How to stop barking and keep a quiet dog busy

By Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved

Dogs being dogs will bark but what to do when the barking is excessive? How do you change a barking dog into a quiet dog? Barking is a natural and necessary part of canine expression and communication, an alert to let us and each other know about what's going on around them. But not being able to control barking can be frustrating, especially where neighbors and guests are concerned. Here's my advice after working with a client seeking help with barking for a small, older rescue (names have been changed), who it seems had little, if any, prior training. Here are strategies to lower the volume and give that quiet dog something to do:

First, know that barking is a natural behavior for a dog and typically serves three broad purposes: alert, alarm and solicitation. Other canids, like wolves, do not bark nearly as frequently as dogs do. This behavior is something we have selected for in dogs, so no fair blaming them for what we have asked them to do in the first place. Acknowledging the purpose of the barking by letting your dog know they are heard - that you heard it too , thanking them for the alert and redirecting after the fact by asking for something else to will help target barking.

Here are my notes on working with a barking dog, Marcelle (not her real name of course):

Marcelle seems well socialized to people and comfortable in her home. Her focus in life is you, which is a beautiful thing but makes her life one dimensional giving Marcelle more to do that is substantive for her as a dog will enrich her life. While she probably has a history of positive interaction she also seems to have a history of lack of training which may explain her insistence on being heard no matter what. Marcelle's barking habits can be attributed to two things natural behavior and lapses in training. Here's how to help lessen the need to bark and keep that quiet dog busy:

On to barking: Marcelle will naturally alert to the presence of a new person entering a room, you and other people should greet Marcelle first when entering a room or an area where she is -a simple "Hi Marcelle" or "Marcelle we're home" will help take the pressure of her to let the world know about it.

Strange noises and newcomers frequently set off alarm barking. Working on "quiet" after you tell her in four or five words that you hear it too (say 'Thanks, I heard that too" for instance) are the way to go with this one initially: Start as soon as the barking begins, hold a treat in front of her nose (or a toy she will respond to if you get up to toys) as soon as she sniffs the barking will stop (she cannot do both at once) then immediately say "Good quiet!" or "Hush" or whatever command you want to always use for this and offer her the treat immediately, repeat frequently. That treat is important - remember you are marking and rewarding the quiet and not the barking. Next you can redirect by asking your dog to get her favorite toy. This is also a great redirection for a jumping-so excited-you're-home-don't- know-what-to- do-dog and allows all that energy to be channeled to finding something special, taking hold of it and bringing it to you. Of course, you will be thrilled that the toy has been retrieved. Now redirect yet again to a yet another thing to do - a place to go with that special toy. (Continue Reading Below)