Friday , 19 January 2018

Ask A Trainer: Barking! Barking! Barking!

Q: HELP! I have a 3 yrs old cocker spaniel who ALWAYS barks like maniac when the doorbell rings!  Nothing can stop him when someone is at the door! He barks like crazy, runs back and forth from the door to the window, and jumps from one couch to the other until the person actually walks into the room! No one can stop him when he is in his barking state…

I have seen 3 different trainers about this issue, yet nothing works! I am out of options!  Do you have any suggestions on how to get him to stop barks every single time the doorbell rings?

Thank you!


A:  Thanks for writing in with an excellent question, Alessandra!  This happens to be one of the most popular reasons I am called in to work with people and their dogs.  Barking is a normal canine behavior, and while we don’t want to stop it altogether, we do want our dogs to stop barking once we’ve asked him to. Realistically you can’t train, nor should you try to train a dog to stop barking completely.  What we want to train the dog to do is to obey a ‘stop barking’ command instead.

With barking, sometimes as owners, we see the barking as a good behavior, and sometimes we see it as a bad behavior.  We want our dogs to alert us to strangers approaching the house.  But we don’t want them barking when that stranger is a friend.  The thing is that the dog cannot tell the difference between a wanted guest and an unwanted one.

Barking is unfortunately a very self rewarding behavior to the dog.  If a dog is barking out of control and cannot be stopped, then it’s a sign that the dog is in a situation where he finds it much more rewarding to bark than it is to keep quiet.  If the dog sees a stranger (or another dog) through the window, and barks at him, and the dog sees the stranger or dog keep moving, therefore leaving his territory, then the actions of the trespasser rewards the dog.  ‘See, my barking made them listen and leave!’  This rewards him, which will just reinforce the barking behavior in the dog.

Even though it might not sound like it makes sense, when we scold our dog for barking at the door, we are also rewarding him for doing so, even if we are telling them NO.  By scolding the dog, we are giving him and the behavior attention.  If we yell at the dog to shut up, then we’re just creating more excitement for the dog, and in his mind, we’re barking right along with him!

The key here is to figure out what type of barking your dog is doing, so that we can control it.  Like I said before, we can’t expect to train him to stop barking, but we can control it.  Dogs bark for variety of reasons.  Some breeds are predisposed to being more vocal, such a beagles, or Sheppard, while there are others who hardly bark at all.  Problem barking though, can arise from boredom, over excitement, anxiety, to get attention, when they’re lonely, frustrated, or in fear.  In either case, problem barking has been reinforced as a rewarding behavior for the dog in some way.

Warning barks are usually loud, sharp and full of authority.  This isn’t normally considered problem barking though.  Anxious barking is often high pitched, and is sometimes self soothing to the dog.  Sometimes they may whine as well.  This often appears in dogs who have separation anxiety.  Excited or playful barking sounds playful and upbeat, and often appears when the dog is looking forward to something, or while they are playing.  Attention seeking barking is repetitive, and says just what the dog is trying to convey.  ‘I’m here, here I am, I’m here, here I am!”.  The sound of a dog who barks out of boredom tends to be annoying, and sounds like the dog just barks to hear itself bark.  It can sometimes sound sad too, as the barking seems pointless.

Once we’ve figured out what type of barking the dog is engaging in, we can then work on how to control it.  From what you’ve described, it sounds like your cocker is engaging in a combination of what I’ve described, ranging from anxious barking, to attention barking, and barking out of boredom.  The behaviors you describe your dog doing, along with his barking is what leads me to this conclusion, though it would be better if I saw (and heard) your dog in action myself.

The biggest thing you can do to help hedge off the obsessive barking is to thoroughly exercise your dog.  Two half hour walks a day would be a great start, as well as working on his basic commands each and every day, many times a day, incorporating his commands into your every day life.

The next step will be to teach your dog that it is much more rewarding for him to sit quietly while greeting people who come into the home, rather than jumping all over the place, barking up a storm.  To control his jumping all over the place, you might want to use a leash and a head collar.  This will give you greater control.  I typically advise that you choose a place where your dog should sit to greet people as they come into the home.  I would keep this place at least four to five feet away from the door.  You should be greeting your guests before your dog does.

Refrain from speaking to your dog in a comforting tone while he is barking.  Ex: ‘it’s ok Poochy, it’s only Mama coming to visit.”  Any type of soothing will just reinforce whatever behavior the dog is exhibiting.  Avoid shouting, or yelling at the dog, as this might just increase his frantic barking.  Try to avoid any types of punishment, as this is totally counter productive to the dog and what you are trying to accomplish.

Try to get his attention instead, with either a clap or a whistle.  Do not use the dogs name.  You will want to distract him, with either a sound, or even a treat.  While he turns to the new sound, or the scent of the treat, he will not be able to keep barking at the same time.  Once you have his attention, use the command that you choose, be it ‘hush’ or ‘quiet’.  It doesn’t matter what word you choose, what matters is that you use this word whenever you are asking him to stop barking.

This is the time, the PERFECT time to reward him for being quiet.  Remember, he cannot bark and look away, or smell a yummy treat at the same time.  While you have shifted his focus from whatever he is barking at, you can then ask him for a basic command, such as sit.  Redirecting the dog is a wonderful alternative, and we always want to give them positive alternatives to unwanted behaviors.

You will also want to reward any and all good behavior, as SOON as it happens.  Reserve very special treats that the dog loves, and use it ONLY when working on this exercise.  You will need to be diligent, and remember that consistency is key!

Another thing you can do is to let all of your guests know that you are working hard on training your dog, and that it might take you a little longer to answer the door at times.  You can also ask them to refrain from speaking to your dog as soon as they get into the house, and to not use a high pitched voice when they do greet him.

There’s no getting around it, this isn’t something that can be controlled overnight.  It will take time and diligence on your part, but I have faith that you will succeed!

Good luck and happy training!

Meira Frankl

Perfect Pet Training


About nat

Check Also

How To Deal With Off Leash Dogs

Hi Meira,  I have a problem that I’m hoping you can help me with. It’s …


  1. Love the article about barking. Maggie, our pomchi, only barks when she is at the park, with other dogs. I am thinking she is barking to get attention from other dogs. Could this be correct? How do I stop it?

  2. Thanks Dorothy! I’m happy to hear that your pom/chi only barks at the dog park when she’s with other dogs. Poms have been known to be notorious barkers! So you must be doing something right that she only barks there!

    Like I mentioned above, dogs bark for a variety of reasons. And unless I know more of the situation, or even better yet, saw and heard it myself, would I be able to help you learn the reason for her barking.

    Usually other dogs at the dog park will correct an unruly barker. But if all else fails, then follow the instructions from the article, keeping her on a leash and a head collar for more control.

    Telling her to be quiet, or asking a command that you can’t ensure will be followed through will not do any good. So try to be patient. Hopefully another dog will help correct her!

    Good luck and happy training!


  3. Hi your article is good and backs up others I’ve read. However, our husky cross carparthian rescue is very good when we’re about, barking briefly at the doorbell etc. Our problem is when we’re out of sight around the house (example in bed or the bathroom). There’s a public footpath runs along the end of our garden which is heavily used by dog walkers, workers, school children etc and when she’s left downstairs, when we’re out etc she barks EVERYTIME someone walks by. We can’t do the reward thing as she never does it when we’re there. She’s quiet at other times and happily plays with her toys, Kong, and more redently her kennel sister

    • Hi Suzan,

      I’d try curtailing your dog’s view of the triggers. Wax paper or an opaque film on the windows work very well. To address the auditory triggers, I’d play some music, or television to drown out the sounds, or better yet, an audio CD to help desensitize her to the sounds she hears.

      Good luck!

  4. I’m in the same boat as Suzan above, our dog rarely if ever will bark at neighbors when we’re home or people walking behind the house but have been told she barks “nonstop” when left outside when we’re not home. Our solution for now is to crate her in the house. Our other dog stays outside however but some days I’m unable to get home over lunch to let her out and feel bad when I can’t. We do daily walks and agility twice a week with her and have tried all the typical solutions to no avail.

    • Same boat here! Any advise on what to do when the problem is happening when we are not at home. We have tried lots of things thunder shirt, blocking dogs view of passing stimulus, always walk for an hour before leaving, not being over excited / affectionate when we leave and come home, kongs, bones. Getting stressed and desperate!

      • Hi Karli,

        Another thing you can try would be DAP or Adaptil, dog appeasing pheromones that help dogs relax. It mimics the hormones mother dogs release when they’re nursing their pups. It doesn’t work for all dogs, but for the dogs it does work for, it works very well.

        I would also increase your dog’s mental stimulation as well.

        If all else fails, I’d call in a qualified positive professional who can help determine if there are any underlying issues, such as anxiety.

        Good luck & happy training!


    • Hi Chris,

      Your management idea is a good one. Personally though, I wouldn’t leave a dog outside all day unattended in the backyard.

      What you can try, which would need to be practiced quite a bit before you leave her out in the backyard would be to employ the Premack Principle protocol.

      This is where you reward the dog for the dog’s lesser desired (desired by the dog) behavior, then use the actual trigger behavior as the reward for the unwanted behavior.

      Most of us use this protocol, or know of it when it comes to kids not wanting to eat their veggies. So many of us are familiar with the phrase “if you eat your peas, you’ll get your dessert”. This is what Premack Principle is.

      When your dog is barking at the neighbors, try calling your dog to you, and once she comes to you, reward her with something yummy. Very yummy. Then let her go back to the barking at the neighbors or the fence. You’ll need to repeat this many times, so that she learns that she’ll get what she wants, which will eventually lower the value of it to her.

      If you need help carrying out the protocol (as it might not seem very simple), then I suggest contacting a qualified, positive professional trainer local to you for some help.

      Good luck & happy training!

  5. Hi,

    We have a 4 year old cocker spaniel X, Oscar. We’ve never had problems with him barking before but I had an 16 year old dog with him for the full 4 years but sadly we had to put him to sleep last week :-(.

    Since then, Everytime we go out he starts barking, howling, crying and pacing up and down the kitchen. We know this because we have started using a camera again.
    He doesn’t seem to settle or lie down in his bed which is really sad to see because he was fine when we had my other dog.

    We are trying to help him but nothing seems to be working yet. Please can you help?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *