Bark! Woof! Arf! Bow wow! Yip! Yap! Ruff!

How do we communicate to our dogs that while barking is natural it is not always welcome? In the wild dogs vocalize to announce a newcomer, claim an object, warn, invite to play, show their territory, express pain, and invoke pain. Each of these situations needs to be addressed a little differently but I’d like to talk about a few scenarios that commonly come up in daily life.

1-     The doorbell rings and your dog goes crazy barking up a storm. First thing to do is to address the behavior: (remember it is natural for your dog to announce a guest, but he should stop when you tell him to) say “shhh” or “enough”. Get his attention by snapping your fingers or clapping your hands, and point in the direction you want your dog to go–away from the door. It’s nice to give them a place to be whenever any visitor enters such as a rug or crate or kitchen. Don’t be in a hurry, take the time to help your dog understand how you want him to behave when guests arrive.

2-     Your dog barks intensely whenever you pass another dog on a walk. The key to this one is early intervention (see post on “passing other dogs”). If your dog’s excitement is not allowed to escalate, he will not bark. This applies also to dogs who like to bark at things out the car window.

3-     If your dog growls at you under any circumstances the key to stopping this unacceptable behavior is to not back away (we want to avoid giving the dog power). Stand your ground and when he stops growling, take a step toward him until he backs away from you.

If your dog does not vocalize very often—don’t ask him to change his ways! When I first got my schnauzer he didn’t bark at all and I thought it would be “fun” to teach him to speak on command. So I rang the doorbell over and over until he started to bark and then I rewarded him. What have I gotten from this behavior? Exactly what I taught him—he barks whenever guests come over! It has taken us constant training to undo this “trick”.  Learn from my mistake…

“No-bark” collars and products are quite common these days but it does not make sense to me to ask your dog never to vocalize as it is so instinctual for him to do.

Remember that every mistake your dog makes is an opportunity to communicate what you would like them to do. Stay calm and lead your dog!