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Barkaholics: Why Dogs Bark at House Guests

'Tis the season for visitors and guests. And your dog is ready and willing to add barking to the celebration. While that may prove aggravating to you or even scary to your visitors, it's important to realize barking is a normal part of canine communication. To figure out how to muffle the noise, first we must understand why dogs bark.

Why Dogs Bark

dog attacking visitor

Dogs bark during play, defense, to greet and to garner attention. Think of barking as a canine fire alarm that alerts the dog's family to anything unusual. The arrival of friend or foe, a scary scent from visiting wildlife or the sight of you wearing a hat--or Grandma ringing the doorbell--may prompt barks.

Dogs also bark to get their own way. When Rex barks at the mailman each day, the mailman leaves and rewards him for barking. Smart dogs remember success and repeat the behavior again and again. That means when a visitor arrives at the door and your dog is suspicious of the stranger, the barks are used to shoo away a potential intruder.

When you yell at the dog to stop barking, hey may think you're joining the bark-fest and bark even louder. Other times, Rex barks to get attention. Even if a scolding follows, Rex thinks, "Mom pays attention to me when I bark." You've rewarded his behavior.

You will never eliminate barking because dogs remain determined to warn and protect loved ones. However, you can teach dogs to respect barking limits. Save your sanity and your relationship with neighbors by offering alternatives to barking.

Put the Bark on Command with Speak

The best way to stop nuisance barking and to teach a Hush command is to first train your pooch to "speak" on cue. Barking self-rewards the dog because he LIKES to bark. You'll find it much easier to teach Hush when the barking was your idea.

dog barking at doorbell

  • Identify a noise, such as the doorbell that reliably prompts a bark.
  • Choose an irresistible treat the dog ONLY gets during training. Pieces of cheese, liverwurst, or even cat treats work well, but keep them small. This isn't to fill up his tummy, only to give him a taste to whet his learning appetite.
  • Get an accomplice to stand outside the door and ring the bell on your cue, or play a doorbell sound on your phone. She should listen for you to loudly say, "SPEAK!" and then wait two beats (count "one Mississippi, two Mississippi") and then ring the bell if the dog didn't bark.
  • When the dog does bark, at that very instant (not before, and not after), you say, "YES!" and give Rex one tiny treat. Say "YES!" and give him a treat even if he barks before the doorbell rings.
  • Wait a few seconds, and repeat the exercise. Call loudly, "SPEAK" (so your friend hears through the door and rings the bell). As the doorbell prompts the dog to bark, once again say, "YES!" and reward him with another treat.
  • Keep doing this until all the treats are gone. You'll know your boy "gets it" and begins to know what SPEAK means when he barks on command but before the doorbell rings.

Teaching the Hush Command

Once your dog knows the SPEAK command, training HUSH becomes simple.

hush command

  • Go through the above steps, saying SPEAK, and when he barks, praise the bark and then say, "SHUSH."
  • As you say SHUSH let him sniff the treat.
  • It's impossible for a dog to sniff, eat, and bark at the same time--so as he sniffs (and shushes) say "YES!" and release the treat so he can gobble it up.
  • Repeat until he understands that SHUSH means quiet, while SPEAK means permission to bark.

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