Stopping puppy barking can present a challenge to a new dog owner. A puppy's barking may be cute at first, but without early training the barking can turn into a behavioral issue in an adult dog. Here's what you need to know to work with a barking puppy.
Understanding Why Puppies Bark
Before you stop a puppy from barking, you need to understand why they are engaging in the behavior. A puppy can start barking when they're about seven to eight weeks old so barking is definitely a normal part of a dog's life. Puppies can bark for several common reasons.
Puppies are much like small children who can't necessarily regulate their emotions. Think of a toddler who's discovered some fascinating new thing and needs to talk about it non-stop. This is how a puppy can be when something exciting happens like meeting a new person or dog or getting a new toy.
Puppies are also like children in that they want to get your attention, especially if they're friendly and outgoing puppies. If they feel that they're being ignored, they may bark in order to get you to turn around and look at them and play with them. Some puppies may also bark for attention in order to get something they want, such as their dinner or a toy or chew, or to go outside in the yard.
Puppies aren't used to being left alone and they can bark from stress and anxiety if they're by themselves. Most puppies will grow out of this as they learn that it's a normal part of the daily routine for you to come and go from the house for a few hours.
If a puppy is startled or doesn't handle new stimuli well, they can bark to signal that they are uncomfortable. A reactive puppy needs more socialization and confidence with handling new situations.
A puppy that is terrified will bark and may cry as well. The barking may appear aggressive if the puppy feels she has to defend herself from something frightening or it may sound hysterical if she's attempting to hide and get away from whatever is scaring her.
Some breeds tend to be more territorial than others and may bark if a stranger enters their home or yard. Even a young puppy of breeds like German Shepherds and Rottweilers can bark at strangers instinctively without being taught this behavior. It's important to socialize these breeds as much as possible to get them comfortable with strangers.
Many dogs, both puppies and adults, will bark if they are bored and lack daily stimulation. A puppy that spends hours by itself in a crate with nothing to chew or play with will bark monotonously in order to "self soothe" and alleviate their state of boredom.
Techniques for Stopping Puppy Barking
Wondering how to get a puppy to stop barking? You can teach a puppy to bark less with a few simple techniques and routine changes.
A puppy may bark more often as she adjusts to a home because she feels insecure about her new surroundings. You can make this adjustment easier by making her feel safe, comfortable, and loved. Reassurance can build the puppy's confidence so that she feels secure and barks less. Here are ways to help a puppy adjust:
Provide plenty of attention. Keep the puppy with you whenever possible by letting her follow you around the house or take her out on errands. Taking the puppy on errands helps socialize her and will lessen stranger barking.
At the same time you provide lots of attention, you also want to allow the puppy some time to be alone. For one, a growing puppy needs rest and all the attention can be overstimulating. You also don't want the puppy to become overly attached to you and develop anxiety if left alone.
Make sure that the puppy's living environment is comfortable. A puppy may bark if she is too warm or too cold. She should have constant access to fresh water and a soft dog bed.
Crate training helps some puppies adjust to new homes faster. Take some fleece blankets or towels and sleep with them, then put them into the crate to make a soft bed. The puppy will find the scent of you on their bedding comforting. The crate serves as both a comfortable bed and a safe place when the puppy wants time alone in a busy household. Crate training will also help with house training because the puppy will not want to soil her bed.
Teach your puppy basic commands such as sit, down, stay, and come when called. Teaching your puppy basic commands will help you control many problem behaviors such as barking.
For example, a puppy that begins to bark out the window or at strangers that has learned to come when called can be called back to you and asked to sit, and rewarded for complying.
You can also ask your puppy to lie down when she barks, as it's harder for many dogs to bark and lay down at the same time.
Always work on the principle of replacing the behavior you don't want with the one that you do, and training that behavior and reinforcing it. The word "no" is difficult for a dog to comprehend, but, "come here and sit" is a clear behavior that you are asking for that the dog can perform.
Practice obedience cues everywhere you can in short increments of time, such as five to 10 minutes. Always practice in quiet, low distraction areas first, such as your living room or back yard, and then move up to more distracting areas like the front sidewalk or a park. Your puppy may have trouble doing behaviors in the more distracting area so just be patient and reward her for ignoring the distractions.
Remove the Stressor
If your puppy is barking because he or she is fearful, then you need to help them with their fears. This can mean helping them to become desensitized to whatever scares them which involves the slow introduction of the stimuli with a positive reinforcer such as a delicious food treat or playing with a toy. If you're out walking with your dog and something scares them, you may need to move them a distance away from whatever the scary thing is until they can relax. Never force your puppy to interact with something they are afraid of as this can make the behavior worse and slow, gradual desensitization and counterconditioning can help them learn to accept the scary object or person without fear.
Ignore Attention Seeking Barking
If your dog is barking for attention, such as wanting you to play with them after you've just gotten home from work, the best thing to do is to ignore them. Any attention given to them, even yelling, can be seen by the puppy as reinforcing which will just make him bark more. Wait for him to be quiet and then ask him to sit or lay down or do a trick and then reward him for complying. At that point you can then engage in playing with him. In other words, you don't want him to learn that barking gets him what he wants, but rather that complying with your requests gets him play and affection.
If your puppy barks when home alone, make sure he or she is getting lots of mental and physical enrichment. Daily walks, play sessions, training sessions, and a variety of chews and toys can all make your puppy have a full and active life. These puppies tend to be more relaxed because their excess energy is used up each day on fun and interesting things, thereby making barking excessively unnecessary.
Learning to Be Alone
In addition to regular daily enrichment, you also will want to work on teaching them it's ok to be alone in small increments of time when you are home. This can mean placing your puppy in a crate or in a room with a baby gate and leaving them with something fun to play with, such as a food-stuffed toy. Leave them alone for five to 10 minutes and then return. Your puppy may bark a lot at first but ignore it and wait until they are done barking to return. Gradually work on increasing the time you can be away without the puppy barking. If your puppy does not get better and their barking has a fearful, anxious tone to it, speak to your veterinarian or a professional behavior consultant as he or she may have anxieties that need more specialized intervention to work through.
Some dog owners note that their puppies tend to only bark at night. However this is often because with a regular day job, owners are apt not to notice what their dog is like during the day. When they are home at night with the puppy, he or she is getting a lot more attention and there's more activity in the house, which can make them more excited and aroused and lead to barking. If your puppy barks a lot at night, try to take him for a long walk in the evening to make him tired, and then teach him "quiet time" by placing him in his crate after his walk. Give him something to chew on and place a blanket over the crate and keep your voice low and quiet and relaxed. Your puppy may bark in the beginning but eventually if he's tired enough he should turn his attention to either working on his chew or falling asleep.
Spray bottles were traditionally used as a training aid in the past, but with a new understanding of dog behavior, they are considered ineffective and counterproductive. Since they work on the principle of punishing the dog for the behavior, such as barking, the dog may learn that barking makes bad things happen (i.e. water in the face), but she doesn't learn what you want her to do. Depending on her temperament, she may also become afraid of you if sprayed with the bottle or it could stimulate her to become reactive and aggressive if she feels stressed enough. On the other hand, some dogs love water and they'll completely miss the point of you using a spray bottle to punish the barking and consider it a fun treat.
Like spray bottles, using noisemakers like shaking a can full of pennies was once a common method of stopping barking. It's also an inefficient and possibly harmful way to train away barking as it can scare the dog and doesn't train the behavior you want. A noisemaker can be used productively as an "interrupter" for a behavior. You can make a simple noise on your own such as "eh eh!" or jangle some keys. The idea is to simply get the dog's attention away from whatever he is barking at and then immediately ask him to do something else and reward him for it. For example, if your puppy is barking at a squirrel on your deck, make a noise that gets his attention and ask him to sit and look at you and reward that behavior.
Formal Obedience Training
Early formal obedience training can also prevent a barking problem. Puppy classes are ideal because dogs learn basic commands and how to socialize with people and other dogs. If your puppy is barking because she's not used to seeing strange people and dogs, a puppy class can help with that. The classes also teach a puppy how to walk politely on a leash without straining against her lead.
Private Dog Training
If you cannot find a puppy class to fit your schedule, you can always seek private instruction with a professional dog trainer. A dog trainer can help you teach your puppy basic commands and guide you through ways to prevent excessive barking.
For some puppies, the barking becomes unintentionally reinforced to the point that it's difficult to stop with just obedience training. For others, the barking is based on serious fearful or anxious behavior that requires expert intervention. In this case, working with a qualified behavior consultant or a veterinary behaviorist can help you to create a behavior modification plan to help your puppy feel better and reduce the barking.
You Can Put a Stop to Puppy Barking
With time and patience, it is possible to teach your puppy more appropriate behaviors than barking. Remember that your puppy is basically a "toddler" in the canine world and needs your help and understanding when she barks so you can change her environment to reduce the need for barking and provide her with more acceptable outlets and behaviors.