Barking is a natural behavior that dogs use to communicate a need for food or attention. Dogs also bark as a means of greeting a human, raising an alarm or defending their territory. If your dog barks excessively at visitors, firm but positive training techniques can help reduce his vocalization.
Reasons for Barking
When guests arrive, dogs may bark to alert their owners of the newcomer's presence. If your dog's tail is wagging while he barks, he's likely just greeting his guest. If his body is stiff and his barking is accompanied by a small pounce forward, he is engaged in alarm barking, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Territorial barking is prompted by fear or the anticipation of a threat. When dogs bark for territorial reasons, they may not be dissuaded by their owner's corrections. A territorial dog may lash out without warning if he thinks his home turf is threatened.
Training for Quiet
Because barking is a natural to dogs, the ASPCA recommends allowing the dog to bark for a short time when guests arrive. Once your dog has barked four times, you should give the verbal command "quiet," and then gently hold the dog's jaws shut to ensure his cooperation. Call the dog away from the door or window and ask him to sit. If he complies, feed him a treat and continue to do so as long as he stays quietly by your side. If the dog seems anxious when his jaws are held closed, try instead to feed pea-sized treats after giving the command. He will be incapable of barking while he is eating.
Desensitizing to People
Some dogs object to the presence of certain people due to their appearance, clothing or smell, and will bark accordingly. These dogs can be desensitized gradually to the object or person that they fear by exposing the dog to that person for a limited amount of time and at a distance. Once the dog has grown accustomed to the person at a distance, the distance can decrease. Another technique, counterconditioning, teaches dogs to associate their feared object with pleasant things, such as food. According to the ASPCA, a special treat such as chicken, croutons or cheese, should be reserved for counterconditioning. When the object or human comes into sight, feed the dog small bits of the treat until the person is gone.
Adjusting the Environment and Behavior
Dogs benefit from barking when they receive a reward for their noisy vocalizations, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Once you understand his motivation for barking, you can change his living environment. Dogs who bark at passersby or guests at the door can be moved into another room. Curtains that keep the dog from seeing the outside will prevent noisy outbursts when pedestrians pass by the house. When the dog is raising a ruckus outside, he can be brought into the house. Barking dogs can be distracted with requests for behavior that is incompatible with barking. When someone arrives at the door, the dog can be trained to go to a special spot and lie down for a treat, which will discourage barking.