If your pooch barks every time he hears a noise, either a specific sound or noises in general, he’s probably just trying to be helpful by alerting you to something new in the area. However, we're guessing that you don't need a bark alert every time a car passes by, when the phone rings, or when a squirrel scampers across your roof. If this describes your pooch, use these simple training techniques to accustom him to the noises you don't need to be "told" about!
Keep a “dog bark diary” for a few days, noting which sounds your dog barks at and how loud they have to be before he starts barking. For example, if he barks at vehicles driving past, note how close and how loud the vehicle is when he starts. Can you hear it before he begins? Also note his body language for each noise. He may be barking at different noises for different reasons. If he is barking to raise the alarm, to establish his territory or to alert you to something, he’ll probably be quite stiff. If he is barking to say hello, for example when he hears voices, he’ll be a lot more relaxed.
Mimic Bark Triggers
Prepare recordings of the sounds he barks at and see if he responds when you play them them back to him. If he does respond--terrific! You can use them in training.
Ask your dog to lie down, a position that is incompatible with barking. Let him relax for a few minutes, before calling him into another room for a treat or some petting. Spend a few days just having him relax for short periods.
Repeat the process, but this time, have one of the trigger sounds begin after he is relaxed, but at a very low volume, too low to trigger barking. Turn the recording off after a minute, or immediately if he stiffens. If one of the things he barks at is the television, you can simply use your TV set. For voices and vehicles, you can recruit others to help. Continue over a few weeks, gradually increasing the volume each time if possible.
A Lying Dog is A Quiet Dog
Ask him to lie down whenever you hear one of the sounds he responds to outside and before he starts barking. If he has already started and is ignoring your command, startle him by making a loud noise yourself, such as clapping your hands or rattling a bottle with a few coins inside, then ask him to lie down again once his attention is on you.
A Few Words of Caution
Experts highly discourage the use of a shock collar to try to stop your dog from barking. This will only increase anxiety in your dog, and may lead to further behavioral issues. There are other devices, including collars, that are meant to control dogs barking by releasing a citrus scent or emitting a very high-pitched sound. These do not cause pain, but have varying effectiveness. If you do decide to use one of these, get advice from your vet or dog trainer first.
Don’t forget that you probably don’t want your dog to stop barking at all sounds--for example an intruder breaking into your home. During training, focus on the everyday sounds that you want him to ignore, not a random selection of strange noises.
By Judith Willson
About the Author
Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.