Please help me with my dog's random barking.
February 28, 2023 5:20 PM   Subscribe

First, I looked at some of the answers from this question but our situations are mostly different. I adopted my 14 lb shih tuz, Dice on December 1. On Feb 23, he just started barking in the evenings when he hears something in the hallway. More inside...

Since Feb 23, he has been barking every evening. Sometimes he wakes up barking. He is always doing it in front of the door. I have tried opening the door to let him see/hear whats going on in the hallway, as well as calling him over to me on the couch with treats. Sometimes after those attempts, he goes right back to barking. A new family of 2 adults, a 5 month old, and 2 big dogs moved in upstairs around February 15th or so. He does seem to bark when they are coming and going up/down the stairs. A couple used to live their just the two of them and would be up/down and in/out our (extremely loud) front door and he never barked. He has sniffed these new dogs a couple of times. The owners walk them with a muzzle that looks like a simple leash around their mouths, so I've never heard them bark, but maybe they do in the actual apartment and Dice hears it but I don't? We occasionally hear the baby cry from our apartment and Dice does not respond. The MOST distressing part of this is that the last two nights he has woken up in the middle of the night and barked!!!! It is so so jarring. I have sleep problems so I haven't looked at the time when he's done this. Last night he even did it two separate times. I can usually soothe him back to sleep but it sucks to be woken up like that. He sleeps in my bed with me with a noise machine on and the bedroom door closed. It is quite dark. Since I'm being woken up, I have no idea what the preceding trigger might be. I am really sorry I have written a novel here, but I am very distraught and seeking guidance. I asked our trainer too, and she also asked if I have a vet appointment, which I don't. Though I could make one.
posted by bookworm4125 to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My dog's barking issues were anxiety related, and prozac helped her chill out.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:35 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

My dog barks more when I haven't been walking them enough. Anxiety-related in my dog's case = needs more exercise and mental stimulation (smells, tricks).

The thing you're supposed to do is train them to bark so they can then learn not to bark, but it's hard and I never got it to work right. I know you're supposed to give a dog treats after they do a thing you want them to do, but I sort of wonder if you're giving your dog treats for barking.

The thing I got to work is that when my dog barks more than like 1-2x, I tell them time out. I figure they should be allowed to vocalize if they want, but they don't have to repeat it once they've said their thing. Time out is a consequence, not a punishment. If A then B. I worked pretty hard not to sound annoyed or speak over their barking (lest they think I am joining in on the barking).

I used to put them in the bathroom and shut the door and set a 5-minute timer. If they've settled down by 3-4 minutes, they can come out. (Rarely they continued barking but more common at first: if they haven't stopped barking, they get 5 more minutes.) I'd ask them to do a trick (hop onto my lap) before being let out. Nowadays, I stand up, point to the bathroom, tell them time out, they put themself on time out, and stop barking pretty immediately.

Nowadays, they will sometimes even confidently trot off to the bathroom and put themself on time out after barking enthusiastically. It's adorable.

Our mail carrier is awesome and barks back.
posted by aniola at 7:18 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]

You can try a ultrasonic anti-barking device. One thing to definitely stop doing would be offering treats when he barks. That's only encouraging the behavior.
posted by mezzanayne at 7:24 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry, this all sounds miserable.

Your trainer probably mentioned it, but many rescues have a rule of thumb about the time it takes dogs to settle in - the rule of 3s. Three days to decompress, three weeks to get familiar with your routine, three months to start to feel at home.

You're right at the three-month mark, so Dice may just be relaxing into being a barky dog comfortably telling all comers that this is HIS apartment, in which case training is probably going to be the only answer.

But a vet appointment first is a good idea to check if there's anything physical going on, and if it turns out to be anxiety, medication can work wonders.

Good luck!
posted by current resident at 7:37 PM on February 28 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The key thing with using the treats is making the treat a reward for being quiet, not a reward for barking. Go to him and get him to stop barking. I know, easier said than done. You may have to experiment a little to figure out how to accomplish this. See if you can do something that makes him focus his attention on you for a moment instead of what he's barking at. (But don't scare him. Yelling, "QUIET!" and stomping your foot might do it, but that's probably going to be too scary. Aim for something a lot more friendly.) The instant he stops barking, praise him and give him a treat. (If you use a clicker or a marker word like "yes," mark the instant he stops.) He's likely to start barking again and if he does, keep getting him to stop again and giving treats and praise. But to make it easier for him to calm down and be quiet, try to move him to a different area as soon as you can and do something else with him to distract him. Once you find you can usually get him to stop barking, at least momentarily, you can start using a verbal cue like "quiet" when he stops and then you can start saying "quiet" before you do your thing that makes him stop. And eventually you will just be able to say "quiet" because he'll know what that means.

When my dog starts barking, I generally go to see what it is. (Usually it's nothing that I can detect.) I have a quick look and then tell her in a calm voice that it seems like nothing and she doesn't need to worry. (Not that I expect her to understand everything I'm saying. I just want to convey the message that I checked out the situation and I'm not concerned.) If she seems inclined to keep barking, I tell her "quiet" and praise her when she stops, maybe give her a treat. (She fully understands the "quiet" concept now and doesn't need to be rewarded every time.)

You do have to expect that sometimes he will wake you up by barking in the middle of the night. Hopefully it won't be common, but that is a thing pretty much every dog is going to do sometimes.

(Oh, and that "muzzle that looks like a simple leash around their mouths" is probably a halter like the Halti or Gentle Leader. It's not meant to act as a muzzle at all. It helps reduce pulling and can make it easier to handle a strong dog.)
posted by Redstart at 8:35 PM on February 28 [8 favorites]

Best answer: And if he stays quiet and doesn't start barking again, keep rewarding the quietness. Give him treats every few seconds at first, then gradually start waiting a little longer in between treats.
posted by Redstart at 9:00 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

The only thing I have to add to the excellent advice given above is that sometimes, not very often, dogs will respond more to praise than treats. I have one of those dogs right now. She is an older rescue set in her ways and didn't care much for treats. She'd eat them when offered (but only the top quality chicken breast jerky or freeze dried liver, the others she had no time for) but didn't seem overly eager for them.

She did however look for approval and affection from me, which I showered on her with my high pitched happy who's a good girl voice when she did the good thing. It was remarkably easy to train her out of all but her most intense bad habits this way.

Good luck, and three months is a pretty short time for an adoptee to get comfortable yet. It took my (admittedly very wary of ALL things) dog two years until she felt comfortable enough to sleep with her belly exposed.
posted by newpotato at 2:22 AM on March 1

Many people like the thanks for barking protocol.

Full disclosure that it does not work for my night-barking rescue a year in; we are still looking for a good solution.
posted by quadrilaterals at 9:52 AM on March 1 [1 favorite]

As others have said, your dog has now settled in and identifies your home as his home. We are on our like 8th rescue or something and we always know the dog is really at home the first time it barks at the door. Shih Tzus are literally guard dogs, and they bark a lot. He's smelling dogs, hearing dogs, dreaming about dogs and/or other threats he's protecting you both from.

You could try Quiet Ears aka the Happy Hoodie at night, and if that isn't successful I guess talk to your vet about Prozac (which is what my sister does with her barker.)
posted by DarlingBri at 12:47 PM on March 1

What's your dog's activity routine like? I wonder if adding another 15-20 minute walk at night would help? I have a dog who will bark in the middle of the night sometimes if she doesn't get enough exercise.
posted by tybstar at 6:34 PM on March 1

How old is Dice? Does it feel like the reactivity is coming from a place of excitement/boredom or anxiety?

If it's excitement-related in a confident dog, I'd up activity level and engagement with obedience classes, walks, playtime, and enrichment activities like snuffle mats or puzzles. For new fosters who are not shy or sensitive, I also use a squirt bottle when they are barking at nothing, and they usually pretty quickly get the idea. Eventually, I just have to hold the bottle up so they see it, to remind them.

For anxiety-related barking, I work with a vet for a combination of upping their activity level, sometimes with a short-term course of supportive medication. Instead of a squirt bottle (which can increase anxiety), I redirect by distracting them with a command they know like "sit," or "shhhh," and reward them with VERY over-the-top praise and/or a treat.

If he's an older dog, nighttime restlessness can be a symptom of cognitive decline.
posted by answergrape at 8:52 AM on March 2

The ultrasonic devices sometimes work, but often they don't. I have this Sunbeam egg thing that works occasionally, sometimes even for neighbors dogs who are barky. But for anxiety-related barking or cognitive decline, I would not use the ultrasonic devices, since they can escalate the anxiety. For some confident dogs, the ultrasonic devices can basically turn barking into a shout-off, which is the opposite of what you want.
posted by answergrape at 9:02 AM on March 2

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