatter it in the grass in the backyard, make him extract it from
the hollow inside of a bone or Kong toy (which you also hide),
make him earn it piece by piece for obedience exercises or tricks,
make him solve problems. Your imagination is the limit. Make
your absences predict that his meal is hidden around the house so
that he has to get busy when you leave if he wants to eat. Dogs
are programmed to work for their food. It’s no wonder there are
so many problems related to understimulation.
5) Get him more focused on toys. When you play with him, in-corporate
toys. Hold chewies for him. Teach him to find a toy
that you’ve hidden in the room and then celebrate his find with
tug of war or fetch. Teach him his toys by name. Ask him to
bring you one when you come home. Don’t greet him until he’s
brought it. Then have a vigorous game of fetch. Leave him stuffed
chew toys during absences: fill hollow bones or Kongs with cheese,
peanut butter, cookies or combos. If your dog is anxious to the
point of panic attacks, he has separation anxiety and need formal
desensitization and/or medication. Contact a competent trainer.
Spooky Barking
In this case, it is important to get at the underlying undersocialization.
Socialize puppies extensively to as wide a variety of people and
dogs as possible. You cannot overdo it. Expose them to plenty of
places, experiences, sights & sounds and make it all fun with
praise, games & treats. Find and attend a good puppy class. If
you missed the boat socializing your puppy, you’ll have to do re-medial
work with your adolescent or adult. Whatever it is that
your dog is spooky about must now become associated with lunch.
This is how undersocialized dogs work for their food. If he doesn’t
like strangers, meals need to fed bit by bit around strangers until
he improves. It takes a while to resocialize adults so stick with it.
Boredom Barking
If you don’t have time for a dog, don’t get a dog. Dogs are not
space-intensive, they are time-intensive. If you have an outside
dog, train him to be an inside dog. There is no quick fix here: you
must meet your dog’s basic needs for stimulation, exercise and
companionship. If you have a pet behavior question or would like some training assistance,the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA is here to help!

Visit our website at to view our behavior and
training options, or call our Behavior Helpline at 619-299-7012
ext. 2244 to speak with a trainer. Reprinted with permission from
The San Francisco SPCA The San Francisco SPCA makes this
and other resources available on its website at

Leave a Reply


Skip to toolbar