Updated: Jul 7
Here at BU HQ we would like to start by taking a moment to say an enormous thank you to our returning guest blogger, Frankie Howard. Frankie has years of top experience and currently works as a training manager at Many Tears Animal Rescue in Wales.
Previously, Frankie managed a animal sanctuary in Ireland, and also worked with last chance dogs at Battersea Dogs and Cat's Home. So he has a lot of experience working with owners and dogs with really complex issues. So a massive thank you to Frankie, for giving us his time and writing us another brilliant blog that we hope will help you.
If you need further assistance with training and behaviour, Frankie also holds private consultations which can be done in person or remotely. You can contact him through his website.
So once again, over to you Frankie!
I remember as a young adult I had a job in a warehouse. I worked the night shift and would finish work at around 7 a.m, I’d come home looking forward to a sleep and around this time my neighbours would go out to work. Their little dog would bark and bark and howl and make a hell of a lot of noise and I very rarely had a good sleep before going back into work the following night.
The neighbours had got a puppy and not took into account that they wouldn’t be in the house to look after the dog at all – they got multiple complaints from other houses up and down the street and eventually got the poor dogs vocal chords cut. Being right next door I could continue to hear his sore, defeated and sorrowful attempt at a bark until they eventually got rid of the dog.
I’m starting with this story to highlight an important point we need to consider when looking at barking dogs; it’s their means of communication. They’re communicating to us what their needs are and we should strive to meet their needs. With the aforementioned dog he was lonely, frustrated and bored. When we look to solve barking issues we should avoid the use of correctional methods such as anti-bark collars or reprimanding the dog for barking. We need to look at the root cause of the problem and work up from there, teaching alternative behaviours where appropriate.
We shouldn’t aim to try and have a dog that doesn’t bark at all. Barking is a natural behaviour and is something that dogs need to do. But there are steps we can take to minimize those moments of excessive or particularly disturbing barking.
One of the most common reasons dogs bark is to communicate that they are bored or frustrated. This is luckily an easily solved one as we can take a look at their routine and implement more physical exercise or mental enrichment. Take a look at my website If you notice that the dog tends to bark at certain times of the day then we can plan to give the dog something enriching to do around that time. Things like food puzzles or snuffle mats are a great idea. It’s also a good idea to plan your training sessions with your dog around the time that they tend to get frustrated and bark.
Something you should be careful to avoid is accidentally reinforcing the barking behaviour. Although I said above to notice the times your dog barks and implement training sessions or enrichment around these times, this is as a preventative. If you know around 4:00 p.m. your dog tends to start barking then you can put things in place just before 4:00 p.m. Once your dog starts barking if we give them attention then they will learn that barking is an appropriate way to ask for attention.
The key to minimize barking is to plan ahead of time, and put foundations in place to teach your dog alternative behaviours. In the moments that your dog is barking at you, the best thing you can do is completely ignore them; avoiding eye contact, avoiding touch and avoid telling them off. Reprimanding them although negative attention, is still attention and will reinforce the barking behaviour. When you ignore your dog, be patient. It will take them awhile but eventually they will stop barking, when they do this is the time to interact with them and give them praise. Calmly praise them, keeping a low energy – maybe play with them or give them a treat. If they start vocalizing again then go back to ignoring them and repeat.
Another common area of problematic barking is when people come round to the house or walk by the window. The dog will be barking here either because they’re anxious about the perceived threat outside, or because they’re over stimulated and excited by the prospect of someone coming to the house or by seeing people outside. A management technique we can use is to have the windows or door covered by a curtain to minimize the external stimulus for the dog. This isn’t always possible so it’s also a good idea to have the dogs crate or bed in a quieter part of the house where they’re not as likely to be bothered by passing people outside. If someone comes to your door, your dog barks and then the person doesn’t enter the house, then this will reinforce the concept that barking is a good deterrent. The dog learns that barking makes people go away.
The method we’re going to discuss below is a good technique for people coming to the house as well as for people passing the windows. We’re going to teach the dog an alternative behaviour instead of barking. What we want the dog to do when someone comes to the door depends very much on the home setup and the type of visitors which set the dog off. We want our dog to learn that when someone comes to the door it isn’t their job to inform us, it’s not their job to greet the person, or their job to protect the house. Their job should be to look to us. The first step to teaching this is really work on the foundational skill of focus work (the dog looking to their handlers for guidance and direction) focus work is a really simple skill to teach a dog which will help in almost every behavioural problem a dog may display. It’s also a really great method to building confidence in dogs, and strengthening the relationship between dog and handler.
Once we have our dog's focus we can start teaching them alternative behaviours; a great behaviour to teach is for the dog to go to bed. When we’re consistent and practice this often our dog will start to associate a knock on the door with going to bed. The door-bell or the knock on the door almost becomes the ‘go to bed’ command. Practice this by having someone knock on your door, use your focus work skills to gain your dogs attention and then lure them to their bed or crate. When they’re in their bed reward them with a treat or some attention. Ask them to stay and then go to answer the door, if they get excited; start to follow you or starts barking again simply lure them back to their bed and repeat the reinforcement and reward.
If your dog is really struggling with this when someone is at the door then you should simplify the game by practicing a really solid ‘bed’ command when there isn’t anyone at the door. Spend about 15 minutes a day working on their go to bed command until they know it as well as they know their sit. Once they’ve mastered this skill you can go back to practicing with someone at the door.
If your dog is extremely toy motivated instead of teaching them to go to their bed when there’s a knock on the door we can teach them to go and fetch their favourite toy, this will distract them as people are entering the house as the dog is too busy with their toy. We can shape this behaviour up so that they bring the toy to either yourself or the person coming to the door instead, allowing us to engage with the dog and build positive associations with visitors.
For dogs that are excessive barkers and really struggling with this exercise we can try some counter conditioning. De-sensitizing them to the knock on the door; a really easy way to do this is to make a recording of you knocking on the door, when your dog is calm or lying in bed you can play this recording on your phone. Start at a very low volume and if your dog doesn’t react you can mark this behaviour and reward them for being quiet. Slowly increase the volume at the dogs pace. If they start to bark then turn the recording off and try the game the next day at a lower volume.
As owners we should get good at noticing the body language and behaviour of our dogs before they start to bark and implementing alternative behaviours for them to display instead.
If your dog’s barking happens when you’re not there then it’s their way of communicating that they have separation anxiety, again this is an entirely different topic to cover and you can read my blog about separation anxiety here.
If you’re stuck for more ideas on providing additional enrichment or making your walks more enjoyable, or if you need to teach the dog more alternative behaviours keep checking the BU Blog for new articles.
If you need further advice, you can book a private consultation with Frankie Howard through his website The Dog Trainer.