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Excessive Dog Barking

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Excessive barking is one of the most common complaints of dog owners—and their neighbors!  But barking is a natural response that dogs use as a territorial warning signal, or at times of indecision, anxiety, or frustration, such as when isolated from other pack members.  Medical problems can also contribute to vocalization, especially in older dogs.


Most barking problems can be successfully treated to some degree, although it can indeed be difficult to control all inappropriate barking.  Treatment programs for excessive barking in dogs should be specifically targeted at the type of problem, the specifics of your household, the immediacy of the situation, and the type and level of control that is required.  A good behavioral history is important to determine cause, motivation, and possible triggers that reinforce barking behavior.


Socialization and training are essential to prevent excessive barking.  Getting puppies used to as many new people, animals, situations, and noises as possible can help prevent barking later in life.  Crate training is an excellent way to decrease a dog’s anxiety when it is left alone.  Specific training techniques, such as remote punishment or use of a “quiet” command, may be effective in reducing barking problems that do develop.


The goal of training should be to teach the dog what you want it to do (ie, be quiet and settled) rather than to try and teach it what not to do.  Each time you try to discourage or distract the dog from barking, you may actually be inadvertently rewarding the barking (eg, by giving the dog attention or treats to quiet it down).  Yelling and punishment can also make the dog more anxious and more likely to bark.  Instead, providing a daily routine that includes sufficient exercise, play, and training, followed by set times when the dog is taught to settle, nap, or play quietly in a bedding area can reinforce quiet behaviors rather than attention-getting and barking behaviors.


Your veterinarian can provide advice or recommend informational sources (such as books and videos) that can teach you how to alter your dog’s behavior.  However, control of excessive barking can be challenging and may require the guidance of a veterinary behaviorist or professional trainer.

 

Q&A

Why do dogs bark so much?

Barking is a natural response to a variety of situations.  Dogs often bark as a territorial response, or during times of indecision, anxiety, or frustration.  Medical problems can also contribute to vocalization, especially in older dogs.


How can I stop my dog from barking so much?

Most inappropriate barking can be controlled to some degree, but this requires a consistent program of behavioral modification, with the goal of rewarding your dog for being quiet and settled, rather than trying to teach it not to bark.  However, control of excessive barking can be challenging and may require the guidance of a behaviorist or professional trainer.


Can I use punishments or rewards to get my dog to quiet down?

Such approaches are often not effective and can actually make the problem worse by unintentionally rewarding the barking with increased attention or treats.

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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