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How to Deal with Out-of-Control Dog Barking

Internationally renowned dog trainer Victoria Stilwell's tips for stopping incessant barking.

by Victoria Stilwell
August 11, 2021
Dog barking
Boris Jovanovic / Stocksy

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Q: My dog’s barking is driving me (and my neighbors) crazy. He’s a healthy, two-year-old Sheltie mix, and I’ve been told that it’s impossible to train him to stop barking — that I should have him surgically debarked, which I find completely appalling. Please tell me there’s a way to teach my dog to stop barking.

A: Dogs who bark excessively can cause big problems for their humans, but even though it may seem completely out of control, this behavior can be modified to a bearable level. Sometimes barking dogs can cause such distress that people resort to having the dog’s vocal chords surgically removed, but I’m glad that you find that idea appalling, because most trainers and veterinarians would advise against taking such a drastic measure.

Debarking can cause immense anxiety, as it takes away an important part of the dog’s ability to communicate. I do recommend, however, that you take your dog to the veterinarian for a thorough medical check up, since any extreme behavior can be exacerbated by a medical condition. 

How to Stop Excessive Dog Barking

Dogs bark for many reasons — to get attention, as a warning, in response to other barking dogs, out of boredom, out of anxiety, or when excited — and it's important to identify the triggers before beginning training. Read on to learn why your dog is barking and what you can do about it.

The Trigger: Boredom

The Fix: These days, most dogs who were once bred to do a certain job find domestic life boring, and barking relieves that boredom. If this is the case, the first step in how to train a dog not to bark is increased exercise and mental stimulation. This will refocus your dog’s mind onto something more positive and help tire him out.

The Trigger: Attention Seeking

The Fix: If your dog barks to get attention, don’t reward their demands. Yelling or telling your dog off is inadvertently rewarding them for barking, even if the communication is negative. It's best to ignore the barking. Wait for five seconds of quiet and then reward your dog with attention. This way, your dog learns that they get nothing from you when they bark but gets everything when they're quiet.

The Trigger: Excitement

The Fix: A dog who barks when excited (i.e., before going for a walk or being fed) is harder to work with because your pre-departure or pre-food cues are usually highly ritualized. Again, do not reward your dog with what they want until they're calm. For example, if the dog barking happens as soon as you go for the leash, drop the leash and sit down. Keep repeating this until your dog is quiet. If you successfully attach the leash but your dog barks as soon as they get outside, immediately go back inside. This technique requires patience, but if you are diligent, your dog will quickly learn that quiet equals a walk. 

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The Trigger: Anxiety/Fear

The Fix: Dogs who suffer anxiety when left alone will often bark a lot during the first 30 minutes after departure, while others continue until their person comes home. You'll need to hire a trainer to help, as separation anxiety can be a very difficult behavior to modify. In the case of your dog, know that shelties tend to be particularly sound-sensitive, responding to noises that the human ear cannot hear. Also, because they were bred for herding, some Shelties have a high chase and/or prey drive and are easily stimulated by fast-moving objects, such as squirrels or birds.

The Trigger: Territorial/Alarm

The Fix: If your dog barks excitedly in the backyard, for example, immediately take them back into the house and only allow them out again when they're quiet. Keep repeating if necessary and never leave them in the backyard unattended. If your dog barks at other dogs or people in or outside of the home, it might be because they haven't received adequate socialization and they feel uncomfortable. In this case, your dog needs to go on a desensitization program so they can gain the confidence they need to cope in a social situation. In general, it's important to note that it's normal for a dog to bark to alert their pack about anyone (or anything) approaching their space.

As you can see, there are many reasons why dogs bark — and there are many ways to stop it. Please don’t listen to those who say that extreme dog barking can’t be modified. There are lots of ways to reduce what is a very normal (but sometimes annoying) behavior.

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Victoria Stilwell

Victoria Stilwell is a world-renowned dog trainer and star of ‘It’s Me or the Dog.’ A bestselling author, TV personality, and founder of both the Victoria Stilwell Academy and Positively, Stilwell frequently appears in the media as a pet expert and is widely recognized and respected as a leader in the field of animal behavior.