Puppy barking drives owners and neighbors crazy—it can’t be totally eliminated so don’t expect to stop it. Dog barking is one of the most common behavior complaints but this normal puppy communication becomes a problem only if puppies aren’t taught proper limits.
Puppy barking serves many purposes. Puppies bark when they play, to greet you (or the cat), or defend against scary or intimidating interlopers. Consider your puppy’s bark as a doggy fire alarm to warn about anything unusual, interesting or exciting—a friend or stranger’s arrival, a sudden sound, or the unexpected sight of you wearing a hat.
Puppies want to be your protector, so don’t discourage the behavior. You wouldn’t want Junior-Dawg to ignore the burglar, would you? Instead, teach limits. Rather than quashing the barks, figure out why the pup barks and teach him the difference between appropriate barks and problem barks using these 10 tips.
10 Tips for Curbing Puppy Barks
- Don’t bark back. Talk to your puppy with tone of voice and body language—not just the words—to make sure he doesn’t misunderstand. Barking is also a joyful expression. Use a calm voice or else yelling makes King think you’re joining the chorus, and he barks even louder.
- Give your puppy a “bark limit.” Maybe he’s allowed to bark three times, or five times—until you acknowledge his warning so he knows you can take over for him. After the designated number of barks, praise your puppy—“GOOD bark, GOOD dog, now HUSH” and give him a treat as you praise. It’s hard for dogs to bark while chewing so this actual serves a dual purpose.
- Pay attention to the circumstances. Barking at the mailman teaches pups to repeat the behavior when your two-pound terror thinks, “My ferocious bark chased him away—I’m an awesome guard dog, beware!” You may want to enlist your mail carrier’s help—ask him/her to feed King a treat after he’s barked, and praise for being quiet.
- Remove the audience. If she barks and you come running every time, you reward the behavior. Instead, thank her then say, “HUSH.” When she stops, praise and give her a treat. If she keeps barking, turn your back and leave the room. Most dogs want company, so leaving tells her she’s doing something wrong. She’ll learn to be quiet if she wants you to stay and give her attention.
- Provide door drills. Ringing the bell, knocking on the door, and arrivals or departures excite puppies or sometimes scare shy babies, so associate the location and sounds with good things for the puppy. Stage arrivals at the front door with an accomplice “visitor” loaded up with treats to toss the pup to help her stop seeing visitors as threats.
- Relieve the boredom. Many pups bark because they’re lonely or bored. Even if the pup has nothing to bark about, talking to himself may be better than listening to lonely silence. Chew toys that reward the puppy’s attention with tasty treats also fill up the mouth—he can’t bark and chew at the same time. Puzzles toys like the Kong Wobbler can be stuffed with peanut butter or kibble treats that Fluffy must manipulate to reach the prize.
- Block scary sounds. Inexperienced pups hear lots of “new” stuff that may inspire barking. When barking arises from fear, the pheromone product Comfort Zone with D.A.P. may help relieve the angst. White noise machines are available to mask sounds, or simply turn the radio to a normal volume and tune it to static.
- Train with head halters. Tools such as Gentle Leader and Halti can work wonders. Pulling on the lead gently presses the pup’s mouth shut for the few seconds of pressure and signals her to be quiet—and you don’t have to say a word. The halters are available from pet products stores and veterinarians.
- Try a new tone. Tone collars emit a loud, short tone at the first “woof.” That’s often enough to make Fluffy stop, and search for what caused the tone—and eliminates boredom and the barking, often within minutes. However, the collar must be adjusted properly or can “punish” the wrong dog if a canine friend is barking nearby.
- Curb barks with scent. Researchers at Cornell University in New York found citronella collars to be much more effective in bark training. Citronella collars give a warning tone first; additional barking prompts a squirt of scent that stops the barking. Some of these collars have remote control activators.
WARNING: Shock collars are NOT effective or humane for bark training, no matter what the sales copy may say. They can damage your relationship with your puppy. Because every pup is different, not all the techniques listed above work for every pup—most require an investment of time. If you haven’t seen improvement in three to five days using one of the anti-bark techniques, try a different approach.