Q: Why does my dog bark so much?
A: It’s important to get to the root of the issue because there are many different kinds of barking:
- Reactive: when your dog sees someone walking by.
- Territorial or fear: when your dog spots an approaching dog on a walk to say, “We don’t want to fight, so stay back! This is my place.”
- Boredom: he has no other outlet to release energy when he’s sequestered all day.
- Separation anxiety: he barks incessantly when you leave.
How to deal with each type of barking
When your dog barks at passersby, remove the stimulus by closing the blinds or putting your dog in another room. If he’s barking at the door, train an alternative behavior. Teach your dog to “go to your mat” near the door. When there’s a knock or doorbell, ask him to go to his mat, then praise and reward him with treats when he does. Practice by knocking, then direct him to the mat and give a treat as soon as he gets on it. The goal is to show your dog that going to his mat yields goodies, but only when he’s quiet.
Territorial or fear barking
If your dog barks at an approaching dog on a walk, redirect his attention and help him focus on something fun. Ask him to sit or shake and reward him with treats. Or, turn and walk the other way fast, which shows your dog he can get away from that other scary dog without barking.
First, make sure your dog is getting ample exercise and enrichment activities. Play with him, take him on lots of walks on different routes (the same old route is boring to your dog), and provide chew and puzzle toys. Look for food toys that dispense a treat on a timer or when your dog is quiet. Most importantly, when your dog is barking, avoid yelling. Barking is social—to your dog, it sounds like you’re barking along with him!
If your dog has separation anxiety, talk to your vet or get a referral to a behavior consultant.
No matter what, avoid using electric bark collars that give your dog a mild shock. Even at a low level, it hurts, it’s scary and it may exacerbate the underlying condition. Your dog may become more anxious and frustrated so that he acts out in a different way or escalates the behavior.
Expert advice provided by Mikkel Becker, certified trainer specializing in dogs and cats and certified behavior consultant for vetstreet.com.