Dogs bark. They bark at the door. They bark in the yard. They bark when they see other dogs. They bark when they're scared or excited or frustrated. It's one of the many ways they communicate. It's not really "bad" like we have been conditioned to believe but it does get annoying at times.
Not surprisingly, one of the most common behavioral questions dog owners have is how do I stop my dog from barking?
Of course, it all depends on the exact situation and the exact dog. For this post, I'm focusing on one of the most common problems with barking: Barking in the yard.
I'll share some of my own tips on how to stop this behavior, along with some ideas from a professional dog trainer who focuses on positive reinforcement training.
Tips to prevent a dog from barking in the yard
1. Limit your dog's freedom.
If your dog has developed a barking habit, the first thing I would recommend is to stop allowing him to run free in the yard.
If he's barking while tied in the yard, stop leaving him tied in the yard. Instead, go out with your dog while he's on a leash. That way you have more control, and you can tell him "no" when he barks as well as reward him with food for calm, quiet behavior.
As your dog is successful, you could start allowing more freedom again such as allowing him in the yard on a long leash or check cord while you supervise.
2. Work on basic obedience commands.
People ask me questions such as How can I get my dog to walk better on a leash? Or How can I get my dog to stop barking at the door?
It all comes down to obedience training.
If your dog will pay attention to you and do what you ask, you can eliminate so many behavioral problems. The key is to start small and slowly build on your dog's existing skills every day. It won't happen over night, but with time you can add more distractions so your dog will listen in more challenging situations such as in the yard when the neighbor's dog is out.
3. Ask yourself why your dog is barking in the first place.
To get your dog to stop barking in the yard, you need to ask yourself why your dog is barking in the first place, said Beth Mullen, owner of Dog Latin Dog Training in Washington, D.C.
Mullen is the owner of six rescue dogs and calls herself an expert on barking because of it!
"Dogs bark for many reasons, and dogs' barks have different meanings," she said. "Dogs left in yards may be bored, frustrated, lonely, guarding or responding to various triggers like other dogs, people or noises."
It helps to know why your dog is barking.
4. Train a new behavior.
One way to prevent barking is to teach the dog a new behavior, Mullen said. This could be a trick, a manner or anything. Just work on something new with your dog for a few minutes several times a day. It could be while you're waiting for your coffee to brew or while you're watching TV.
"Learning something new provides mental stimulation and helps clear a dog's mind," she said. "If your dog's mind is cleared, he can relax."
Mullen suggested dog handlers teach their dogs a nose-targeting behavior called "touch." It's the first behavior she teaches because "it's easy for the dog to learn and easy for the handler to reinforce."
She said sometimes "come" is overused, and some dogs learn to ignore us. But the "touch" command works as a "channel changer" in your dog's head. For example, if the dog is barking in the yard, you could ask for a "touch" and reinforce the dog for coming inside to put his nose to your hand.
5. Teach your dog the "find it" game.
Mullen suggested dog owners teach their dogs a game called "find it" where you simply drop a few pieces of food or dog treats in the yard. You would then point to the food while saying "find it" and your dog has to use his nose to find the food.
6. Take plenty of walks.
Obviously the less physical pent-up energy a dog has, the better. But walking your dog has an added benefit - it works his brain as he uses his nose to explore the outside world. This helps tire the dog out as much as the physical exercise, perhaps even more in some cases.
"Scenting uses an incredible amount of brain power," Mullen said. "Dogs love to take walks to read doggie email. Your dog simply can't read doggie email if left in your backyard."
What are some additional ideas you have to stop a dog from barking in the yard?