How to Train a Dog Not to Bark at Strangers
by Hannah Scholtes
Does your dog bark whenever the doorbell rings? Or whenever a package arrives? Or whenever someone just walks by your house? It probably seems impossible to stop a barking dog from, well, barking.
In many ways, training a dog to stop their excessive barking is no easy feat. Dogs have been bred to bark; sometimes, a dog's barking is an instinct that they can't control. But you don't need to resort to bark collars to get your dog to stop. Using behaviorist methods, you can change your dog's behavior after a few training sessions so that they are welcoming for every family member and guest who comes to your house.
However, it is important to first understand why your dog is acting this way in order to why your dog is acting this way in order to break bad habits. There are three main reasons why dogs bark at strangers, all of which can be managed if handled correctly. Think of these reasons as a list of 3 ways your dog asks for help, and we’ll set you up with the answer! Whether your dog barks at strangers due to territorial reasons, over-excitement, or lack of human socialization, it is important to expand on each of these three reasons prior to diving into training methods. Keep reading to understand how to train your dog not to bark.
Why Do Dogs Bark?
While there are many reasons that cause dogs to bark, there are three major causes of chronic dog barking: territorial barking, excited barking, and lack of socialization barking. Knowing which of these causes your dog to bark helps inform dog training techniques to specifically stop dog barking.
Look at your dog's body language. If your dog often barks when a stranger or new dog approaches your home or yard, accompanied by a stiff body and possibly even raised hackles, it is a definite sign of protecting their territory. Often this happens when someone comes to the front door or merely just walks by. Usually, this means that your dog views them as a potential threat. Although it is beneficial to have a guard dog, this poses a threat to the stranger and also causes a disturbance to anyone in the home or within hearing distance in the neighborhood.
Especially common among puppies, over-excitement is one of the main contributors to barking at strangers. This type of barking, especially when it occurs in areas that a dog would not consider as their territory, is typically not threatening. Rather, they are frankly just excited, expressing their ecstatic energy through loud noises. Usually, this is a strong indicator that your pup is a people lover, which is undeniably a redeeming quality. However positive this aspect may seem to you, it can often catch the stranger off guard and leave them feeling fearful because they don’t personally know your dog.
Lack of Human Socialization
Often times, dogs that did not have a lot of human interaction and attention as a puppy will bark at other humans because they aren’t as familiar with how to act around them and don’t have an established background of trust. This is also common for rescue dogs coming from shelters, where human interaction is not frequent. Similarly, a traumatic experience with previous owners could damage their ability to trust strangers as well. Barking in this situation usually stems from overwhelming anxiety.
Top Training Methods
Remember that even with the best dog training techniques, training your dog to quit barking, which is an inclination by nature, is not going to happen overnight. Consistent training is key, and it is important to be patient with your dog and provide positive reinforcement.
1. The Quiet Method
Once your dog starts barking in the presence of a stranger, let them bark a few times. Then, gently hold their muzzle and say, “Quiet.” Avoid shouting, as that produces negative reinforcement. Take your hands off their muzzle. If they remain quiet, reward them with a treat. If they start barking again, repeat the process, rewarding them each time they stop barking. Gradually increase the time between giving treats, as this allows the command to properly sink in. If holding your dog’s muzzle causes frustration or un-cooperation, you can attempt this method without holding. Instead, calmly use your quiet command, and then divert their attention from the stranger by giving them a treat or snack, like a small piece of chicken.
2. Distraction Method
As simple as it sounds, distracting your pet is one of the best ways to stop the barking. An easy method to distract your dog is by shaking your car keys. The jangling noise diverts your dog's attention towards you. Once you’ve gained their attention, tell them, “sit”, and reward them with a treat upon cooperating. If you practice this consistently, your dog will begin to learn that barking at strangers does not produce a reward, and that good behavior is to their advantage.
3. Preventative Measures
If you have to leave your dog inside or outside without supervision, it is important that you enforce preventative tactics to keep them from engaging with strangers. Learning how to stop dog barking when left alone depends on where you generally keep your dog (inside or outsides). When leaving your dog inside, make sure to keep blinds and curtains closed so that they are unaware of any strangers, for example a mailman, delivering a package or someone walking past your yard on the street. If your dog prefers to be outside, it is helpful to install a tall fence (opaque fencing material is the best for preventing visibility) to limit your dog’s ability to see past your yard.
4. Going to a “Spot”
If you are at home, the best way to prevent excited barking is by teaching your dog to go to a specific spot in the house and stay there when welcoming someone they do not know into your home. To start this training, make sure your dog has already gone through enough obedience training to know how to sit, lie down, and stay. Once you pick a spot in your house where you would like your dog to go when someone arrives (somewhere at least eight feet away from the door is recommended), you can begin training. Start by saying, “Go to your spot”, and tossing a treat onto the spot where you want your dog to stay. Repeat this about ten times. Once they understand this concept, say the same command, but pretend to toss the treat to get your dog to move toward that spot on their own. Reward them by tossing a treat to the spot to ensure positive reinforcement. Once your dog has the hang of it, practice sending them to their spot from different areas of the house. Incorporate “sit”, “stay”, and “lie down”, rewarding them with treats when they do so.
5. Diverting Attention in Public
For dogs who are overly excited, it is important not to let them continually engage in the barking. If you happen to be walking your dog, many other people may want to engage with them if the barking comes off as excited and nonthreatening, but you want to avoid rewarding your dog for barking for attention. Once your dog notices the stranger, the best way to stop this is to calmly turn around and walk in a different direction, avoiding any chance of engaging. Keep treats with you, that way you can reward your dog after they have stopped barking. After some practice, your dog will begin to learn that barking results in being unable to interact with the person. When your dog calmly approaches another person, reward them for their good behavior.
6. Rewarding Successful Encounters
If your dog is struggling with barking due to the lack of socialization, the number one way to acclimate them to human socialization is through exposure. Invite as many people as you can to your house at different times, asking them to be very affectionate and provide treats. Slowly but surely, your dog will begin to realize that he will be rewarded by new people with love, affection, and treats. Take your dog on as many walks as possible in as many different places as possible so that he/she understands that strangers are not a threat, even if they are in an unfamiliar area.
A lot of us are wondering: “how to stop my dog from barking,” don’t worry, you are not alone! We all want our dogs to be the most loving, well-behaved dogs, and there is more to incorporate into their lives to prevent barking at strangers than just training methods. Another note to keep in mind to train dogs not to bark is to make sure your dog is exercised and has enough toys and activities to wear them out during the day, as it will prevent barking out of boredom. And of course, if any of these methods are not successful, or your dog exhibits aggressive behavior, a professional dog trainer is always a viable option!