Stop Dog Barking: Why Dogs Bark and What You Can Do About It

When you live in suburbia close to other people, it's essential for good neighborhood relations that you take steps to stop dog barking.

Dogs that don't bark are much more welcome among your friends and neighbors.

But even if you live on an acreage in a rural area, nuisance barking can be, well, a nuisance.

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Barking Collie

Dogs bark for many different reasons. Sometimes we appreciate their barking, for example, if they’re warning you of an intruder. But often they get carried away and have trouble quieting down.

To stop the noise, you will need to find out why your dog is barking and then find the appropriate method to remedy the situation.

We are going to give you the solution/remedies upfront. But if you haven't yet answered the “Why Dogs Bark?” question you should skip ahead to that section and them come back.

1. The Least Effective Method to Stop Dog Barking

If you yell at your dog to “be quiet!” you will undoubtedly startle him into silence.

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Barking Doodle Dog

This is not a good approach to how to stop a dog from barking all the time. Within seconds, he will have decided that you’re another voice in the pack, and it will encourage him to increase his effort. 

Resist the temptation to shout at a barking dog. It's never a long-term solution.

Instead, adopt one of these tried and proven methods.

2. Ignore the Barking

This is harder than it sounds, we know, but here’s why you need to do it: Anytime you pay attention to an undesirable behavior in your dog, you are reinforcing that behavior.

Your dog craves your attention. Even if it’s negative attention to your mind, your dog may not see it that way. He got you to pay attention to him, so he will be motivated to repeat that behavior.

Ignoring unwanted behavior is an essential step in eliminating it.

Instead, you need to catch your dog in the act of NOT doing that behavior. For example, when he starts barking inappropriately, ignore the behavior until he stops barking. Then, very quickly, reward your dog for being quiet.

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It may take a while for him to make the connection, but if you do this consistently, he will.

Next, gradually lengthen the time your dog needs to be quiet before he gets the treat. He will learn that you withhold attention when he barks, but when he’s quiet, he gets both your attention and a treat.

This method is useful in training a lot of dog behaviors. For instance, it works well if you want to stop your dog from barking in a crate.

But for some dogs, you may need a more powerful arsenal to stop dog barking because it is such an ingrained behavior for most breeds.

3. Train Your Dog to be Quiet on Command

Teaching your dog the “quiet” command takes ignoring the bark one step further.

But before you can teach your dog to be quiet, you first have to teach him to bark on command. Teach him “speak.”

The American Kennel Club (AKC) outlines a four-step training regimen to do that.

  1. Find an object that gets your dog excited enough to bark.
  2. Get him to bark by waving the object around, or even knocking on the door or ringing the doorbell.
  3. As soon as he barks, reward him.
  4. When he is doing it consistently on command, add the verbal command “speak” and/or a hand signal.
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Once he has that down, it’s time to train for “quiet.” Use the same technique, but this time, after he speaks, say “quiet” and reward him while he’s quiet.

It’s important to get the timing right. Do not reward him until he’s finished “speaking.”

When he understands and quiets on his own, gradually increase the duration he must be quiet to earn the reward.

When he is reliably quieting on command, try using the command in situations where he is distracted, maybe when there are a lot of people in the house and it’s fairly noisy.

Once he’s doing this well, you may want to add distance to the training sequence. Gradually give the quiet command from a spot farther and farther away from your dog.

When he knows this, you will be able to command him to be quiet even from another part of the house.

4. Desensitization

To an Auditory Trigger

Desensitization is a good way to stop a dog from barking at the door. You can train her to stop reacting to the doorbell or a knock.

To do this, go outside the house to ring the doorbell, leaving your dog inside. Ring the bell repeatedly, with a short pause between rings.

Your dog will bark, but as you continue to ring, her barking will gradually slow down and become less intense. Lengthen the pauses between rings until she eventually stops barking.

You will need to do this every day for a few days or a week, as long as it takes for your dog to learn to ignore the doorbell completely.

The next step is to have other people do the same thing—others in your household, neighbors, etc., anyone you can recruit to help.

Don’t let your dog see you (or anyone else) come through that door following this exercise. Use another entrance to get back into the house.

The idea is to have her not associate that bell ringing with someone (who could be an intruder) coming into the house.

You can use this exercise for many different situations. For example, you could use a recording of fireworks, a thunderstorm, or the sound of other dogs barking—anything that triggers your dog to bark in an unwanted way.

We should note here that another name for this technique is “flooding,” and many dog trainers and behaviorists don't recommend it for situations where your dog is fearful, such as thunderstorms.

You certainly don’t want to terrify your dog, but there are times when a little discomfort now might save him a lot of misery later. Ultimately, you will have to be the one to decide what your dog can handle.

To a Visual Trigger

Desensitization can also work well with visual triggers, e.g., if you want to stop a dog from barking out the window. In this case, you would use treats to reprogram your dog’s response.

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As soon as you see someone about to walk by (but before your dog starts to bark), start giving your dog treats.

While the person or dog—the trigger—is in sight, keep feeding treats. When they have moved by your window and are no longer in sight, stop the treats.

Your dog will eventually learn to associate the visual trigger with good things, and it will no longer be a trigger to bark.

This method can also work well to stop a dog from barking at other animals on a walk.

5. Teach an Incompatible Behavior

Another activity that trainers recommend to stop dog barking is to train him to do something else instead.

Take advantage of your dog’s difficulty with multitasking to redirect him from the unwanted behavior.

An example of this could be “go to your place.” To train him to do this, use an object that you can coat or fill with peanut butter, such as a tennis ball or a Kong. Teach him to “take it,” so he will take the object in his mouth.

Once you’ve interested him in the treat, set up a mat for him in a corner of the room (if he doesn’t already have one).

Take the treat from him and toss it onto the mat while you say, “Go to your place.” (For extra motivation, you might have some smaller treats hidden in the mat.)

When he is reliably going to his place on command, try using the command the next time someone knocks on the door. Tell him, “Go to your place,” before you answer the door.

The final step will be to start phasing out the treats. By that time, your dog should be associating his mat with a happy place and should go there gladly.

He will also come to see visitors at the door as a positive thing. (“Doorbell? Oh, boy! That means treats!”)

If your dog needs a little extra motivation for this one, use especially high-value “jackpot” treats to help him along (something extra special that he doesn’t get very often).

6. Keep Your Dog’s Body and Mind Busy

Is your concern: how to stop dog barking when you leave home?

The following tip might work for you.

If possible, start by exercising your dog before you leave. If she’s tired, she is less likely to bark from frustration, boredom, or loneliness.

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This is good for a short-term solution, but you will also want to have a regular exercise program. Insufficient exercise is at the root of many dog behavioral problems.

Take your dog's age, health, and breed into consideration. Plan an appropriate amount of daily exercise for her and stick with it. You might even consider hiring a dog walker for the middle of the day.

You should also be sure she has something to keep her mind stimulated while you’re gone. Try using toys to keep her mind busy. Something as simple as a Kong stuffed with yummy treats could keep her licking and nibbling for hours.

Or you could try more complicated interactive toys where she needs to push a button or slide a lever to get the treats.

Another tip to stop dog barking when she’s home alone is to play the radio or television, whatever she’s used to when the family’s home. It should help to ease the loneliness of a silent house.

7. Anti-bark Collars

Collars designed to stop dog barking more or less automatically may be the solution for some dog owners. There are four types of collars used to stop dog barking behavior.

Spray Collars

These collars release a spray of citronella-scented liquid into your dog’s face when he barks. These can work, but they can also backfire. Some dogs learn to put up with the smell and bark until they empty the canister.

Ultrasonic Collars

These dog barking collars emit an ultrasonic tone that humans can’t hear but dogs hear easily. They work well for many dogs.

Vibration Collars

These collars send a vibration to the dog’s neck to stop it from barking. These don’t seem to be as popular as the other three types and are a little harder to find.

Static Shock Collars

These use a mild electrical shock each time the dog barks. These can work very well, but there is, understandably, some controversy over whether using a shock collar is a humane way to train a dog.

Shock collars are adjustable in the intensity of the shock they deliver. In many cases, dogs need only a minimal correction, just enough to get their attention but not enough to be painful.

One manufacturer recommends testing the minimal setting on your own wrist if you have any doubts.

But not all dogs will respond as expected to the minimal shock. For those that don’t, shock collars probably aren’t the best option. Turning the signal up to a level that they respond to might be painful to them.

In addition to the ethical issues associated with the use of shock collars, this kind of correction can cause some dogs to become aggressive or to shut down. It could negatively affect your bond with your dog.

Because there are painless alternatives to training your dog not to bark, we would consider shock collars a last resort.

8. Dog Barking Deterrents

Ultrasonic dog barking deterrents are a different type of bark-control device. These work by emitting a high-frequency sound, just as the ultrasonic collars do. However, there is no collar involved with these. Instead, the owner controls the tone with a hand-held unit every time the dog barks.

A long-range device is also available that works automatically to stop barking from any dog within its range (usually around 50 feet). This device could be a great solution to the problem of a neighbor's dog barking; just hang it from a nearby tree, and it will do its job.

9. Dog Barking Apps

There are also a number of smartphone apps designed to stop dogs from barking. They all work slightly differently. One mimics a dog whistle to stop barking. It emits a high-frequency noise, much like the ultrasonic collars.

Others can connect to a camera at your home so you can monitor your dog’s behavior and give corrections through your smartphone.

All of these apps have strengths and weaknesses. Many people swear by them, but others say they don’t work well at all.

The good news is that most of these options are inexpensive, so you don’t have much to lose if you would like to try a dog barking app or two.

10. Get a Second Dog

Some people choose to get a second dog to keep their lonely dog company.

This can work, but be prepared for twice the expense.

You will also need to have a backup plan if it all goes wrong, and you end up with two barking dogs and twice the noise.

11. Choose a Breed That Doesn’t Bark

Believe it or not, some dogs don't bark at all. The Basenji is a nearly silent breed that doesn't bark, but they do vocalize to some degree. There is no breed of dog that is guaranteed to be silent, but some are quieter than others.

Following are some other breeds that rarely bark:

Why Do Dogs Bark?

There are many reasons why dogs bark. After all, it’s the best way to communicate to humans when something is wrong with themselves or their environment.

Two Barking Dogs

Of course, all dogs are different, so they won’t all bark for the same reasons all of the time. But some general guidelines may help you determine why your dog is barking excessively and how to stop it.

It’s in His Blood

Some breeds are known to be barkers (many terrier breeds, for example). It may be impossible to control barking completely from these dogs.

Physical Needs

Your dog will let you know when he’s uncomfortable—hungry, cold, or ready for his walk, for instance.

Not Getting Enough Exercise

Dogs that don’t get the exercise they need will find a way to release pent-up energy. Some will dig, some will chew, and some will bark incessantly.

Emotional Need

Many dogs who are bored, lonely, or anxious will bark for attention. If your dog lacks social or mental stimulation, her barking may be compulsive.

Loneliness

If she’s a breed prone to separation anxiety, she may bark from the time you leave the house until the time you return, hours later. (After all, she reasons, if she barks long enough, eventually you do come home, right?) If you suspect your dog may be doing this, ask your neighbors. There's an excellent chance they'll be happy to tell you.

Environment

If a dog is left outside all day with no company, especially if he’s tied up all day, he may bark excessively. If unusual things are going on in your neighbor (like construction or strangers or unfamiliar dogs coming and going), he may feel threatened or insecure.

Territorial Feelings of Protectiveness

Many dogs have watchdog tendencies and will bark at anybody they feel is an intruder. In their minds, they’re only doing their jobs of protecting their families.

Attention-seeking

It’s possible your dog feels he’s not getting enough attention from you. Barking is one way he may choose to express that. Or maybe he wants to play ball. You can train him to find better ways to let you know.

Fear/Aggression

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Aggressive Barking

This often happens with dogs when they are confined, or in response to other dogs being actively aggressive toward them. Fear puts a dog in the”fight or flight” mode. If he is confined and “flight” isn’t an option, he will go into “fight” mode, which usually begins with barking.

Do Different Barks Have Different Meanings?

Different barks do seem to have different meanings. Researcher Stanley Coren, Ph.D., writes for Psychology Today that dogs use different barks to communicate different things.

By the decoding of pitch, duration, and frequency, he was able to categorize dogs’ barks into:

  • Alone barks,
  • Aggressive barks
  • Play barks
  • Food guarding barks
  • Greeting barks, etc.

He discovered that not only could other dogs recognize the messages in the different barks, but humans could, too.

He even created a kind of “dog bark” glossary. In it, he gives examples of five types of barks and their meanings.

For instance, he writes that the most common bark is an alarm bark that means something akin to

Call the pack; something needs investigating!

He describes it as a fast series of two to four barks with pauses in between.

A long string of incessant barking with pauses between each one he calls a loneliness bark. He also describes a more urgent alarm bark, a greeting bark, and a play bark.

Dog barking is a relatively new field of study. But it seems likely that dogs have a communication system that they understand among themselves.

Studies are also showing that most human-dog owners can decode many of their dogs’ barking styles as well.

Interestingly, humans were also able to distinguish their own dogs’ barks from another dog’s bark most of the time. The major exception was for aggressive/fearful barks.

The Evolution of Barking

As well as being able to understand our dogs’ barking messages, at least one study shows that we (humans) may also be responsible for them.

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A Hungarian researcher named Csaba Molnar noticed that wolves and dogs in the wild rarely bark. He believes that humans directly or indirectly selected for barking when we began breeding dogs.

This means that early humans may have deliberately chosen dogs that bark for breeding so the dogs would have a means of communicating with them.

Or, they may have been bred for other things, like friendliness to humans, for example, and the barking was an unintended trait that came with it.

In another experiment with foxes in Russia, a group of domesticated foxes (which are also canines) barked when they saw people, but wild foxes did not.

So, what does this mean for humans now? At least two things.

  1. If there are patterns to dogs’ barking, humans should be able to learn to interpret them, just as we learn any other language. We should be able to tell when our dogs are barking because they’re lonely or because they’re afraid.
  2. When it comes to problematic barking, we may have created the very monster we’re trying to vanquish!

Luckily, though, if a behavior can be created, it can often be “uncreated” as well (or in this case, controlled).

But before we look at effective ways to stop dog barking, let's look at one approach that doesn't work.

Conclusion

Barking is a natural activity for dogs; therefore, it would be a lot to expect of a dog to eliminate its barking completely. It is, after all, a dog’s primary form of communication.

But there are situations where a dog’s barking causes problems for its housemates, and in particular, its neighbors.

We’re confident that if you try one or more of the methods detailed here, your neighbors will thank you. You can successfully stop dog barking in your home and yard (and maybe in the neighbors’ yards, too!).