Dogs who bark and bark and bark may do so for a number of reasons ~~ self-expression, joy, insecurity, protection. In my many years as an animal communicator, I’ve developed a simple technique that can greatly reduce the intensity of excessive dog barking, while still allowing dogs to express themselves and notify you of a visitor.
I call this technique the “soft bark.” This is when a dog gives a barely audible “woof,” almost underneath their breath. Some of my clients have referred to the soft bark as a dog using their “indoor voice,” vs. their “outdoor voice,” a differentiation pre-schools learn.
Jessica was the first person I suggested teaching her dog to bark softly. She had just moved into a beautiful, sunny suite in a large home. Her dog, Mosha, a highly intelligent West Highland terrier, would race downstairs barking whenever someone came to the door, which was quite often.
One roommate, who was particularly distressed with the noise, was considering asking Jessica to move out.
After our animal communication session, Jessica worked with Mosha consistently for a few days teaching her the “soft bark.” When I checked in the following week, the problem was resolved. I was, frankly, amazed that it could happen so easily!
Before teaching a dog to bark softly, it’s import an to validate them for their current barking routine. You might speak to them directly as they’re barking, saying, “Thank you for letting me know someone is here,” or “Yes, I appreciate you letting me know that you’re upset about this situation.”
If a dog feels it’s their job is to alert you to some event and you shush them, they may just think you didn’t hear them, and might amp up the volume and length of their notification to be sure you understood.
To be effective with this training, it’s best to make a commitment to be consistent once you begin, meaning that you address the barking each and every time you hear it. It’s also helpful to encourage everyone else in your home to practice this technique in a similar manner.
After the barking is validated, you need to let your dog know how many barks you’d like to hear. Is your tolerance two or three barks, or 5 seconds of barking?
Once you determine the optimal length of barking you can live with, then you begin to consistently validate the barking for the length of time you’ve determined, followed by a signal that you’d like the barking to stop.
A simple command is usually enough, such as “quiet now,” followed by great praise when the barking ceases. Or you can ask your dog to “sit,” which often stops the barking. Again, the dog should be showered with affection, and possibly a small treat, upon doing as you have asked.
Two things here: 1) I would avoid at all costs holding the dog’s mouth closed to stop the barking. You run the risk of a number of unintended, long-term consequences, including possible trauma to your pet.
And, 2) please always give healthy treats. If they’re pricey, a very small treat works just as well as a mega-treat. Some dogs just love a piece of a carrot!
By this time, your dog is beginning to gain inner control over their barking. This is to be celebrated!
Now you’re ready to teach the soft bark. If your dog already gives a soft “woof” now and then, you’re way ahead of the game. You can just catch them when they do this and reward them effusively as you repeat, “soft bark.” Before long, they’ll begin to connect the use of their soft voice with the command.
If your dog always barks full force, you may need to be a bit more patient. When your dog is barking loudly, get their attention by looking at them and starting to talk more and more softly. If you want to have some fun, you can even begin to bark like a dog and then lower the sound. When you notice even a slight easing up in the volume, end the lesson with great encouragement and a treat.
As your dog begins to gain more control over the volume of their barking, introduce the “soft bark” command with their quieter voice. And more praise!
One more note about consistency. It’s important to address the barking situation with patience and love every time it begins. It can even become like a game they can master, achieving more self-confidence along the way.
However, teaching a dog to bark softly does not always work. In my experience as an animal communicator, I’ve known a number of dogs who cannot control their barking for all the dog bones in the world.
In these situations, the cause is usually anxiety. The first step I would take is to avoid situations that trigger their fear, if possible. Next, it might be beneficial to consult an animal communicator to help determine how best to help the dog manage their fear.
Once I worked with a woman, Andrea, who had rescued a small, white dog, Poncho. He barked incessantly from a fear of being abandoned. The idea I suggested was for her to carry Poncho around the house in a baby sling. It was an unusual solution and it worked beautifully. Today, Poncho no longer needs the security of the baby sling and he has matured into a much quieter, more self-confident companion for Andrea.
It’s important to remember that most dogs will naturally bark. It’s their form of communication and it’s important to support their self-expression. I hope the soft bark training helps bring more harmony in your home with you and your canine friends.