Barking, Barking, Barking, etc., etc., etc…

Does your dog bark while running in circles, bay at the moon, bark at bugs, or scare your visitors out of their boots?

Dogs bark to repel intruders, for attention, during play, as an outlet for energy, or in separation distress. Barking is as natural a vocalization for dogs as speaking is for humans. Basic barking is normal, but incessant barking may indicate an unhappy dog that has developed a behavior problem. Here’re some non-aversive training tips to help bring some peace and quiet to your home.

First, identify why your dog is barking. Then address each trigger separately. Either remove or modify the trigger, teach your dog to do something other than bark when triggered, or decrease your dog’s sensitivity to the trigger in order to decrease the frequency and intensity of barking. Teach your dog early that barking is not rewarded. If you have a multiple-dog household there is often an instigator, so train each dog separately starting with “you know who”.

Remember this important Learning Principle: Behaviors that are rewarded increase in frequency, so reward your dog with attention, affection or treats only when she is calm.

Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak

Alarm Barking
Desensitize so that the doorbell no longer warns “scary stranger is here” but proclaims “cookie-friend is here". Have visitors carry treats. Mount a treat bag on your doorknob that reads, “Please feed the animal”. If you’re home, interrupt and redirect your dog to another location. For example, call your dog and ask for a quiet “sit” in front of the refrigerator, give a treat for a “down/stay” in the dog bed, or easiest of all, throw treats out in to the backyard where your pup will focus his energy on grazing rather than barking.

Alternatively, put your dog in a time-out until she calms herself down. Again, calm behavior gets the attention and treats, whereas barking doesn’t. Please see see Dr. Sophia Yin’s video on Counter-conditioning to change emotional response on her YouTube page or website.

For outdoor noises try an audio blocker such as background TV or stereo and desensitize by pairing treats with the trigger sound. If dogs passing by or squirrels out in the yard set your dog off, rearrange and manage your dog’s location so there's a visual blocker rather than a “guard station” where your dog stalks, sits or lies in wait. Provide your dog with novel stimuli to replace guarding activities and plenty of exercise to relieve pent-up energy.

Demand Barking
Never give in to: “I want treat, I want you, I want outside” barking. If you provide the desired item or any reinforcement you’re teaching your dog to repeat the behavior over and over again. Reward for quiet and well-mannered behavior, but turn away or walk away in response to barking.

Photo Courtesy of Cindy Staszak

What Not to Do
The use of citronella collars, spray bottles, shouting or shaking cans of marbles near delicate ear structures have undesirable side-effects. Punishment may incite yourdog to aggress, become fearful, damage your relationship, and nurture a negative association/relationship with whatever or whoever your dog is barking at. We want your dog to calm down, not totter on the brink of aggression, or to shut down. Never punish her for barking--next time she may forego the bark and just bite.

Your dog is smart and will learn what you “teach” her. Learning how to communicate in a language your dog can understand is the key to the wonderful relationship you’ve always dreamed of with your dog.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: [email protected] for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at

Originally published San Diego Pets Magazine, Casey Dean, Publisher. All rights reserved.

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Positively Expert: Linda Michaels, MA

Linda Michaels is a VSPDT trainer, dog training columnist, and owner of Dog Psychologist On Call in Del Mar, CA. Linda holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology with research experience in Behavioral Neurobiology. She is a Behavioral Advisor for the Wolf Education Project (WEP) in Julian, CA and Art for Barks in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.

  • Hey Ms.Stillwell my name is Jisell Rincon I have a dog named Mickey he is 3 years and 7 months I love him very much but he has many behavior issues one of them being is that he barks at everyone who walks right by him or in bicycle. He can't see other dogs at the park because he goes crazy. We have tried to teach him how to do things the right way but it's impossible. I hope you can give me some tips so that his behavior can change thank you so much. Have a good day.

  • Breanna

    I never thought of any of this. Our 3 dogs bark at the door, our neighbor in the backyard, or anyone walking by the house. If even one dog hears something they will bark and that will alarm the other 2 dogs and then we have way to much excessive barking in the house and they dont stop! We have tried treats and other rooms but they still bark. But this treat in the backyard might work or the people with treats might work to. Its just their barking never stops and its so loud!

  • John Primovic

    Nice advice. I have been working on our finnish spitz. We are making progress. When she barks I give her a stern look and tell her to sit down. It has been working. Also, a nice long walk gets the energy out of her. She usually barks when she want to play.

  • my 2 year old german shepard barks at everything all the time ,,,but wen in or the evening and sits in his chair anyone could rob the house as he dosent bark at all,,,during the day he barks to go out barks at the neighbours , dogs cats you name it he barks can you give me some halp pleessee,,,

  • Pam

    I really enjoyed your article on barking. It is going to help a LOT. 🙂 I have a maltese/poodle mix and a maltese/shih-tzu mix who need to bark at the wind sometimes. lol

    Thanks again!

  • susan otoole

    what about play barking? 2 of our 3 rescue dogs are St Bernards and they seem to play bark alot. I also notice at the dog park that some dogs play bark and some do not. It seems harmless but can get very annoying...

  • I have a 7 year old Beagle who barks agressively when he sees another dog. Treats don't help.
    I have a 11 year old Beagle female who runs and barks crazy when she sees or smells a cat.
    Both were shelter dogs and I don't know their history.
    I get up extra early to walk at abandoned places.
    Please, help me.

  • Hi Jisell,

    Management and safety for all, above all, is in order. Sounds like your dog may have some human and dog, as well as moving object issues that need professional attention using non-aversive desensitization protocols.

    I can't give advice on aggression-related cases online, however, I highly recommend a little booklet by Dr. Patricia B. McConnell, PhD, called Feisty Fido. This booklet details some easy-to-follow protocols to help turn these behaviors around.

    Safety first always. If your dog has ever bit a person or a dog, I recommend you seek a behavioral consultation from a VS trainer in your area and get a complete history and custom plan for treatment.

    Hope that may be of some help.

    These are common problems and can largely be avoided by proper preventative measures in puppies through frequent and regular ultra-socialization, alternated with basic obedience skills.

    No dog is "impossible" if you can learn to speak a language they can understand! LOL. We just need to look at things from your dog's point of view.

    With most aggression being fear-based, there's much that may be done, but it's not an easy-fix.

  • Lilly

    When my dog hears certain commercials and tv shows he cries and runs to anybody in the room to make it stop.He's a 4 year old chihuahua mix. Help.

  • Brewis

    Our dog barks through the night so we can't follow the advice above re finding the trigger etc. It is caused by separation but how do we combat it? We've tried ignoring it - but don't get any sleep; currently using an anti bark collar which emits citronella when he barks, but it also activates sometimes when he' moving around. It does stop him barking, but he's scared of it. Any ideas on how to combat this as so far he's ruined our doors trying to get to us when he's locked in the kitchen/diner. Tried giving him the run of the house but he still barks if he can't get to us. Also tried having him in the bedroom, but he still scratches the door throughout the night to get our attention.

  • Hello ,

    My Beagle barks only at other dogs agressively.
    The second Beagle barks only at cats.

    What can I do??

    Both are quiet in the house.

    Thank you, please reply and help me!

    Have a good day,


  • AmyE

    My Belgian Malinois-mix has a morning routine with one of our cats - of course the mean one only my husband can go near. The dog goes downstairs while I'm dressing to take her on a.m. walk. The cat is always waiting for her under the coffee table & the dog then barks incessantly & loudly at the cat & does the "play bow". The cat will sometimes dart out from under the table & take a swing at the dog. They are seem to be playing, at least the dog appears to be. We've tried ignoring it hoping that the dog will stop if we don't give her any attention, to no avail. It's now escalating & happening at all times of the day. I'm afraid the cat may end up getting hurt if she actually makes contact with the dog. Our dog is a cat chaser outside our home. She doesn't do this with our other cat who is much more mellow & doesn't engage her. Also, the cat doesn't engage our other - very mellow dog like this either. Don't know what to do.

  • NIcky

    I have two rescue dogs and has really almost come to point of my husband or my dogs. They both alarm bark at everything. My husband comes in they bark, my daughter comes downstairs they bark. They neighbor comes home they bark. My husband wants to get rid of them because the barking is endless. I have tried making them lie down and they just continue to growl and bark. They will not accept treats when they are in this state. My larger pitty mix calms down much faster and his barking turns to tail wagging and excitement when a guest comes in. However my smaller mix runs through the house barking and terrified. I usually have to put her in the bedroom for 20 mins before she is calm enough to be let out. Even then she will bark if the guest moves too fast or gets up to leave. Any help would be much appreciated I love my dogs.

  • Do you have any suggestions for dogs who only bark when their parent is not around? This tends to lead to noise complaints from neighbors, but I'm finding it difficult to change the behavior since I'm not around when he is barking. I've tried distraction (toys, puzzles, etc), working on seperation anxiety and teaching him that when I pick up my purse it doesn't always mean I'll be gone for long periods of time. Any suggestions would be helpful!

  • John


    I live on a corner and my backyard runs parallel to a side street. People often walk their dogs past my yard. I own two Beagles, Tucker and Fireball. Tucker is fine with people walking by. Fireball on the other hand runs the fence with this loud bellowing incessant call. The situation is often exacerbated when those walking by allow their dog to walk right along the fence rather than across the street from my property. His barking continues even after the people are no longer in sight. The only way for me to stop Fireball is to get his leash and make him come inside. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    John Russo

  • Margie

    I have a wonderful little schnauzer who I love dearly. I lost my 14yr old son to a tragic accident several years ago and this little dog kept me from losing my mind. His name is Rickie and he is a well behaved dog for the most part but he does have a barking problem when it comes to certain things. He doesn't bark all of the time except when I go out to the barn. I do not let him come with me because I have one horse that will stomp him into the ground, given the chance.
    Every time I go thru the gate to the barn he will run to the fence and start barking and will not stop, unless I come back into the yard and make him lie down somewhere. He also barks at them when we are in the house. He knows all of the basic commands and a few other ones. I would like to train him not to bark at the horses but I am not sure how to do that. Any help would be grately appreciated.



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  • Nichole

    I have 2 barky shelties at home and they will bark at anything. My mom just shouts at them and I try to tell he lets try this but she never does! Do you have any advice on out of control dog? Then my grandma lives with us and has a small maltese that is very aggressive so I can't even get near her! 🙁 and she's 92 years old. Have any advice Victoria? 🙂

  • My 10 year old cockapoo will be laying on the floor and suddenly get up and start sniffing,running in circles and barking. It doesn't happen with any regularity. Any ideas?


  • Jeannine Barr

    My Google search of "dog barking at horse" brought me here... I see the posts are a little older so I hope you may still be able to offer some advice, and was wondering how "Margie" and her schnauzer solved their barn problem!
    We have two Westies (age 6 and 8) who have excellent barn manners and respect for the horses, chickens (even the rabbits) and their space, no barking, no chasing. Now we throw our 9 month old German Shepherd into the mix and she's evoking all bad habits, she's barking in the horses faces from the opposite side of the fence, if we leash her and bring her near the horses she's lunging at them. She got loose one night and cornered one of the horses against the fence, luckily I don't think the horse could see her in the dark, so she escaped without getting the snot kicked out of her!
    Now I have the three of them barking at the fence when I'm out by the barn... any ideas on how to get the GSD a little more at ease around the horses to stop this barking and how to get the Westies to stop following her bad example?
    Thank you so much in advance for any solid advice you can offer!
    Long Island, NY

  • barbara.carter. full.

  • Terry Mounsey

    I adopted a Maltese that they think is a bout a year old. He does not seem to know any commands and is not house trained. He is crated at night and will bark for anywhere from 30 min to an hour. I do not acknowledge his barking since we can close doors in order to sleep. I tried moving the crate into our bed room to see if this would help but it did not. Any suggestions to control the barking?.

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