To stop a dog from barking at night, you need to work with them during the day
By Laura Pakis, certified professional dog trainer and cynologist,
Dogs bark for many reasons: to alert you that someone is at the door or walking by; to get your attention; they hear other dogs barking; they were startled or heard a loud noise; they are nervous, anxious, or frustrated; to invoke play; or to send a warning to others. Barking is a natural behavior for a dog and helps them convey what they are thinking and feeling at any given time.
Dog owners worldwide will tell you that while some barking is alright, excessive barking can be frustrating, annoying, and downright rude. Dogs do not realize that we do not appreciate excessive barking. They feel that their barking is justified and necessary for each specific incident.
Although we do not want to completely stop a dog from barking, teaching him when to stop barking can prove to be invaluable. You can accomplish this through behavior modification and obedience training.
Separation Anxiety/Compulsive Barking
Separation anxiety and compulsive barking are difficult to treat without the help of a trained professional. It is important to remember that the dog is not bad or trying to make life miserable-although it sometimes may feel that way! The dog is the victim of a disorder that can be treated. The prognosis for recovery is excellent if you are willing to spend time working with the dog.
Accustomed to a lot of attention, they don’t know how to behave when alone. Often, we have set this up ourselves. We want our dogs to be happy, so we spoil them: our dogs get treats and petting whenever they wish. It is entirely normal for owners to act this way and entirely normal for dogs to complain when they feel neglected.
More often than not, the problem barker has never learned to be alone
He is accustomed to lavish attention without having to earn it. He thinks he is the center of the world, and upon finding himself abandoned, he is distraught, and he barks, what did you expect?
Your dog must learn that barking for your attention doesn’t work
If your dog is unhappy outdoors and barking eventually makes you bring him in, he learns that barking gets results. If barking makes you yell at him, well, that’s better than nothing. “I’m bored. Maybe I can get them to yell at me again.” Although yelling doesn’t work, negative reinforcement can still be useful. Perhaps a little story will help explain:
We did a lot of boarding, and there were occasionally dogs that barked at night. These dogs were warm and well-fed, with plenty of water. Their kennels were clean and dry. All they lacked was entertainment. I quickly learned that hollering “quiet” was pretty much useless. Here is what worked: I’d put a little water in a Dixie Cup and quietly stand in front of the barker, not saying a word. Within a minute or two, the dog would bark again, whereupon I’d immediately dash the water in his face, turn around and go back to bed, all without saying a word. I’d usually have to do this two or three times the first night, once or twice the second night, and maybe even once the night after that. Nearly always, after the second or third night, quiet.
“Quiet” repeated calmly and clearly once or twice in a normal voice will teach your dog to associate the word with water in the face and with not barking. Later, in situations where he would ordinarily bark but stays quiet instead, calmly praise him.
- Use positive reinforcement to train your dog to bark on command; this will help him learn how to be quieted on command. If you pick up on a stimulus to get them to bark, use it to get them to ‘speak’ and then say “quiet” and reward them. This way, the dog will associate quiet with finishing barking and with rewards.
- Say “Good” at the exact instant your pet exhibits good behavior, followed by a reward and plenty of praise.
- If he barks inappropriately, spray him in the face with a spray bottle filled with water, but don’t let him see the spray bottle. He will immediately stop barking.
- When you can tell that he is getting ready to bark, try talking to him in an excited voice (happy, but not necessarily soothing). If you soothe your dog, it is praise and will lead to more barking.
NOTE: You will find that once your dog develops good obedience, the barking problem will lessen due to more structure in his life.
Be a good role model.
Believe it or not, the words you say mean nothing to a dog. What matters is the way you say those words and the message delivered by your body language. When you overdo it by repeatedly reassuring your dog that everything is ok and you’ll be back soon, you are making things worse. Excitedly greeting the dog on your return reinforces the idea that staying alone for the day really is a big deal.
Stop praising and petting your dog for doing nothing.
This won’t be easy, but you’ve got to do it, and the entire family must cooperate. For now, at least, the only time you should even touch your dog is when he has responded correctly to a command. Teach him to sit. A simple “good dog” and a pat on the head are praise enough when he sits. Slowly work up to longer sit times until your dog can be relied upon to sit and stay in all situations. Bonus: Your guests will appreciate this. Remember when Fido put muddy paw prints on Aunt Emily? Many dog owners believe that since they enjoy this type of greeting, other people do too. This is seldom true.
Because you aren’t petting and stroking and fondling him all the time, your dog should be learning now that it’s ok to be “out of touch” for short periods. Get some good chew toys. Nylabones and Kongs are excellent. Let your dog become distracted with a chew toy, then calmly and quietly leave the room, closing the door behind you. Within a few minutes, preferably before your dog has become distraught about your absence, come back in and resume what you were doing. Move calmly, say nothing. When your dog rushes over to greet you, ignore him completely. Don’t say anything. Don’t even look at him. Your separation was completely unimportant to you, so it should be completely unimportant to your dog.
Stop saying goodbye
You are ready now to leave your dog alone for the day. Start your morning schedule ten minutes early. Feed your dog and try to get him settled in with a chew toy. Get completely ready to walk out the door and then sit down with the newspaper. Ignore your dog completely. After several minutes of calm separation, quietly walk out the door and go to work. Do not say goodbye, do not even look at your dog. You are leaving for the day. This is not a big deal. Your return home must be equally calm. Ignore your dog. No petting, no excited greeting. Change clothes or whatever. After he has settled down, acknowledge your dog by telling him to sit. Only then does he get a pat on the head and a simple “good dog”? You were gone for the day. Remember, this is not a big deal.
Be a strong leader
When a dog has a strong leader, it has a calming effect on the dog. The dog feels safe and taken care of. In the absence of a strong leader, the dog feels obligated to assume that position in the family pack’s social hierarchy. Since a leader must control all that goes on, the dog’s inability to control the situation causes the dog stress and anxiety. Obedience training is the best, organized method of establishing yourself as a strong leader.
There are a variety of products available that state they will stop barking quickly. These collars go on your dog’s neck and give audible or ultrasonic corrections to your dog. Unfortunately, they aren’t effective on all dogs, and many require a bit of training ahead of time, so the dog understands it is their barking that is being corrected and not something else.
Don’t give up. Patience and consistency will either correct or improve the situation.
about the author
Laura Pakis is an experienced certified dog trainer. She shares her knowledge and experience with training over 5,000 dogs on her blog, Spike’s Dog Blog by Acme Canine, and every Sunday on KSCO Pet Radio in Santa Cruz. Laura is an industry expert to the media and assists dog trainers worldwide with improving their training techniques, people skills, and business knowledge.