You had happily adopted a dog to your family but that turned out to be an embarrassing experience for you as he keeps barking at visitors the moment they step into your home.
You have to either put him in a crate or lock him in a room till your guests have left. This is probably not what you want for your dog and correcting his barking behavior is certainly a MUST!
Your dog barks at visitors to show his excitement or aggression. To correct this behavior, you need to know his emotional state from his body language. Positively reinforced his calmness when he stops barking and starts him on socialization training. Provide an outlet for him to release his pent-up energy.
Your dog could be barking at your guests for 2 obvious reasons:
1. Fear or Aggression. He sees strangers coming to your house as a potential threat, and he is trying to protect you or his territory by attempting to scare away the person through his barking. In this case, his body is likely to be very stiff and his tail is high up.
2. Excitement. He sees the visitors as his friends and would like to play with him. Barking is his way to show his greeting, just like we greet each other through saying “hello”.
This can happen to dog who easily get over excited when seeing people. His body is likely to be relaxed and wagging his tail.
So by keeping a close lookout on your dog’s body language, you will have a clue on what is causing his barking.
Once you get to know the trigger, you could then work on correcting his undesirable behavior.
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Draw His Attention To You
You can do this through distracting him from your visitors by calling out his name. And to do this, you would need to associate his name with some high value treats.
I find that meat types of treats tend to work extremely well as they taste great and the smell is so enticing to dogs.
The idea is to get his mental state off from whatever that is making him uncomfortable and offer you his attention the moment you call out his name.
So you would need to associate his name with a positive rewarding experience.
This is how you can start your training:
1. Train him to associate his name with positive experience. You can do this by offering him a high value treat whenever he gives you his attention when you call his name.
Keep practicing this training till he responds to you immediately when he hears his name being called.
2. Get a friend who your dog had never met before to pay you a visit. Have him seated calmly on the sofa while you put your dog on a leash and bring him out to meet your friend.
3. Lead your dog slowly towards your friend and keep a close watch on his reaction.
The moment he looks at your friend, calls out his name to get his attention and give him a treat. You would want him to associate that when he sees your friend without barking, GOOD things will happen! (he will be rewarded)
The idea is to condition your dog to see the guest as something GOOD rather than something bad that he needs to react to.
4. Of course, your final goal is to train your dog to automatically look at you without having to call his name whenever he sees your visitor.
This will offer an excellent opportunity for you to reward him with a treat as a positive reinforcement for giving you his attention.
Gradually, he will learn to associate that giving his attention to you without barking at your visitors is going to be much more rewarding.
Using this approach, it helps to correct his barking behavior before he starts to act “crazy”. You will have to train him to learn how to react in an appropriate manner (in his mind) before his action (barking) takes over his thoughts.
Calm His Overexcitement
Your dog could be excited to see people coming towards him in your house and wanted to befriend them.
Barking is his way of extending his friendliness to them though it might not be what your guests had in mind.
Apart from using the same positive reinforcement approach, I would also suggest that you should provide an outlet for your dog to release his pent-up energy daily.
There is a saying that “A tired dog is a GOOD dog” and there is certainly no doubt of that.
Helping your dog drain off his excessive energy daily will make him less energetic and react more calmly when he sees your guests in the house.
Plan for some physical workouts as well as mental simulation games for your dog daily will help to keep his energy level low.
Physical games such as tug of war, chasing of bubbles, Frisbee as well as flirt pole provides excellent outlets for your dog to let off his pent-up energy. Playing these games with him will also help to build up your bond and trust with him.
Do not forget to add in some mental simulation games for your dog as well.
Mental games which utilize your dog’s brain power can certainly make him mentally tired easily.
In case your dog gets “out of control”, you should pick him up and have him in your arms to calm him down. Your calm energy will influence him to stay calm and stop his barking at your guests.
Start Him On Socialization Training
Your dog will be packed with lots of emotional challenges such as curiosity, fear and anxiety when he sees someone that he is not familiar with “invading” in his territory.
Exposing him to unfamiliar visitors (new scent and sight) is going to make him excited or fearful and things might get out of control if he had not been trained on how to react to these stimuli in a calm manner.
This uncomfortable behavior is more prominent when he is not yet trained on how to socialize.
This is typically what happens when he sees a stranger approaching him, and he attempts to either show his excitement or his fear through persistent barking.
As he is not being trained to associate calmness with positive experience, he will do what he considers as the BEST option, which is “barking”.
In fact, barking is the dog’s basic way of communication to express his emotion (excitement, fear, aggressiveness or anxiety) before he decides to spring into any action.
Getting your dog trained to interact with what’s happening around him through socialization will help him to adapt well and manage his emotions.
Avoid Using Collar To Correct His Behavior
Of course, traditional ways such as using a prong collar or shock collar are some common ways to correct a dog’s behavior BUT personally, I find them to be highly unethical and not effective in solving the issue.
To make your dog do away with his barking, you should make the presence of visitors in your home to be a pleasant and calm experience for him and not to make it a stressful and tense event for your dog with all these collars.
Collar training is simply “telling” your dog that he should not react in this behavior, but he is NOT aware of “why” he should not be reacting in this manner.
So the underlying trigger (could be he is trying to protect you or he wants to show his friendliness to strangers) is not addressed.
You would need to make him learn that there is NEGATIVE consequence for his barking and that would deter him from repeating that action.
You see, waiting for the barking behavior to occur then using the collar to control him is 10 times less effective than correcting the behavior before it happens.
You need to associate your dog with positive reinforcement that by NOT barking at your guest and paying attention to YOU, good things will happen!
This will positively reinforce his thinking that he had made a “wise” choice.
Never Punish For Your Dog
Never ever impose any punishment for your dog when he barks at your visitors. Shouting or yelling at him will not help in the situation and could intensify his barking.
You see, your dog is already in an intense emotion (fear and anxiety) and when he sees you acting up, he will get even more agitated.
What you should do is to maintain your calmness and call out his name to grab his attention. Reward him immediately if he gives you his attention and stop his barking. This will help him to associate calmness with rewarding experience.
Adopting this positive reinforcement approach when your dog is exhibiting his calmness when facing your guests will be the best approach to help him do away with the barking instincts.