No more yapping: how to stop a dog nuisance barking

  • Barking is very normal canine behaviour. It’s a form of expression or communication for an animal that does not have the power of speech. Dogs may bark at strangers, other dogs, noise – such as doorbells or the postman – for attention or as a way of expression emotion, such as excitement, boredom, anxiety or fear. But at some point, excessive yapping may become unacceptable and you’ll be asking yourself how to stop a dog barking.

    What one person may consider nuisance barking may be perfectly acceptable for another. As owners we vary on what we consider as normal behaviour in our dogs. But when barking starts to have detrimental effects on the dog, the owner, the people and environment around them, it’s essential to work through the issue to resolve it.

    Helen Masters is a fully qualified dog behaviourist, rehabilitator and trainer based in Kent. She has a wealth of experience with all types of dogs with a range of behaviour issues. She explains that while dogs mostly communicate through body language, sometimes “they need to let themselves be heard”.

    “There are times when no matter what the owner does, the dog will not stop barking, he is not listening and is in what we call the ‘limbic of fixated’ state,” she says. “Anything we say is like white noise to them, and if we shout then we are merely joining in! This is very stressful to both the dog and the owner; if this happens on a regular basis then the health of the dog becomes a problem, not to mention the implications for the neighbours complaining about your dog and maybe involving the authorities.”

    The concern is that, besides being infuriating for an owner – and Mrs Miggins next door – constant barking can be a very stressful behaviour for a dog, too.

    “Constant barking – or periods of high intensity barking over certain triggers – is not normal behaviour,” says Helen. “Constant stress like this depletes the body and will, if left as it is, make the dog very unwell over a period of time. This is mostly highly anxious dogs who bark as a way of self-preservation, to ward people or dogs away as they cannot cope with them in their space, even worse their own territory, such as house, garden or the car, as these areas are where the anxious dog is most secure and feels safe. The need to defend those areas in a dog’s rationale is high.”

    Why do dogs bark?

    Territorial: some dogs will guard their car and then anyone coming very close to it, they will bark, and this becomes a territorial issue. This also goes for dogs in the home, garden and behind a fence.

    Excitable: Helen points out that this often manifests itself in a car, and can be extremely dangerous.

    “Barking in a car can have a devastating outcome as it can cause accidents as driver error could happen,” she says. “This type of barking is usually different to territorial barking, which mainly happens when the vehicle is stationary and someone approaches or walks past, usually worse if they have a dog. Barking in a car can be the result of a dog being over excited as to where they are going. Food has a huge impact on a dog’s behaviour.  While this is a very personal choice, most dry food is usually a major factor due to the chemicals and the process that goes into it.  Think of it this way, if you had 20 expressos, would you be calm and relaxed or bouncing off the walls and unable to sit still?”

    Fear: this may be fear of other dogs on a walk, people, children or general anxiety of the outdoors. It’s hugely common, more so after Covid as these dogs were born into a world of virtually no contact with other people, dogs or general everyday noise and traffic.

    Attention-seeking: “Lots of dogs bark for attention, which can begin in puppyhood,” says Helen. “They learn so quickly and if we are not careful, they condition us. Some dogs have learnt to bark and if they stop on command, they get a treat, so they do it again. Some dogs bark to be stroked or if you are paying attention to another dog, my male English Mastiff, Neville, is a prime example of this. Some dogs can even bark to demand food, walks and play. Barking is also a sign of boredom. This can go on to create other much more stressful behaviours.”

    Health issues: excessive barking may signify an underlying health issue. Deafness is the main cause, but problems with the thyroid can also exacerbate it. If your dog suddenly develops a barking issue when previously it didn’t have one, get the dog checked over by a vet.

    How to stop dogs barking: the solution?

    “We need to make them feel secure, safe, and control their environment and decision-making to take away the worry and anxiety,” says Helen, pointing out that different triggers will need different approaches.“You have the howl and bark of a dog with separation anxiety, again a totally different ball game in how you would need to deal with this. Most certainly you would need professional help in such an issue as this can lead to some severe behavioural problems as dogs have been known to dig out internal doors and walls when in such a state. Nine times out of 10, these issues can be resolved with patience, correction and consistency.” 

    Dog trainer James Hargreaves of Lunar Canine Academy in Carmarthenshire has encouraging words: “No dog is untrainable. It just takes time to train the unwanted behaviour into something productive, or to place in boundaries for the dog to clearly understand what’s acceptable and what’s not.

    “An example of this could be to teach the dog to bark when asked, this process would then allow for the owner to have an ‘on’ switch for the bark which then entails itself to having an ‘on’ and ‘off’ switch. Allowing the owner to ask the dog to stop barking to a cue results in a calming behaviour after the excitement of barking.”

    James advises trying to nip barking in the bud early on in a dog’s life – for those who find their voice early and love to use it.

    “Interrupt the behaviour when it occurs with either a vocal ‘no’ or ‘arr’, then when the dog has been silent for a few seconds, reward that calmer behaviour,” he says. “If done correctly, this should show your young dog that being quiet is rewarding. Another option is to blank the barking and ignore them, however this has to be very strict no eye contact, no talking and no touching at all.”

    James says that many owners are tempted to remove the dog from trigger situations, such as meeting other people, dogs, cats and so on. However, he suggests instead that exposing the dog from a young age to as many situations as possible in a controlled and positive way is preferable.

    “Rather than teaching the dog that barking will lead to being reassured and removed from the situation, slow the process down to wait until the dog is calm and reward with high-value treats whenever the dog looks at the new encounter,” he says. “Avoid talking to and fussing your dog whenever they bark. This is a normal human reaction, but is allowing ourselves to be programmed that if our dog barks, they gain our attention.”

    Behaviourist Helen Masters’ advice on how to stop a dog barking


    • Shout or hit a dog. 
    • Do not use cruel equipment, such as electric shock collars.  Thankfully, these are now banned but nevertheless there are people and some trainers who do use them.  Do your research. These collars are not to be confused with collars that deaf dogs are trained on.
    • Don’t (and I really should not have to say this) tie a dog’s mouth shut.  This is barbaric but I have seen it on several occasions, much to my distress.


    • Correct, affirm and redirect.  
    • There are many methods to use for different problems and if you are not sure then it is always best to ask a reputable behaviourist. They can teach you about sound therapy, exercises and environmental control.
    • Feed the right diet – start puppies off with the best puppy food that you can.
    • Enrich and walk your dog and meet their needs. Use dog toys, play scent games and mentally stimulate your dog.
    • Teach them when to bark and when not to. An example of this would be when it’s Amazon or someone you know. I taught mine “enough thank you” and used a squeaky ball to break their fixation. I then affirmed with the “yes” word (quicker than good boy or girl and if you’ve multiple dogs), it also makes you smile as they read the body language of your face and cheeks lifting upwards. If I didn’t like who was at my gate or approaching me then I say nothing, so they continue to bark.  
    • If your dog must be left alone, do not give it access to all your rooms and windows. This merely encourage a dog to bark at every person or passer-by he deems to be a threat. Keep your blinds or curtains drawn in the room you leave him in. Leave a radio or television on and a lick mat, deer antler or bone or long-lasting dog chew to keep him busy and release dopamine which is calming and why dogs chew. 
    • Be proactive not reactive. This isn’t always possible but for instance if you know next door are hanging out the washing and their dog is out, teach your dog to “quiet and leave it” as opposed to allowing the behaviour to happen and then deal with it. Same principle on walks if you know your dog will lose it on the lead seeing another dog. Stop the behaviour before it starts. Never be afraid to get help. Dogs are our companions and friends; we want to enjoy them and take them places without the embarrassment of constant barking and not feel the need to avoid situations or dread taking out our dogs.  

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