Excessive Barking: What It Means and How To Cope

By Daniel Stevens and Martin Olliver

There are guaranteed to be some occasions when your dog's barking is going to be inconvenient, but this doesn't mean that you have to view your dog's vocalization as an intolerable irritation. You could choose to look at it more constructively: your dog is trying to communicate with you. In order to cope with and control excessive barking, you need to understand what the reason is – and then take steps to remove the stimulus.

Different Barks & Their Circumstances

If you can spend some time watching your dog, you'll find there's a fair bit to be learned about the different barks he uses and why he's using them. If you can learn to recognize these and then pair them with the circumstances in which they typically occur, so much the better.

  • Boredom. This is a major problem for a lot of dogs. Some can handle being by themselves for long periods of time (for example, the average working day), but the truth is that it's really hard on most dogs. Barking is something your dog can do to relieve the boredom, and to give himself something to do. A dog barking out of boredom or loneliness will usually do so repetitively and with little alteration in frequency, tone, or volume.
  • Toilet-call. Most dogs will show their need to go outside by pacing, circling, sniffing the ground, and whining; a lot will sit by the door or pace restlessly back and forth. The type of bark that accompanies this behavior is usually a single short, sharp imperative (repeated if you don't take action the first time round).
  • Dinner-time: this is similar to the toilet-call bark (the motive is similar: your dog thinks that you need to be made aware of something). He will probably be racing around energetically, interspersing the barks with little pleading whines and jumps.
  • Excited barking is an expression of joy: your dog's happy about something and needs to let the world know. You should be able to tell by the circumstances and his body language (tail waving, mouth open and panting, front elbows touching the ground, rear end up in the air), but happy-barking is also higher-pitched than usual.
  • Warning barking is almost always a husky baying noise – your dog is trying to make himself sound bigger and meaner than he actually might be. Even the smaller breeds, which are physically incapable of producing anything more menacing than shrill yapping, will lower their tone as much as possible. This is usually accompanied with raised hackles, and a tense “I-dare-you” posture: leaning forward, tail stiff and twitching, ears pointing forward or back.

Coping With Excessive Barking

Sufficient exercise and companionship take care of about 95% of irritating-barking cases. If your dog's still barking after you've ruled out the obvious, you'll need to employ some tried-and-true tactics for controlling this habit.

Tips for Curbing Barking:

  • Never reward barking. You need to teach him that barking is no longer an effective communication tool. If you dog is barking, he must get no attention – period – until he stops. Don't touch him, talk to him, feed him, or look at him.
  • Teach the “enough” command. When your dog starts to bark, break his attention quickly: call him to you, and say firmly “Quiet”. The moment he stops barking, treat him profusely.
  • Remember to allow him to vent: you can't expect your dog to stop barking altogether. You need to be realistic and allow him the chance to get a few good barks out before you quiet him.
  • You need to redirect his energy into a different channel. Tell him to “quiet”, and then get him to sit or lie down. It's important that you give him something else to do. Treat him when he obeys you.
  • If your dog barks “at you” immediately after you’ve given him a command, then you have some dominance training to do. Read up on canine communication and the concept of alpha status.

About The Authors

Daniel Stevens is the renowned dog trainer and author of Secrets to Dog Training: STOP Dog Behavior Problems!, one of the leading dog training guides on the market today selling over 25,743 copies (and counting). He currently heads the Kingdom of Pets dog training team.

Martin Olliver has over 12 years experience in dog training and is a proud member of the Kingdom of Pets team. He is the author of the newly released Ultimate Guide to House Training.