Does your dog have an opinion about everything—especially the mail carrier, the delivery driver, and every neighborhood dog who passes by your home? If you respond to your dog’s excessive barking by yelling “No bark!” or “Quiet!” it’s time for a training lesson—for both ends of the leash. Verbal scolding is the canine equivalent of barking back. So, the next time your dog woofs at the window or howls at the handyman, resist joining the canine conversation and instead try these tips from Marina Village Veterinary and Integrative Care.

#1: Teach your dog an incompatible behavior

This approach relies on one simple idea—if you reward your dog for a behavior that makes barking impossible or inconvenient, they can’t bark. Some incompatible behaviors for barking include:

  • Asking your dog to retrieve a toy
  • Tugging on a toy 
  • Sending your dog to a crate, cot, or bed in another room

Each of these behaviors must first be taught in a quiet, distraction-free space without the exciting stimuli (e.g., doorbell, delivery truck, neighborhood dog). Make the lesson a game, and lavishly reward your dog for a correct performance—you want the new behavior to be more valuable than the innate reward of barking, so be generous!

Next, practice the behavior where your dog barks (e.g., a window, the fence, your front door). Gradually increase the challenge level by simulating a distraction, and cueing your dog’s new behavior the instant they are distracted. In time, the stimulus (e.g., knocking, doorbell, delivery truck backing up, postal worker arriving) will cue the dog to perform the behavior—however, it’s perfectly fine to prompt your dog if needed. 

#2: Control your dog’s trigger

Your pet’s trigger is the environmental stimulus that prompts them to bark—which can be controlled or modified in some cases. If your pet is sensitive to a specific event, try to change or eliminate the trigger. This could include:

  • Rerouting deliveries — Most large delivery services now offer package drop-off and pick-up locations in local retail stores and pharmacies. You could request that your packages be left somewhere other than your home to significantly reduce your dog’s distress.
  • Hanging a “do not knock” sign on your door — If the knocking or the doorbell ringing sends your pooch into a panic, try placing a large sign on your front door requesting that the guest text you on arrival.
  • Restricting access to windows and doors — For dogs who become agitated by neighborhood activity—or for triggers that cannot be controlled (e.g., roaming dogs, trash trucks)—consider blocking their visual access with a pet gate or closed door, or creating a barrier with a dog exercise pen. 

However, controlling the trigger can prevent undesirable barking, but does not change the behavior. These strategies are considered management—not training—but can be used as a temporary solution while your dog learns good behavior, or a permanent fix if you have no time for or interest in training.

#3: Teach your dog to bark

This seems counterintuitive, but cuing (i.e., commanding) the bark behavior can help your dog understand the concept of “quiet.” 

  • Bark, baby, bark! — First, build value by praising and rewarding your dog as they bark. Repeat this several times, and then use a verbal cue (e.g., “Speak”) or a hand signal as your dog is barking. Gradually back up until the cue precedes the behavior.
  • Hush now — Next, wait until your dog stops barking—this may be only a second at first—and say “Yes” or “Good” and reward your dog the second they stop barking. This will build value for being quiet. Once your dog can stay quiet for several seconds without praise or prompt, introduce a quiet cue, such as “Shhh” or a hand signal.
  • Don’t ask, don’t bark — Once your dog understands both behaviors, reward the behavior only when you ask your dog to bark, and use your “Quiet” cue when needed—remember to reward! 

#4: Exercise your dog’s mind and body

Excessive barking can indicate boredom or insufficient exercise. Engage your dog’s mind and body with the following activities—a tired dog is a quiet dog!

  • Learn something new — Join an in-person or online training class and teach your dog some new tricks.
  • Burn off that energy — Social dogs will enjoy a membership to doggy day care, while others may prefer a weekly trip to the park or their own personal dog walker.
  • Think critically — Teach your dog to problem solve and access food with dog puzzle toys or snuffle mats. Supervise your dog to ensure safe and successful play.
  • Provide a distraction — If you know an upcoming event will trigger your barking dog, plan ahead—remove them to a quiet area and offer them a dog-safe, food-stuffed Kong toy that you have frozen for long-lasting enjoyment—and peace!

Excessive barking causes more than a headache, but by managing your dog’s environment and building value for the desired behavior, you can replace howling with harmony. For additional questions or for recommendations for local dog trainers, contact Marina Village Veterinary and Integrative Care.