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How to stop your dog from barking – if you should at all

Your pup is trying to communicate with you.

A dog barking may not necessarily be the most soothing sound – but think of it as an opportunity to understand how your best friend is feeling, just like tail wagging and other body language signals. So, it’s not the best idea to try to limit your dog’s vocalizations. 

However, there are exceptions. If your pup is a city-dweller, continuously barking in an apartment isn’t always the best look. So I spoke to Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, to learn when it’s OK to curb your dog’s barking, and how to do it. 

Why do dogs bark?

“There are different types of barks depending on a dog’s needs and are different for each individual dog,” Dr. McCullough says. “Pet parents usually learn what certain barks mean over time based on their dog’s personality and with context clues.” 

For those of you who just met your dog or are raising a puppy, barking usually means your dog is excited, warning or alerting you to something, greeting someone or communicating a need — sometimes they even bark when they’re bored, Dr. McCullough shares. 

A dog’s breed also plays a role in how much or how little they bark. For example, hounds or hunting breeds bark when they’re tracking prey, Dr. McCullough adds. 

Dogs’ vocalizations can stem from more serious reasons, too, like pain, fear or underlying medical or behavioral issues. “Barking due to medical issues, like pain or cognitive decline, should be addressed by their veterinarian,” she says. 

RELATED: How to stop your dog from howling

How to train a dog to stop barking

It’s not always the best idea to curb your dog’s barking, and it essentially boils down to your choice. However, Dr. McCullough has some tips if you want to start limiting your dog's vocalizations. “The best way to deal with barking is to identify the reason and address it while being careful not to reward the behavior,” Dr. McCullough says. “Wait until the barking stops, address the need and teach alternative behaviors.” 

Always talk to your veterinarian first to ensure the barking isn’t due to an underlying health problem, cognitive decline or pain. Once you’ve discovered the problem, your vet will likely recommend the right solution for your vocal dog. 

And while each dog is unique, some everyday situations can trigger dogs to bark. Dr. McCullough has a solution for each: 

Separation anxiety: If the barking is because your pup struggles with being alone, Dr. McCullough suggests working with your vet, veterinary behaviorist or trainer to lower their fear or anxiety through training or medication. 

To get your attention: Does your dog bark when they’re excited? If it’s bothersome, she recommends training your pup to sit or lay down when they want attention or when you have guests. 

Boredom: Barking because of boredom is super common and can be fixed by making sure you’re meeting your dog’s daily needs for play, exercise and attention. “By developing a routine for play, activity and attention, pet parents can help bored dogs and reduce barking and other unwanted behaviors,” Dr. McCullough says. “Pet parents can try food puzzles, sniff walks, games and exercise.”

Regardless of the reason behind your dog's barking, Dr. McCullough says that veterinary behaviorists, veterinarians and trainers can be a huge help when training a dog to bark less. Just remember not to reward their barking behavior. For instance, if your pup is barking for attention, ignore the barking until they're calm and reward their quiet behavior instead. 

How to stop my dog from barking at nothing

Don’t look at your pup sideways if it looks like he’s just barking at a wall. Dr. McCullough says there’s usually a trigger for a dog’s barking behavior, and it’s up to you to figure out that reason. 

Will a shock collar stop my dog from barking? 

When reducing your dog's desire to bark, leave the shock collars out of your training plan. "Shock collars erode trust between dogs and their pet parents and increase fear and anxiety," Dr. McCullough says. 

Training your pup should be full of positive reinforcement, so in addition to avoiding shock collars, don’t use spray bottles or any form of negative reinforcement.

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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