How to Get Your Dog to Stop Barking Inside

What if your dog barks at things from inside your house or apartment?

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
April 25, 2011
Episode #101

barking dogWho hasn’t walked past a house or an apartment doorway and heard the dog inside explode into barking?  This week’s article is for the people who live with those dogs--the people shouting “Dogalini, quiet!”

Why Do Dogs Bark?

Dogs bark for many reasons—to solicit play, to signal that they’re going on the offensive, to get our attention. They bark when they’re stressed or bored or lonely. It’s usually not hard to tell the difference. For instance, play barks are pitched higher than barks that convey a threat; a bored and lonely dog may bark bark bark in a monotone for minutes or even hours at a stretch. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety can sound pretty desperate when they bark.

How to Get Your Dog to Stop Barking Inside

  1. Step 1: Avoid scolding and causing more agitation
  2. Step 2: Using training and food puzzle toys
  3. Step 3: Block your dog's view
  4. Step 4: Mask outside noises with a fan or radio
  5. Step 5: Reward your dog when she doesn't bark
  6. Step 6: Avoid bark collars
  7. Step 7: Seek professional help if needed

The kind of bark I’m talking about today bursts out loud and fast as the dog responds to something he hears or sees. Usually the dog rushes the door or window that the sight or sound is coming from. In Brooklyn, where the row houses are set back from the sidewalk just a few feet, I sometimes see dogs pressing themselves flat against the windowpane as they bark at me. At some point, when the sight or noise that set them off has gone, the dog simmers down, maybe drops a few more sporadic barks, then goes back to whatever he was doing before. Of course, if provocative sights and sounds appear often, there may not be much of a break between barkfests.

And why is your dog doing this? Beats me! It could be a territorial behavior. Is it aggressive? Maybe. Whether we see it that way might depend on how intensely your dog barks and charges and how he responds to actual visitors. A dog may be frustrated because she can’t greet the people or dogs she hears or sees. Herding dogs may be attempting to herd those moving bicycles and running kids. Some dogs make a lot of noise when startled.

Step 1. Will Scolding Your Dog Make Her Stop Barking?

Make it easier for your dog to relax by giving her plenty of physical and mental exercise every day.

You’ve probably already figured out that yelling “Dogalini, quiet!” doesn’t accomplish much; even if you manage to intimidate your dog into shutting up that moment, the next time a neighbor passes, the barking starts right up again. This is a good principle to have learned, by the way: agitation tends to increase agitation. Any time your dog is more amped than you would like, stay cool and speak softly. It doesn’t always help, but it never hurts.

Whatever reason your dog has for those barkfests, you’ll notice how relevant that word “agitation” is. It’s not a laid-back dog who’s charging your front window every time somebody walks by. Make it easier for your dog to relax—provide plenty of physical and mental exercise so instead of spending his day keyed up and full of unburned energy, he’s busy sleeping. A guideline for young healthy dogs: at least an hour of running, trotting, and sniffing, with maybe a few dozen rounds of fetch or a brisk game of tug, to start the day.

Step 2. Use Training and Food Puzzle Toys to Burn Off Steam

Meals should come in two forms: as training rewards, and out of food-dispensing puzzle toys. The more energetic and easily cranked your dog is, the less of her food should come out of a bowl.

That’s part 1, priming your dog to actually need some downtime instead of being alert and ready to spring into action.

Step 3. Get Your Dog to Stop Barking by Blocking Your Dog’s View Out the Window

Part 2 is taking steps to cut back her exposure to the sights and sounds that get her going.

Draw the curtains over the front windows. As an alternative, home-supply stores sell tinted cling film that you can use to block the view—not my first choice aesthetically, I have to admit, but with luck only a temporary blight on your décor. If your dog’s jumping on the back of a sofa or chair to reach the windows, consider rearranging the furniture. You might set up baby gates to block access to the windows or just close a door between your dog and the Room of Barking.

Step 4. Mask Outside Sounds with a Fan or a Radio to Stop Your Dog’s Barking

If your space is an open plan or if you have a small apartment, it may not be possible to close off a room or otherwise completely block your dog’s access. For anyone whose dog reacts strongly to outdoor sounds, but especially for apartment dwellers, a white-noise machine, a fan, or a radio playing soft music can help. Set it up by the door or window where that provocative noise comes in. Run one of those snaky draft blockers along the door’s bottom edge. If you have a plywood hollow-core door, can you replace it with something more solid?

Step 5, Reward Your Dog When She Doesn’t Bark at Things

The beauty of all these tactics is that they don’t depend on your being there to work. And, of course, a human being has to be present for training or behavior modification. When you’re home with your dog, make it your business to notice times when he doesn’t react to things, or when he reacts mildly and appropriately. For instance, he might get briefly alert and then lie down again. Either way, say “Yes” quietly, or click to mark his good behavior, and give him a treat. When your dog’s barking isn’t always frenzied and out of control, it’ll be easier for him to learn new behaviors. At that point you can begin teaching him a “Now be quiet” cue.

Step 6. Should You Use a Bark Collar?

Clients often ask me about collars that react to the sound of a bark by delivering a squirt of citronella or an electric shock. I don’t recommend them, for a bunch of reasons.

Number 1 is that they don’t address the underlying issue, whether that’s boredom, lack of exercise, aggression, overexcitability, or an especially strong reaction to being startled. Whatever’s going on with your dog, it’s your job as his guardian to pay attention to that and work toward fixing it.

Number 2 is that appliances malfunction. Number 3 is that, even functioning correctly, they can be set off by noises your dog has not produced. The classic case in a two-dog household is barking by the other dog. Number 4 is that when a behavior is strongly motivated—and this kind of barking usually is strongly motivated—attempts to punish it often don’t work.

Step 7. When Should You Get Professional Help with Your Dog’s Barking?

And Number 5 is this. If you’ve set your dog up to relax and snooze the day away by exercising him and cutting back the outdoor sound-and-light show, and you’ve conscientiously worked on rewarding quieter behavior and teaching him to stop barking on your cue, and you’re still not getting anywhere, it’s time to get competent in-person help. Your dog may be exceptionally anxious, or have a developing problem with aggression.  A medical condition might be making him irritable. A smart professional will be alert to all these possibilities and can work with you herself or refer you appropriately. In short, the more your dog’s behavior makes you wish for a quick fix, the better the odds that what’s really called for is careful planning and professional help. Remember the tortoise and the hare!

Meanwhile, I hope you and your loud dog, your quiet dog, and your in-between dog will visit me on Facebook, where I’m The Dog Trainer, follow me as Dogalini on Twitter, or write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I read all my questions and comments, and though I usually can’t reply individually, I may use your question as the basis for a future article. Thanks for listening, and remember: notice your dog when she does something right.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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