I love my dog (mostly)--advice sought for barky pooch

We have a 6-year old lab, who is a beautiful animal, well-behaved, with the sweetest disposition you could imagine, with one exception. He barks. Or rather, he gets into barking mode, where he barks at us, or at nothing in general. Sometimes there’s an ostensible trigger, like our basset puppy is bugging him, or he wants his night-time treat. But often it’s nothing, and his go-to response to anything or nothing, is to bark. It is EXTREMELY annoying.

He’s a very unaggressive dog–for example, our pup steals food right out of his mouth and he does nothing (not even barking, interestingly enough). And I mention that because maybe there’s a connection. Our vet told us that in packs, the wussy dogs (like ours) have a job–to alert the tough dogs if they notice something. And Sammy does that. If there’s a passing ant on the sidewalk, he has to frantically let us know. If there’s someone at the door, he makes a terrible fuss, even though he has nothing but love for anyone who actually enters the house, whether he knows the person or not. This kind of barking is a minor annoyance, though. It’s the “barking at us for 5 minutes while we’re watching TV” stuff that makes me want to kill him.

Usually when he goes off, I yell and make him sit. He fearfully sits there, his ears back, sorry eyes. Then he barks, sometimes literally the second I walk away. It’s like he can’t help it. He makes the same fuss I mentioned when it’s one of us coming into the house, and even when he sees and hears that it’s us, he doesn’t (or can’t) stop. It’s like a trigger has pushed his meter into the “bark zone,” and he has enormous difficulty controlling it, if he can at all, until the meter notches down to “calm zone.”

Anybody run into this? Any experience or advice to offer? Does he want attention? I suspect it’s just his personality, and we’ll just have to learn to live with it, but I really hope not. He really is the sweetest, most-loving dog, 95% of the time. But that 5% is wearing on me.

It sounds like you are doing the right thing by correcting him right away, but he’s not getting the message.

My dog was in obedience school for several years (she wasn’t bad, it was just something fun to do together) and our trainer was great…she did recommend a citronella collar for one of our more mouthy classmates. It’s humane and it immediately “corrects” the dog when he barks without the human having to possibly give him the wrong correction.

I just googled “citronella collar” and that was one of the first links that popped up, so I’m not advocating that exact one. You will probably want to research it yourself.

Good luck - labs are indeed big sweeties :slight_smile:

How’s his exercise level? Sleeping dogs seldom bark.

We do need to exercise him more. And I’ll look into the collar–we wouldn’t do the shock one. Thanks for the replies.

I don’t want to sound harsh, but everytime you do this, and end up letting him continue to bark afterwards, you’re simply reinforcing the fact that he can bark all he wants, he might just have to sit quietly for a bit first.

You need to keep making him sit until he calms down, That means not yelling at him to the extent that he’s fearful, but getting his attention (if he’s so focussed on barking that he’s blocked out everything else then you may need to give him a physical touch, whether it’s just a gentle nudge with your foot or a more assertive grab with your hand) and commanding him to sit. He goes back to barking? You make him sit again. More barking? More sitting. Rinse, repeat. This could take a long time, so you might want to set up someone to come to your door on an afternoon when you’ve got plenty of time.

I almost could have written the OP: my two-year-old hound mix also seems to go into “bark mode” every now and then, but not just randomly while I’m watching TV. When it happens to her it’s either (a) at the dog park, where she’s just so excited about playing that her bark switch gets flipped; or (b) because she sees a squirrel or a particular neighborhood dog outside the kitchen window.

Last night (b) happened. I think it was a squirrel, because when I responded to her running into the living room with the “I AM BARKING MY HEAD OFF OVER HERE YOU HAVE TO COME LOOOOOOK!” face I didn’t see any person or dog outside.

I’ll admit I’ve been pretty lax about trying to correct this in the house, mostly because I don’t think she’s really doing anything wrong. At the dog park I just let her bark: every now and then I’ll throw an exasperated “enough!” her way, but no real attempts at correction. She really went on a tear last night, though, so I got a Milk Bone, brought her into the living room, made her sit quietly, then gave her the cookie. She calmed down enough to obey the command and eat the cookie…then she went right back to the kitchen window and started barking again. :smack: Luckily, though, eating the cookie made her realize that she was hungry, so a minute later she stopped barking and ate her dinner (which I’d placed in front of her shortly before the barkfest began).

Yeah, labs are originally hunting dogs so they’re not exactly low-energy-level, although by age six I’d think most of that would have burned off.

Does he bark during walks? If he does, that’d be a good “teaching moment” and if he doesn’t, it’ll use up some energy. Either way! :slight_smile:

Once you’re able to distract him from his OMGBARK! zone and get him to shut up at least momentarily and listen to you, then you have to keep him in that “Listening To My Person” mode as **Sandra **mentioned above.

To be clear, when he barks after I turn away, I turn back and make him sit again. At some point, he’s done. He never just gets to bark away. But clearly I’m not reinforcing it properly, since we seem to be replaying this scenario with exasperating regularity.

I’ll try the physical touch trigger. And, no, he doesn’t seem to bark on walks. He really is a great dog. If only he’d shut the @#$% up! :frowning:

Thanks for all for the comments.

I know someone who had a barky dog they couldn’t break of the habit either. And I know you don’t want to hear this, but they borrowed one of those shock collars from another friend, (tried in on themselves first!), used it on the dog exactly one evening, I think it was 2 or 3 times in total. And that was that. Job done. Dog was never barky again, they returned the borrowed collar. Problem solved.

I have always maintained they were cruel and I’d never use one, but having since felt the mild shock myself, and having heard several such stories I’ve changed my view considerably. I’d still maintain that it should be used only in the most trying circumstances, as a last resort.

Myself I’d work on the more exercise thing first.

Yeah, shock collars aren’t your first step, but they’re not exactly a nuclear option, either. Especially for something as big as a lab, it’s a pretty mild shock. The point is not to go “ZZZZZZZZAPPPPPPPP!” It’s to go, “Hey! Stop that and pay attention!”

I tried the citronella type on my barky beagle mix and it did squat. I think he actually liked how it smelled. So I upgraded to a shock collar but not one of the noise activated ones. Mine has a control that you have to press. There’s also a “beep” function so the concept is that when he starts barking, you beep the collar. If that doesn’t work, then you shock him. I tried it on myself before using it on the dog. It sort of feels like a 9 volt battery does on your tongue. It has settings from 1-10 and I’ve never gone over 3 on it (well, except for the time I zapped my assistant at level 10 but that doesn’t count). I’ve only had to zap him once and, after that, he got the concept and stopped barking. When the collar is on. When it’s off, forget it, he’s a barking machine. I think it’s just his nature.

Not that the dog will get the reference, but be sure to have Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony playing in the background the day you choose to do this :slight_smile:

I’m not going to be any help, but I just wanted to say that my dad’s dog does this. It made me laugh so hard the first time that I was in tears— he was barking and barking and barking, so I went out side, made him sit, and told him NO BARKING. He looked sorry, licked my hand, we were kosher.

I turn around to walk back inside and I hear this tiny little “arf!” escape his lips. Not a full loud bark, you can tell he was trying SO HARD not to do it. When I turned around, he looked horrified. He knew it was wrong, but he couldn’t help it. Funniest thing ever.

What about those anti-barking devices? They supposedly work like a dog whistle, and get your dog to, well, stop barking.


You are just reinforcing the idea that making lots of noise is the proper response to whatever triggers this. Just like in a pack of dogs, when one sights/smells the fox and sounds off, all the others in the pack join in. So when he barks at something, he sees his master join in (by yelling loud) – yep, confirming for him that the whole pack (him & you) should be barking at this something.

Then you confuse the hell out of him by discipling him for the same action you had just joined in doing! No wonder he is fearful – he can’t understand why you are now angry about something you were doing yourself just a minute ago. And he can’t learn when he can’t understand.

Do not yell when he barks inappropriately.
Reprimand him, in a clear, firm, stern voice, but NOT louder than a normal command.

Shock collars, that is the way to go. Works like a charm.

And don’t give me the cruelty stuff. When I was a kid I used to deliberately touch the electrified wire at my uncle’s dairy farm that was meant to control the cattle. Unpleasant yes.

Oh, man, I can’t believe I missed that part in the post. Thanks for chiming in - you are exactly correct here.