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Dealing With Excessive Barking
Tips from the CMTC Blog

By: Linda Richard 

How should we react to the problem of excessive barking? How can we avoid complaints from neighbours? And how can we understand this behavior and prevent it?

The number one complaint from neighbours of all dog owners is excessive barking. Some dogs spend their lives vocalizing, others are rather silent. We all want to stop our dogs from barking and breaking our ears!

How do we avoid, prevent and help change this behaviour that is so natural for the dog?

The most common advice you will receive might include dropping a can full of pennies, spraying the dog with water, or using a gadget like a collar with a jet of citronnella, one that produces a particular sound or even electric shocks. The results will vary, most of the time it will have some effect but not for long, it may not work at all (Ha! You may discover that some dogs love to be sprayed with water!), or it may cause other problems . Using such methods is like shooting in the dark as they try to modify a result regardless of the cause.

Gadgets can occasionally help to temporarily reduce complaints while you are working through the real problem. However, you must work on this problem if you want reliable results in the long term. To do this, we need to understand why a dog barks.


There are several reasons that cause barking. Some people will say that their dog ''barks at nothing''. This is absolutely false. A dog always vocalizes for a reason. We may not understand this reason or we may not find it worthy of all that noise, but it exists and finding it is the first step towards treatment and prevention.

Some breeds are more likely to express themselves by vocalizing than others. but even dogs of those breeds need a reason to vocalize! The dog may bark because he is bored. He would like something to happens and each stimulus, however small it is, drives him to bark in the hope of producing some reaction. It can happen that a dog accused of barking 'for nothing' is actually barking because he saw a bird through the window or because a leaf fell from a tree... he barks because he is bored and has absolutely nothing else to do. This is not only true for the poor dogs tied outside all day but also for spoiled lapdogs within our homes. It may be that this dog has all the care, love and walks, but he has a potential and intelligence far beyond his role as a stuffed doggie.

We could deter the bored dog from barking by putting an electric shock collar on him. If this doesn’t traumatize him too much, he may simply find another activity like destroying stuff, chasing shadows or digging to relieve his boredom. It would be more effective to keep this puppy busy instead of trying to silence him. Some stimulating activities that are physically and mentally interesting will satisfy him. A tired dog is a good dog!


Linked to boredom, is barking to get attention. Again, the dog has little else to do to amuse himself other than to make us react. He quickly learns that when he makes noises, we jump, shout at him (we bark too!), or even chase him—in short, we leave whatever we are doing and our attention ois 100% on him! It's a super game!

If you start to throw him cans or spray him with water when he vocalizes, unless he is very frightened he may well love this change in the rules of the game. He'll find you very inventive and interesting as you try every trick imaginable to make him silent. Unless you really scare or hurt him (which will have unfortunate consequences on your relationship with him), these approaches will rarely silence him. The best solution is to take proper care of the dog and ignore his vocalizations so as to not reward him with your attention.


A very common and serious cause of excessive barking is distrust. In this case, a dog vocalizes to sound the alarm when he is afraid. He wants to warn his family of the great danger he thinks is approaching. The easiest way to prevent this problem is by exposing the puppy to many people, other dogs, cats, horses, trucks, elevators, roller skates and buses at a young age. The period between 2 and 5 months is the best period for socialization.

Without traumatizing the puppy, we want to expose him to all kinds of new people, animals, objects and sounds so he can get used to them. This will help him become a dog with not too much fear who loves everyone. He will not need to bark at everyone who passes by the window and each bag of trash that moves in the wind because it will not make him suspicious, just curious.

Many small breeds of dogs bark for this reason, and it’s easy to see why. Many of them spend too much time at home, always see the same things and are too overprotected in your arms. While prevention at a young age is the best solution, it is possible with some effort and patience to reduce the fear of older timid dogs by gradually getting him use to new things.

One thing to keep in mind is that a dog that barks at things he thinks are suspicious may also be more likely to decide to defend the territory. Some distrustful dogs bark but are fairly easy to stop. Some others vocalize ardently at the window and it is impossible to silence them—you may even be bitten in the process! The dog who is impossible to stop is a dog who thinks he is responsible for the territory, home, garden, and his people. In vocalizing in view of a suspected intruder, he is not only trying to sound the alert but also to intimidate “the enemy”, hoping that they will go away (as the mailman does each day).

This dog really believes he's responsible for us and our safety and if we try to silence him he may even bite, thinking "Come on, don't bother me, I'm trying to protect you!!" This dog will need to be ‘de-responsibilitalized’ with a global approach and coaching that will make him understand that it is humans that protects dogs and not the opposite. It is not his job to be on guard if we are present. By removing this big job from him, he will only warn us if he see something suspicious and will then let us take care of it. This is what is expected of a companion dog: to warn us by two-three barks and stop when requested.

But what if we’re not home? For a suspicious or territorial dog that causes complaints when you're absent, you may start with restricting his view by blocking the outside window, or by keeping the dog in a cage and letting the radio play to disguise the noise outside during our absence. This type of barking often happens for the first time between 6 months and 2 years, and if we do not work to solve the problem immediately it will grow.


A final cause of barking is quite frequent and not always easy to resolve, it is frustration. A dog that barks at a game may just be excited, but often there is some element of frustration in the situation. This happens commonly to older dogs who begin to bark a lot while playing or going for a walk to the park because they do not see as well or cannot run like before. It is also possible that your dog sees two other dogs play and would love to get involved but the other dogs ignore him or he does not dare let himself get in the game. The best thing to do in these situations is to redirect his attention, perhaps with a stick or other toy that he can hold in his mouth (he can't bark with his mouth full!) You can also initiate games he can easily manage and that will let off steam and tire him out.

Sometimes, the frustration is much more global and advanced. Many dogs suffer from a lack of direction, supervision, clear rules and interesting stimuli. This is the trouble for today’s modern dog. Though he has the potential, intelligence and need to work for long hours of working dogs, we ask him to be at home, to be caressed and be content with his two walks per day. Compare this life to that of a shepherd dog for example, who, under the clear direction of his human can do a job that will keep him busy all day. The frustration of not knowing what to do with himself can be manifested in different ways, including excessive vocalization.

Though we can silence these dogs with gadgets, this will likely only worsen the problem. The dog could start running in circles all day, chasing his tail, licking his paws and legs to excess, destroying things, digging ... in such a context, taking care of the dog and coaching him is the only real solution. Training is not the only answer either here—consider also getting involved with activities like agility, freestyle, Skijoring, tracking etc. This will certainly help to entertain both the dog and his human!

Prevention is the Best Medicine

So, there you have it: the main reasons why a dog barks, no matter what the breed. Prevention is the easiest way to deal with barking. It starts with choosing a puppy from a stable background, socializing it well and coaching him from the beginning. If you have an older dog who barks, start by figuring out why he is barking and remember that he may be barking for a mixture of the reasons above. The reasons why he barks determine your next steps, because we certainly can’t proceed the same way with a dog barking to alert the neighbourhood as with a dog barking because it occupies him.

And remember: be silent when you are working with barking issues. Too many people start to scream to silence the dog which causes the opposite effect because the dog is encouraged by his human who now vocalizes as much as him!
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