• Virginia Dare

Barking Back at Barking Dogs

Updated: May 18



Yelling at a barking dog: not the best strategy

Yesterday, I spent a good deal of time working outside in my yard. During this time, I repeatedly heard a neighbor yelling at his dog to stop barking. His yelling was frequent and varied, often escalating to a very strident level in order to get his dog to shut up, though it was always only temporary.


I don’t know what was triggering the dog’s barking, nor do I know the neighbor or the dog. What I do know, however, is that the yelling was not an effective strategy long-term. I say this because the yelling had to be repeated many times over the day.


But here’s the thing: in the moment, when a dog shuts up after we yell, the behavior of yelling is reinforced by the quiet that ensues, even if it doesn’t last for a long time. The science of learning is clear on this matter. Reinforced behaviors maintain or strengthen over time.


Towards the end of the day, a level of exhaustion developed in the man’s tone of voice. His yelling faded to angry muttering. The barking over the course of the day had taken its toll. I feel for him because I’m extremely sensitive to barking myself. It really jangles my nerves.


So what can we do about barking? What strategies work long-term?


The first step to resolving barking is to figure out WHY a particular dog is doing it. Differing triggers for barking require different strategies to resolve it. Here’s a brief overview to why a dog may bark:

  • Boredom

  • Alone-time anxiety

  • Startle over novel stimuli

  • Frustration at not being able to access something desired

  • A way to alert about ‘trespassers’ on or near property

  • A fearful dog’s way of making a ‘scary thing’ go away


Once you know what’s triggering the barking, you can design a plan to address it. The most successful plans typically tackle barking from a variety of angles. Here are a few of those angles:

  • Adequate playtime and exercise – helps to address boredom, excess energy, frustration.

  • Enrichment – for example, food puzzles can keep a dog contentedly occupied rather than being hyper-vigilant about environmental stimuli that usually trigger barking. I wrote an article about enrichment which you can access here.

  • Training of alternative, replacement behaviors that make barking impossible – for example, a dog who learns to fetch a favorite plush toy when the doorbell rings will have a hard time barking with that in his mouth. A dog with a stellar come-when-called cannot run the fence line barking at neighbors.

  • Management – for example, blocking the dog’s view through a window where he typically parks himself to bark at stuff.

  • Desensitization and counter-conditioning – helps to build a dog’s confidence, reduce fearfulness or anxiety, change emotional response to whatever stimuli disturb the dog. In cases like these, it’s best to work with a professional trainer/behavior counselor to be sure you are designing and implementing these protocols precisely and effectively.


Confession: my rescue chihuahua mix, WildeBean, has developed a barking behavior at my front fence line when dogs walk by. It appears to be a fun sport to her, and the barrier of the fence likely exacerbates the behavior. She is dog-social when meeting dogs free in the house or yard. At the moment, I can count on easily interrupting the behavior with a COME cue, but as I carve out time in the nicer fall weather to address this, I'll begin counter-conditioning to change her emotional response to the passersby. Will keep you posted on progress!

Bottom line: it’s important to objectively assess whatever strategy you’re using to address barking. If you find yourself continuing to have to use it, without seeing a long-term reduction in barking, it’s time to dig deeper and find a more effective solution. Please seek the help of a professional trainer if you feel stuck or frustrated. We can help!


Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, puppy matchmaking services, and pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppies. She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in northern Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.


Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120


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​Serving areas of CT and NY, including:

Northern Fairfield County
Northern Westchester County

Western New Haven County

Putnam and southern Dutchess Counties

Remote consultations available anywhere in the US

In person dog training and behavior services available in the following towns:

Armonk, Bedford, Bedford Hills, Bethel, Brewster, Brookfield, Carmel, Chappaqua, Cross River, Danbury, Derby, Goldens Bridge, Katonah, Mahopac, Mt. Kisco, New Canaan, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, North Salem, Norwalk, Oxford, Patterson, Pawling, Pound Ridge, Redding, Ridgefield, Sherman, South Salem, Southbury, Weston, Wilton.

Please ask if your town isn't mentioned above -- you may be in my travel zone.

Virginia Dare of North Star Canines, 804.784.0120, in CT/NY

Email:  virginiadare2013@gmail.com

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