Barking is a completely natural communication tool for dogs. But if your dog is barking excessively and you’d like to help him calm down, it’s important to understand and address what’s setting him off. Here, we look at some common (and not so common) barking triggers, and how to stop dogs overreacting to these situations.
How to stop a dog barking when left alone
It's best to start with very short periods of time to condition your dog to be left alone. Initially, leave your dog with a toy to distract him and simply step behind a closed door for as little as 10 seconds. Increase the duration slowly and work your way up to leaving the house for short periods of time. Eventually, you should be able to leave your dog alone knowing that they’re not barking due to anxiety. It is important to remember, however, that dogs should not be left on their own for lengthy periods.
How to stop a dog barking at the postman or delivery people
As pack animals, dogs have a strong sense of territory. The most common reason for dogs to bark at people who come near their territory is to make them go away. In this case, as far as your dog is concerned, it works: the postal worker doesn’t hang around! His sense of success increases your dog’s confidence about barking at the next potential intruder.
If this pattern is allowed to continue, it can become an automatic reaction. So make sure your dog is familiar with the ‘Quiet’ command, and give him a treat as soon as he exhibits the desired behaviour. By rewarding the behaviour you do want, you will soon have a much quieter and calmer household.
How to stop a dog barking at visitors to your home
This is a variation on the postman problem above – so again, training your dog to be quiet on command can help. But this time, the ‘intruder’ actually wants to come into your dog’s perceived territory.
A good technique to help keep your dog calm while visitors are arriving is to walk him to the door on a lead. This gives you time to invite your guests in, while maintaining control over your dog. If necessary, lead your dog out of the room until he calms down, and start again.
How to stop a dog barking at night
To discourage nighttime barking, make sure your dog is getting plenty of physical and mental activity during the day, so he’s ready for a good night’s sleep. Try to make sure his sleeping place is as quiet as possible, to minimise noise or lights from outside that might set him off. And don’t reward him with lots of attention if he does wake you up.
Being separated from you, his owner, could be one reason why your dog may be barking at night. If you suspect this is an issue, speak to an experienced behaviourist for advice.
If your dog has suddenly started barking at night after previously sleeping through, it may be a sign of a health issue such as pain or, in senior dogs, doggie dementia. So don’t ignore a sudden change in barking behaviour – seek veterinary advice.
How to stop your dog barking at people from the car
If our dogs are used to travelling by car with us, the vehicle can become an extension of their perceived territory. And your dog might feel the need to defend his territory from passers-by. Getting a dog crate for the car and covering it with a blanket may help. That way, he won't be able to see out. Give him a tasty chew, too, to keep him occupied.
How can I stop my dog barking at people wearing hats and coats?
Some dog behaviours can be puzzling – and that includes their barking triggers. But issues like this are not uncommon, and may be grounded in unfamiliarity. A puppy raised in the spring may have been fully socialised around people, yet never met anyone wearing winter clothing. The unfamiliar-looking people he sees on walks in the darker days of winter could make him feel anxious.
In this case, gentle familiarisation may help stop dog barking: you could play with him at home, wearing a variety of hats and coats, then reward good behaviour.