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How to stop your dog barking

Barking is a normal canine communication, but inappropriate barking - too much or too often - is probably one of the most commonly reported problems owners have with their dogs. It can be annoying and can lead to unhappy situations with neighbours, particularly if your dog barks a lot.

To be able to tackle problem barking, you must first determine what is causing your dog to bark in the first place. Once you answer the ‘why’, it will be much easier to come up with the ‘how’ – the solution to the problem.

Be pragmatic

If your dog barks inappropriately, it is important to start by setting yourself a realistic goal. Planning for your dog to stop barking completely is not realistic – barking is a natural dog behaviour and dogs will bark – more or less, and largely depending on the breed – whether we want it or not. You can reduce the amount of barking, but stopping it will never be possible.

Why does my dog bark?

Dogs may bark in any number of situations, including

  • when there is somebody at the door
  • at cats or birds in the garden
  • at people walking past the house
  • when they are left on their own
  • to get your attention
  • when they are bored
  • at other dogs or people when out and about
  • at visitors who enter your home

It is vital that you determine why your dog barks in the first place, and if barking mostly occurs when your dog is left alone, a behaviour consultation with a qualified pet behaviour counsellor will likely be necessary to address this problem. Similarly, if your dog barks at people or dogs when out and about, or at visitors coming to the home, a simple tip is unlikely make a difference and a comprehensive assessment will be needed to help improve your dog’s behaviour.

Below you will find some simple ways of dealing with barking in common situations.

My dog barks when there’s somebody at the door

Taking your dog's mind off what they are barking at can help with alarm barking. If they bark at the doorbell, try asking them to 'go to bed'.

Some dogs bark a lot when they want to tell you about something specific they have seen or heard, for example a visitor at the door, a car pulling onto a driveway, or the phone or doorbell ringing. This is called ‘alarm barking’.

In situations such as when the postman or visitors come to the door or a phone rings and your dog becomes very vocal, teaching them to perform a behaviour that simply takes your dog’s mind off barking should do the trick.

If your dog likes to play fetching games, try teaching them to retrieve a toy or other item when the situation occurs that sets them off. Asking them to "go to bed" is also something you could try as this removes them from the area that the trigger is coming from and asks them to concentrate on a neutral task that they are already familiar with.

Always reward good behaviour with a treat as this will encourage them to do the good thing again next time you ask.

Another thing you can try is recording sounds that trigger the barking and playing these back to your dog – very quietly at first, and gradually increasing the volume – while rewarding them with food. This is a process known as desensitising and counter conditioning.

If you do decide to take this approach, you’ll need to make sure you don’t expose your pet to the ‘real’ sound while you are training them. Pick a time when you aren’t expecting visitors and pop a note on your front door asking visitors not to knock.

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My dog barks at cats or birds in the garden

If your dog barks at cats or birds in the garden, teach your pet a reliable recall that rewards them for turning away from the thing that triggers their vocalisation and coming to you instead. Because you have no control over this situation, you’ll need to apply a problem-solving method that gives you a way to manage it.

If your dog is rewarded every time he or she chooses to come to you rather than woof, they will start paying much more attention to you than they do to cats or birds, and even if they do start barking at them, they will be much easier to recall.

My dog barks at people walking past the house

You can solve this problem through management. If your dog likes to sit on the window sill and bark at everyone passing by, first block access to their vantage point and then offer them an alternative, more appropriate pastime.

If your dog is in the garden and barks at passersby, make use of recall and praise your pet for returning to you rather than woofing. If you can’t supervise your dog in the garden, don’t leave them there on their own without something to do which will distract them away from what they want to bark at.

My dog barks when left alone

Dogs are social animals who like to live in family groups and it is common for them to become upset when they are left on their own for longer than they feel comfortable with. This is called 'separation anxiety' and we have lots of information about this here.

If your dog barks a lot when left and you are unable to resolve this by following our tips, you are likely to need help from a qualified dog behaviourist to address the problem. You can find one by contacting your vet, or on the Animal Behaviour and Training Council website.

It could be that your dog does a lot of ’alarm barking’, for example when there is someone at the door, or maybe they bark when left on their own. They may bark when other dogs in the neighbourhood start. Or they could be barking at birds or cats in the garden.

My dog barks to get my attention

Take a moment to think about how you react when your dog barks to get your attention. Do you raise your voice, shout, or tell them off for it? If so, stop. When you meet your dog’s barking with noise and attention, you are rewarding your dog by giving them the attention they are asking for.

Try ignoring the barking and waiting till your dog stops. If simply waiting silently doesn’t work, calmly ask them to "sit" or "lie down". Once they are calm and have stopped barking, praise them with lots of fuss or a treat.

Solving attention seeking isn’t always as simple as that however, and you may need to seek professional help.

My dog barks when bored

A lot of dogs bark because there is little else to do. If your dog is a nuisance barker, look at their daily routine and how much free, unoccupied time that they have to fill with their own activities.

If ‘free time’ is a rather large chunk of your dog’s day, it might be a good idea to up their exercise time (walks, playing in the garden) and/or mental stimulation (training, use of food toys, scent games) in order to tire them out and simply give them something to do that isn’t barking.
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My dog barks at other dogs

This is caused by one of two reasons. It could be an “I want to get to you but can’t” situation, such as when a dog is on lead or at the other side of the road, which is known as ‘frustration-related barking’. Or, it could be a “GO AWAY, you are scaring me” situation, also known as ‘fear-related barking’.

It is important to get professional help for this behaviour, as it is likely to worsen the longer it goes on and it can make both your and your dog’s walking life very unpleasant.

My dog barks at people

This is caused by either an “I want to get to you but can’t” situation, such as when your dog is in another room from you; also known as ‘frustration-related barking’. Or, the dogs is saying, “GO AWAY, you scare me”; also known as ‘fear-related barking’.

It is important to get professional help for this behaviour in these situations, as it is likely to worsen the longer it goes on and it can make both your and your dog’s walking life very unpleasant.

Why won’t my dog stop barking?

If you struggle to figure out why your dog is barking and the above advice has not helped, don’t panic. The reasons why dogs bark are not always as straightforward as we would like, and qualified pet behaviourists will be able to help you. Ask your vet or visit the Animal Behaviour and Training Council website to find a qualified local behaviourist who can help you and your pet.

Constant barking and the frustration of being unable to solve the problem can be upsetting and annoying, but remember never to take negative feelings out on your dog.

Punishing your pet might temporarily suppress the behaviour but does nothing to change the motivation behind it. So your bored barker might stop woofing when told off, but they might find a different thing to occupy themselves with instead – very likely something you won’t approve of, either!

Do bark collars really work?

Bark collars may seem to offer a 'quick fix' but they do little to address the motivation behind barking. They can make a fearful dog even more upset.

There is a huge array of ’tools’ on the market that claim to stop nuisance barking in dogs and offer a quick fix. These include spray or electric shock collars, compressed air sprays, rattle cans and other devices, whose main function is to startle, scare, cause pain or discomfort to a barking dog in an effort to teach him that barking brings unpleasant consequences.

While some of them might actually work in the immediate-term (by stopping the dog from barking while the device is being used) sadly they do little to address the motivation behind the barking, and so only act to suppress the behaviour without actually solving the real issue. 

What’s more, they can actually do more harm than good by causing your dog unnecessary stress and even pain. Plus, using devices that punish pets will likely damage the bond between you, meaning your dog is less likely to follow your instruction in future, and can lead to further problem behaviours.

As an example, think about barking when left alone. A dog that is very loud when left isn’t making a noise because he or she is being spiteful or wants to get you in trouble with your neighbours. The vocalization is an expression of the dog’s fear, loneliness and sometimes even panic. By strapping a device such as an electric shock collar to an upset dog, you don’t do anything to make them feel safer or more comfortable when left on their own – and what’s more, the pain confirm their fears that being left means horrible things happen to them (painful electric shocks occur every time they bark).

Therefore it is vital that when addressing the problem of nuisance barking that you don’t just look at the quick fix – the “how do I stop it?” – but rather ask “why is my pet doing that?”.

  • If your dog's barking has got to the stage where you are considering using a bark collar, before you do, please speak to a qualified behaviourist. You can contact one through your vet, or visit the Animal Behaviour and Training Council website. If you rehomed your dog from Blue Cross, simply get in touch with the centre you rehomed your pet from for free, expert behavioural advice.

It’s important to note that electric shock collars are illegal to use on dogs in Wales. If you use these on your dog in Wales, you face a cruelty conviction, a fine of up to £20,000 and six months in prison.

Blue Cross would like to see a UK-wide ban on these cruel devices.

— Page last updated 19/06/2018

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