Taming the Yap, How to Control Nuisance Barking

Barking dog

When your dog’s barking becomes bothersome, it can be called nuisance barking. However, it is important to note that nuisance barking does not necessarily mean the dog is distressed. Some dogs vocalize more frequently than others, and dogs bark for a variety of reasons. The nuisance, then, is in the eyes—or, in this case, ears—of the beholder. In the Australian Veterinary Journal, NJ Cross et al. define nuisance barking as “barking that is of sufficient frequency to cause distress or interruption of the life of the dogs’ owners or other residents within the neighborhood.” For you and your neighbors’ sanity, then, this sort of behavior is best corrected or managed.

To control nuisance barking, it can be helpful to diagnose the cause. For example, if your neighbor complains about your dog barking the entire day when you go to work, this is an indicator that your dog might be vocalizing out of boredom or loneliness. Try leaving your dog with a toy that dispenses food (but not too quickly) or have someone come over in the middle of the day to take your dog for a walk. If neither of these are effective, your dog may have separation anxiety. To treat this, it can help to systematically desensitize the dog by leaving for very short amounts of time at first and slowly increasing the amount of time you remain away until the dog can remain alone without misbehaving for longer stretches of time. In “Canine separation anxiety: strategies for treatment and management,” Rebecca Sargisson also recommends feeding the dog directly prior to leaving, which will “create an association between the owner’s absence and the positive experience of eating.”

small dog barking

If your dog is a nuisance barker even when you are around, other methods may help to control nuisance barking. Your dog knows that they can use their barks to be noticed, so it may be a sign that they are seeking attention. In this case, ignoring your dog may teach them that barking is not the best way to get attention.

If your dog barks when strangers enter the room, they may be perceiving them as a threat or that their territory is being encroached upon. Whenever someone unfamiliar arrives and the dog begins barking, say the word “Quiet” in a firm but composed voice while holding a finger to your lips, wait until they stop and then give them a small reward if they remain quiet. Your dog will learn to behave differently through positive reinforcement. There are numerous ways to positively reinforce good behavior through reward-based training. You can give your dog a treat or a chew toy, play with them in a way they enjoy, or praise them vocally with phrases such as “good dog!”

dog barking

Positive reinforcement is similar to counterconditioning. With counterconditioning, whenever nuisance barking begins, introduce one of your dog’s favorite rewards, whether it is a chew toy or a certain treat. This will help your dog change their attitude toward the stimulus that is causing the nuisance barking to something more positive through the association with the reward. This can also be an effective method to control nuisance barking.

In “Dog Training Methods: Their use, effectiveness and interaction with behavior and welfare,” it was found that dog owners who trained their dogs solely or mostly by punishing them if they misbehaved led to “significantly more problems than those using only reward-based or miscellaneous methods” (68). In fact, they found that using punishment could actually increase problematic conduct. So, if you use punishment-based training, it is best to only use them in small or supplemental amounts, with reward-based training methods being the primary tool.

Learn more about caring for your dog in “The 10 Best Human Foods for Dogs” and “5 Awesome Dog Bonding Exercises”.

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