Triggers such as unfamiliar sights, sounds, or scents can stimulate your dog’s senses and cause them to react by barking. This is often a protective or alerting behavior. If the trigger is persistent or repetitive, such as passing cars or new people, it can lead to excessive barking as the dog continually tries to alert or protect.
It is important to desensitize your dog to triggers for your and your neighbor’s peace. A dog barking excessively can be complained by your neighbors, and you may end up heavily fined or your dog being impounded.
This article explains everything you need to know about common barking triggers and how to desensitize your dog.
Common Triggers That Cause Excessive Barking and Desensitization Guide
Separation anxiety is a common trigger for excessive barking in dogs. When left alone, dogs may experience distress or nervousness that manifests as continuous barking. This behavior can be a cry for help or an attempt to reduce their anxiety by calling their humans back.
How to Desensitize My Dog to Separation Anxiety: Desensitizing your dog involves gradual exposure to the trigger, causing their anxiety. In the case of separation anxiety, start by leaving your dog alone for short periods and gradually increase this time. Positive reinforcement, such as treats and praise when they remain calm, can also help make them comfortable with your absences.
Fear or Phobia
Dogs can develop fear or phobias from certain situations, objects, or sounds, such as thunderstorms, vacuum cleaners, or fireworks. Fear-induced barking is a form of communication meant to express distress and discomfort. When the fear trigger is present, the dog may bark excessively as a defense mechanism.
How to Desensitize My Dog to Fear or Phobias: Use gradual exposure to help your dog become less fearful. Start with a low intensity of the fear trigger, rewarding your dog for calm behavior, then slowly increase the intensity over time. For instance, if your dog is afraid of thunder, you could play recorded thunder sounds at a low volume and reward your dog for remaining calm, gradually increasing the volume over several sessions.
Dogs sometimes bark excessively to get attention from their owners. This can be a learned behavior if, in the past, the dog received attention, food, or playtime when it barked. The dog then associates barking with getting what it wants.
How to Desensitize My Dog from Attention-Seeking Barking: You need to ignore your dog’s attention-seeking barking and only give attention when the dog is quiet. Reward quiet behavior with treats, praise, or playtime. It’s important to be consistent so your dog learns that barking does not result in attention.
Dogs need physical and mental stimulation. They may resort to barking out of boredom if they are left alone for long periods or are not given enough exercise or mental stimulation.
How to Desensitize My Dog from Boredom-Induced Barking: Regular exercise, interactive toys, and training sessions can help alleviate boredom and reduce related barking. Set a daily routine with adequate physical activity and mental stimulation to keep your dog occupied.
Territorial or Protective Barking
Dogs are naturally protective of their territory. If a stranger, another animal, or even an unfamiliar object enters what your dog perceives as their territory, they may bark excessively as an alarm or to assert control.
How to Desensitize My Dog from Territorial Barking: You can work on desensitizing your dog to unfamiliar people or objects by associating these with positive experiences. For example, ask a friend who your dog doesn’t know well to approach the house. Reward your dog for calm behavior as the person approaches.
Socially Facilitated Barking
Dogs often bark in response to other dogs barking, a behavior known as socially facilitated barking. It’s similar to a domino effect; one dog’s bark triggers another’s.
How to Desensitize My Dog from Socially Facilitated Barking: Use distraction techniques to redirect your dog’s attention when they bark in response to another dog. This can be a favorite toy, a command they know well, or a treat. Over time, this can help them learn to disengage from the barking trigger.
Passersby, Visitors & Cars
Dogs can perceive passersby, visitors, and cars as potential threats entering their territory or disrupting their routine. This intrusion can result in excessive barking as the dog attempts to warn or deter these “intruders.”
How to Desensitize My Dog to Passersby, Visitors & Cars: Create a controlled environment, such as having a friend walk by your house or approach your dog in a car. Reward your dog for calm behavior or not barking with treats and praise. Gradually increase the frequency and vary the person or vehicle, reinforcing calm behavior.
Dogs sometimes bark excessively due to hunger or to express a specific demand, like wanting to go outside or desiring a toy. This is a learned behavior, where the dog understands that barking can result in getting what they want.
How to Desensitize My Dog to Demand/Hunger Barking: To curb demand barking, ignore your dog when they bark and reward them when they are quiet. If your dog barks when hungry, set regular feeding times so they understand when to expect food. Do not give in to the barking demands; instead, wait for a moment of silence and fulfill their needs. Reinforcing quiet behavior can gradually reduce the demand for barking.
Excessive barking can be a sign of a health issue, such as pain or discomfort. This is especially likely if the barking is new behavior and can’t be traced to any of the above causes.
How to Address Health-Related Barking: If you suspect a health issue is causing the barking, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian. They can diagnose and treat the underlying condition, which should help reduce the barking.
What is Response Substitution & Controlled Exposure?
Response substitution is a behavior modification technique that teaches your dog to replace an undesired behavior (like barking) with a more appropriate one (like sitting). Controlled exposure, on the other hand, involves gradually exposing your dog to the trigger of the undesired behavior in a managed way, starting with low intensity and slowly increasing it while rewarding the dog for staying calm.
Can a Dog Trainer help me Desensitize my dog to deal with Excessive Barking?
A professional dog trainer can help desensitize your dog to deal with excessive barking. They are trained to understand dog behaviors and can provide you with the right techniques and methods to modify your dog’s reaction to certain triggers, including personalized desensitization and counter-conditioning programs.
Do I need to see a Vet for Excessive Barking?
If your dog’s excessive barking is a new behavior accompanied by other unusual symptoms, or if behavior modification techniques aren’t working, it’s a good idea to see a vet. The barking could be a symptom of an underlying health issue, such as pain or discomfort, which your vet can diagnose and treat.