Dogs communicate with us and each other in a variety of ways, including smells, body language, and sounds. Barking is just one of the many sounds they use, but it’s an important tool that helps dogs define and protect their territory. However, territorial barking can also become a nuisance when your dog barks excessively at strangers, guests, neighbors walking past your home, when on walks, or when you are out of the home.
The goal of territorial barking is to make the threat or intruder go away, and this means that every time your dog barks and the stranger leaves, the action is reinforced. In other words, it is a self-reinforcing behavior. This can make the behavior particularly difficult to address. Before you give up and consign yourself to a lifetime of barking, try one of these techniques to give your dog better people skills and more confidence and build the quieter, more peaceful home you crave.
Understanding the Bark
Most dogs barking at strangers are barking for territorial reasons. When dogs are barking territorially, they may have stiff body posture and raised hackles. Dogs barking at strangers might also be barking out of excitement, however. This is common in well-socialized dogs that love seeing visitors and guests. Rather than warning strangers to stay away, this kind of happy-go-lucky pup is expressing exuberance.
Unfortunately, both types of barking can bring fear and wariness to passers-by and visitors to your home. If it is a problematic behavior that is bothering your neighbors, family members, or you, you can learn to stop dogs from barking at strangers. The key is patience, consistency, and plenty of positive reinforcement.
Quieting the Bark
One of the most effective ways of silencing a barking pup is through distraction. Shake your car keys, squeak a favorite toy, or rattle the treat box. Once you have gotten your dog’s attention, tell them to “sit” and offer a treat. With consistency, your dog will learn that barking does not earn a reward but sitting quietly just might!
Distraction techniques also work well in public. If your dog gets loud with strangers on walks or in public spaces, you can manage this undesirable behavior by distracting your dog. On walks, the goal is to avoid engagement. Wait for the dog to notice the stranger, and then turn and walk before the dog has a chance to engage. When the dog can approach someone calmly and quietly, reward them.
At home, excited or territorial barking can be headed off at the pass by training your dog to go sit at a particular spot. They must remain at that spot during the welcoming process. For the best odds of success, your dog should already have the foundations of obedience training and know basic commands, such as “sit,” “lie down,” and “stay.”
You can also train your dog with the command “quiet.” If your dog begins barking at a stranger, gently hold their muzzle while saying, “quiet.” Do not shout, yell, or exclaim loudly. Instead, keep your voice calm and at a normal volume. Remove your hand from the muzzle, and if your dog can refrain from barking, offer a treat. If barking continues, then repeat the process.
Keep in mind that physically restraining your dog’s muzzle can cause frustration. If your pup becomes uncooperative, you can use the quiet command without restraint combined with distraction. If your dog stays quiet, offer a treat.
Dogs without supervision for any period, such as in the yard or at home alone, often bark at passers-by, delivery people, and others. Because you are not there to intervene, your dog’s barking will be reinforced naturally, which means that you will need to be proactive about quieting it. This includes keeping blinds and curtains closed to reduce the risk of them seeing people passing by and installing tall opaque fences that block their view beyond your yard.
Finally, remember that a tired dog is a good dog. Doggy daycare can offer your dog new outlets for their energy and doggy friends for healthy, positive socialization. Giving your dog plenty of activities, offering alternative behaviors, and developing positive new communication strategies will help your dog stay active, engaged, social, and well-mannered. Visit Playful Pack today to learn more.