Dogs were originally domesticated to help with hunting and to provide protection for their owners. A dog that would bark at intruders was a valuable asset. Even today, most dog owners feel more secure in their homes knowing that their dog will provide an early warning should unexpected company or intruders come. Problems occur though when dogs bark excessively. There are many reasons for excessive barking, understanding why the dog is barking can often help break the barking habit.
In the wild dogs used barking to let their pack know where they are and to call the pack together, when a dog is left alone this instinct can lead to barking. Some barking behavior is triggered by boredom or separation anxiety, the dog may use barking as self stimulation or to express their anxiety about being alone. Some dogs bark for attention. They have learned that barking gets their owners attention and that negative attention from their owners is better than no attention at all. In this situation, the owners have actually trained their dog to bark by reinforcing the behavior. The most common cause of barking is the alert bark.
This is when your dog is guarding his territory and barks at potential threats. This can be triggered by a visitor at the door, a vehicle in the driveway, a pedestrian on the sidewalk, an unfamiliar sound, trash blowing in the wind, or any number of other stimuli. This kind of barking is problematic because there are situations where we would like our dog to alert us, but it can be difficult for the dog to figure out what they should send a warning signal about.
Once you know the reasons behind the barking you can begin to work on correcting the behavior. If your dog is barking when you are not home look for other signs of separation anxiety or boredom. Often this type of barking is happens in combination with other behavior problems like chewing, digging through trash, or house training accidents. Try some of these tricks to entertain a bored dog that is left alone to see if the behavior improves.
Both the attention bark and the alert bark can be treated the same way. The dog needs to receive positive reinforcement whenever he stops barking and very little attention when he is barking. A noisemaker such as an aluminum can filled with coins or a dog whistle can be used to interrupt the dog. The noise will temporarily startle the dog and they will stop barking, quickly praise the dog and provide a small treat. When they are barking, do not yell at them, touch them, or pay any attention to them, other than shaking the noisemaker. If you prefer a spray bottle or water gun can be used in the same way.
When they bark, quickly spray them, and reward them with praise, attention and a treat when the water startles them into being quiet. Consistency is key to this method, have several water bottles or noisemakers available so one is always handy. If it is difficult for you to quickly startle the dog in this way, or if much of the barking is happening when you are not home you may want to consider an automatic solution.
Sonic bark correctors have a microphone that picks up the barking and emit a high frequency sound that startles the dog. The sound is inaudible to humans but quite irritating to dogs. Be careful that there are not other sounds in the house that set the device off. These are available as a standalone device or in a collar form. The standalone is nice because the dog does not have to wear the collar that has small probes on it but it is limited to the area where the device is located so will not help if your dog is barking in another room. For more information about this item, click this link.
Another option is a static or spray bark collar. Spray collars contain citronella which is a non-toxic plant based ingredient that has a scent most dogs find repellant. When the dog barks the collar sprays a short burst, very soon your dog will associate the unpleasant smell with barking. Spray collars are especially helpful when you have more than one dog, only the offender is impacted by his barking unlike sonic correction which all of the dogs in the house are subjected to the unpleasant sound when one dog barks.
Again, praising and rewarding your dog when they stop barking will speed the training up. Static correction work on the same premise but instead of spray they give the dog a small static correction. These collars should be used on their lowest setting and you may want to try the collar on your own hand before you put it on your dog so you know the strength of the correction before you use it on your dog.
Bark behavior is often self rewarding for the dog and if left uncorrected will often escalate. The sooner you intervene the easier it will be to break the bark habit.