Stop Dog Barking
This article is based on OPINIONS, not everyone may agree with them.
First, I would like to describe how I taught my sheltie Taz not to bark. When I got Taz as a young puppy (about 10 weeks old), he was a typical yappy sheltie puppy. When I bring a puppy home, I try to take several days off work around a weekend, and then part-time for a couple days after that. Coming home at lunch, or having someone else let the puppy out is also essential for a couple months.
Those first few days, the puppy is never allowed to bark or make any real noise of any kind. Whenever he barks or whines, I just put my hand around his muzzle and say "quiet". As soon as he stops, I release and praise. Soon, I can just say "quiet" and the puppy will be quiet. Treats are also used for rewards when he is quiet. When crating the puppy as part of his housebreaking, and at night, I use a throw-can. This is just an empty soda can with some pennies in it, and the opening taped up. As soon as the puppy whines, loudly shake the can. Don't say anything, the noise will startle the puppy into being quiet. You may have a fairly sleepless first night, but most dogs pick up the idea by the second night. I do however, get up very early with a young puppy to let them out...it's not fair to ask a puppy to hold it longer than they are capable of and be quiet as well.
The goal to success here is persistence. Allow the dog to bark sometimes and you're going to have trouble. Correct EVERY time he makes noise and you've got a good chance. The time off of work allows you to teach the dog the rules step-by-step, giving him a chance to learn one before making the test too difficult.
Taz is allowed to bark a little now, when he goes in the yard and chases squirrels. But he doesn't bark when doing agility or flyball or any other activity, and this is a great advantage in terms of the dog's stamina and ability to think as well as being more pleasant for me!
Okay, so maybe you have an older dog that already barks. First, you can try this method, and you may have some success. Unfortunately, with an older dog who is set in his ways, you may have to be more persistent than is really feasible. However, the throw can has been successful for some people in helping to curb their dog's barking.
You have to realize that this is a difficult behavior to deal with because it is so rewarding to the dog all by itself. Particularly dogs that bark at people passing by the window, or mailmen. As far as the dog is concerned, each time it happens, his barking scares this intruder away; therefore they bark even more emphatically the next time. You have to be very determined to spend some time working with such a dog...there are no easy and quick solutions here. Those that proclaim to offer a quick solution, such as a shock collar, are generally inhumane and dangerous, relying on causing the dog pain in order to stop the barking. Other types of collars, such as citronella collars, will be effective for a short time, and then the dog will get used to it. If you are determined to try an anti-bark collar, though, please stick to ones like the citronella and and water-spray types of collars, rather than shock collars...but remember that such collars can be set off by others dog's barking and sometimes even ambient noises.
Before you embark on a training method to reduce barking, you need to understand what is causing your dog to bark...in some cases, you can remove the stimulus and reduce the problem that way. Or you may just have a dog that loves to bark at anything and everything. Whatever it is, start with that and build your plan.
First of all, yelling at your dog is very seldom going to do anything. In particular, if a dog is barking at a stranger going by, he will often assume you are "barking" at them too, and just bark more. If the dog is barking out of stress, yelling will make him more stressful. If you're dog barks all the time, it may be because he is trying to get your attention, and has discovered whenever he barks, you yell at him and give him attention. To a dog, negative attention is often better than none at all. This type of barking is somewhat similar to the dog that barks to get you to drop whatever activity you are doing, such as talking on the phone, watching tv, or even chatting with friends. So let's find some better ways to deal with this behavior.
You need to make sure that your dog gets enough time with you everyday. Barking is often a result of frustration and loneliness. If you leave your dog outside for extended amounts of time, shame on you! Dogs are pack animals and they need to be with their pack, you, for a good portion of their day. This doesn't mean just in the house with you...your dog should receive individualized attention and play every day...and a few minutes is not all it takes. If you can't spend at least an hour a day with your dog, you might need to think about whether you really can handle this type of pet...something like a cat might be better for you.
If your dog barks because it wants attention, the simple solution is just to not give him that attention...and that means DON'T YELL! Just get up, walk out of the room and ignore him. As soon as he is quiet, praise and play! It is very important when trying to teach a dog to be quiet to praise and reward enthusiastically whenever he is quiet. To start with, you might have to praise for just a few seconds of quiet, but you will be able to increase this as you go. You have to be giving the dog the attention he needs, but when you decide, in order to have any success.
If your dog mainly barks when you are gone during the day, this is their attempt to get you back...and sure enough, you always come back! But you may want to tape your dog during the day to see if there might be something triggering his barking...such as people or dogs going by. In these cases, you may need to restrict your dog's access to things like the front window, by confining him to the basement or back of the house. If however, the dog barks fairly constantly, you may need to take a few days to teach him how to be quiet when you are gone. Arranging things so you can be home over lunch break can help a lot. Essentially, you need to leave the house, then sit quietly outside the door. When the dog starts to bark or whine, rather than coming in and yelling, give your throw can a good shake outside the door. Wait for the dog to be quiet and then come back in and praise enthusiastically. Some dogs might need more of a deterrent, such as actually throwing the can through the door, or shooting him with a water pistol. For this type of dog, you really need to crate train them and leave them in the crate while gone. Again, work on this while you are home, and use the throw can to discourage barking and whining in the crate. Cover the crate with a blanket so that the dog can't see out. By limiting their movement and the amount of outside stimuli, you can help the dog to stay calm and quiet while you are gone. This type of dog often manifests other behavior problems such as chewing, or peeing while the owner is gone; you'll find some good info at the Dog Behavior Page.
For the dog that barks at people as they go by, a good solution can be teaching the dog an alternative behavior, such as lying down. Enthusiastically praise and reward the dog for staying on the down and not barking when people pass by. Having the stranger come up and give the dog a treat can also help. And of course, you can always reduce the problem by making the people less easy to see. In the case of a mailman, you might try having a mailbox on the sidewalk instead.
Now we come to the dogs that are a bit more recalcitrant. These are ones for which the previous ideas did not work; now you might have to try more serious deterrents. As mentioned before, the citronella collar can be effective and may be worth trying. But you really can only use this if you have one dog, as it is triggered by ANY dog barking. Another good deterrent is just a plain water pistol. Most dogs hate water, especially in the face, and will cease barking when you nail them. Some dogs, shelties and other herding breeds in particular, seem to love streams of water and think it's a game. For these dogs you may need to add something to the water to make it more discouraging...something like lemon juice or vinegar. Try not to hit the dog's eyes with something like this...but be sure whatever you use will not seriously injure the dog in the event that your aim is bad and you do get it in the eyes. Don't forget the throw can...it is very effective with a lot of dogs. Again, don't try to hit the dog, it's effectiveness is in the noise it makes.
If all else fails, you probably should seek help from a professional trainer. There is however one last thing you can do, and I encourage you to think about it before you send your dog to the pound....and that is de-barking. De-barking is nowhere as horrible as it sounds...your dog will still be able to bark and communicate...but the sound he makes will be much quieter. The operation is fairly simple and easy (although you should find a vet that has experience doing it) and the dog never knows anything has happened. He will go on his merry way barking up a storm....you just won't be able to hear him as easily. This is a good solution for people whose dogs bark during the day when they are gone, or when outside. It is not a good solution if your dog's barking just annoys you...as you will still hear him barking when you are in the same room. For more info, check out our de-barking article.
Here are some more sources on problem barking: