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Help, my dog barks at everything!

Dog barking in hallway

(Q) My dog barks at passers-by he sees through the window, cats, squirrels — everything! He barks when the phone rings and when people come to the door. When we are out walking he barks at other dogs. How can I stop him?

(A) Jackie Drakeford says: A Many breeds were created to bark as part of their jobs — Spitz breeds and terriers come to mind, among others. So there may be a genetic component to your dog’s barking. Excessive barking can also be a sign of boredom or frustration.

First of all you need to identify the reasons for your dog barking, so write down a resumé of his average day and see what stands out. Does he get two decent walks a day, plus some training and interactive work with you? If not, this is a place to start. Inside the house, wildlife watched through the window is very exciting, so stop your dog from getting worked up by barring his view. The cheapest way is to stick opaque film over the window to the height he can see out, and it’s easily reversible once he has changed his behaviour.

Train a different behaviour when people come to the door, for instance going to his bed, which gains him a reward such as a few treats buried in his bed for him to find. You can set this up initially with some stooge friends who will ring the doorbell and wait until he is in his bed. If he gets up, settle him back down before opening the door. If you are consistent, he will soon learn to go to his bed for his treats when he hears the doorbell. Similarly, he can do this when the phone rings, and you can practise by ringing your landline from your mobile. If you normally leap up and run to the door or phone, this is very exciting for him, so take it slowly instead. If he won’t settle on his bed initially, put him behind a stairgate, but always with some treats so that it is a good experience.

Outside, the barking is most likely frustration, possibly with an element of fear in wanting to drive others away. When you see something he is likely to react to, move him further away, get your body between him and it, and give him something else to do with his mouth, such as carrying a toy or a ball. If he still reacts, you are too close. Distance makes all the difference here, so turn back, cross over, do whatever is necessary to keep your dog at a distance where he is calm. Do not ask him to sit while others pass because this will make him insecure.

You note I have not tackled the barking itself. This is because once the reasons are addressed, the behaviour will modify itself. A few barks are reasonable; constant barking is not. You cannot just suppress unwanted behaviour: you need to take away the reasons for it and replace it with wanted behaviour instead.

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