Dogs bark when they suspect an intruder. They bark when they’re frightened, but they also bark when they’re excited! If this frustrates you as an owner to no end, sadly there is no one simple answer. In fact, the first thing experts told us is that it’s a controversy even in the training community.
“You have these trainers who believe in only doing positive reinforcement training, and when it comes to barking, it’s a much more difficult behavior to deal with,” says Natalie Smith, owner of BauserHaus. On the other hand, there are all sorts of training tools to help deal with barking, and it’s from some of these that the controversy arises. Collars known as ‘bark collars’ or ‘training collars’ can deliver a mild shock whenever the dog barks. While this will significantly reduce the barking, some experts think this kind of punishment has a negative impact on the bond between owner and pet. “You could break a bond that could take six months to build back up,” says The Well-Behaved Pet owner Laura Lawrence. “You want that bond, and you want them to respect you. As soon as you add chains or pinch collars or citrus spray, you’re letting them know If you do something wrong, I will hurt you.”
Lawrence prefers to train dogs through positive reinforcement. She points out that many owners make the mistake of yelling at the dog in frustration, which only confuses the pet. “They think of you as barking when you’re talking,” she notes. “When dogs are barking, people continue to tell them not to bark, using words and not body language. When you use words, there has to be a consequence so they understand what that word means. With every pet you bring into the house, they’re watching your body language first and the words gradually come to them. You have to give meaning to every word. If you say ‘banana’ and put them in the sitting position, and do that repeatedly, they’ll think they’re supposed to sit every time you say ‘banana.’ ”
When the dog barks, Lawrence recommends giving a command such as ‘Shh, no bark,’ and if the dog stays quiet for a few seconds, they should be given a treat. If the dog persists, they should be given the command, then put into a ‘time out’ until they’re quiet. When that happens, let the dog out, but don’t make eye contact. With consistency, the dog will learn that the reason for the time out is their barking.
Because barking is triggered by many different things, Smith says it’s important to determine why the dog is barking before determining the proper course of training. “It all starts with breed. If you are not someone who wants to deal with barking, you shouldn’t adopt a hound that’s going to bark.” Other breeds known for barking include Jack Russell terriers, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas and many small breeds. Some dogs bark because they want attention from the owner, Smith says. “The dog will bark at you until you pet it or give it attention, pick it up or whatever it’s seeking. The dog is training you to do what it wants. Attention-seeking barking is the easiest to eliminate, because you just ignore them.” The trick is to be consistent, she adds. This can be difficult because often it’s easier to just give in if you’re tired or otherwise occupied, and also because each member of the household has to participate.
If a dog barks because of separation anxiety, Lawrence adds, training might depend on how severe the problem is. “If it’s just barking because it’s alone and it’s a mild case, you want to create an atmosphere where they get used to you leaving. They watch you and know your triggers,” she says. If the dog knows you pick up your keys before leaving, pick them up and walk around, then put them back. Another option is to give the dog something safe to chew on, such as a Kong toy filled with treats. If the pet needs to be crated, put them in a well-lit room with the TV on, someplace where the family usually gathers, she adds. “And don’t create a big deal out of leaving or coming back home. Don’t run in the house and go Ooh, I’m home! That creates separation anxiety.”
Ellen Parfenov, owner of Serenity Pet Spa, recommends a product called the Pet Corrector, which comes in an air-pressurized can that makes a loud hissing noise when you push the button. “We tested it with dogs when they were getting together to start a fight, and were showing their teeth. You press it and immediately it gets their attention and they go on their merry way,” Parfenov says. “You get immediate results and after three or four times that you do it, it’s enough for the dog to see the can in your hand and they will not bark.” She adds that although the noise is startling and annoying to dogs, it does not hurt their ears like some ultrasonic products that are available. “You give a voice command when you use it, because once they’re trained you’ll be using voice commands without the corrector for the rest of the dog’s life.” She notes that the command should be given in an assertive tone but without yelling.
Parfenov also recommends aromatherapy for dogs who bark because of anxiety. In her pet spa, she uses a diffuser with a few drops of essential oils containing chamomile and lavender. “It releases anxiety because dogs are oriented with the nose, and it triggers a response to calm down.”