Fear Barking Dog Problem:
10 Steps to a Solution

Solve a barking dog problem with positive methods that work.
Does your dog show aggressive dog behaviors like barking? Are you feeling frustrated and scared? Here you will find the best way to stop dogs from barking.

But, can you stop a dog from barking? Yes! With patience, training, practice and kindness you will help your pet relax, understand you and do what you ask.

Many dogs bark out of fear and this article addressed these particular cases. If you think your dog barks for other reasons (boredom, excitement, guarding, etc) visit the Barking Main Page for more help.

The training methods outlined here require no more than treats and practice. However, if you find it difficult for your dog to relax or learn, then you may need to visit your vet for meds for aggressive dogs. These will only be needed in some cases and your vet should work along with your training plan to reduce medication as the dog progresses.

Understanding fear and stress in your dog

Almost all dogs are afraid of something and most of the time this is not a problem because it does not show very often.

If you are reading this it's probably because your dog is afraid of things that he encounters daily and barking is his way of dealing with it.

To understand why this happens lets learn a little biology. Animals have three biological mechanisms to deal with threats:

  • Fight: It may start with a mild aggressive dog behavior like barking and escalate to growling, snapping and biting. This option could get one or both parties involved injured!
  • Flight: The dog will try to escape and put as much distance as possible between him and the scary subject/object.
  • Freeze: The hound will stay as still as possible (maybe that threatening thing won't see him).

The majority of dogs do not like to get into fights, this is a dangerous thing to do, flight is much safer. But if they are in a situation in which they can't escape (for example, on a leash), they will go into "fight" mode. Fight mode starts with barking. This usually is all it takes to scare a person or another animal away. Now your hound has learned that barking keeps him safe, he will continue doing so and you have a barking dog problem!

Important:

NEVER punish your dog for barking. If you don't let your canine friend bark, he will bite!

Another important aspect of fear aggression in dogs is STRESS. When your dog is in fear, stress hormones (like glucocorticoids) are released in his body. The purpose of these hormones is to keep the animal alert for the next 2-7 days in case a similar scary situation happens (then the reaction is even faster!).

The problem with stress hormones is that they can accumulate every time your dog faces a threatening situation. The more they accumulate the jumpier your hound gets.

So, if your dog is afraid of other dogs and you take him to the park every day…guess what? He probably has chronic stress. This is emotionally exhausting and harming. Stress also decreases learning, so your pooch is not in an open frame of mind to hear what you want to teach him to solve this barking dog problem.

How to solve this? You are in control of your pet's life. Make a big difference in his routine.

Methods to decrease your pet's stress levels

1- Keep your dog away from the fear-eliciting stimulus for at least a week (to help those stress hormones dissipate). If necessary keep him home and take him out only to quiet places or at quiet times. Do this until you see some progress with the methods described below. This is very important to solve your barking dog problem.

2- Use canine massage: This might seem a little silly, but it is becoming very popular and you can learn how to do it yourself. The idea is to switch from "petting" to "massage" and incorporate it into your daily routine. It will increase flexibility and circulation as well as reduce stress, just like it does in humans! The best part is that you will bond with your furry friend even more.

Healing Touch for Dogs: The Proven Massage Program

3- Play with your dog: Playing tug-of-war, fetch, chase and other games strengthens the bond between you and your canine friend and makes him feel relaxed and full of the good stress hormones. Training exercises can also be used to enrich your dog's life.

Don't have too much time to play with your dog? Try these puzzle toys for dogs. They are a great way to give your hound mental exercise and help him think about happy things instead of stressful events.

4- Try dog relaxing products: these are natural remedies for aggressive dogs to help them calm down, they can help solve a fear barking dog problem. They are design based on physiology, anatomy and the study of canine behavior. The ones I recommend here are useful and have helped lots of dogs. Note that all of these products will help but will not solve the problem on their own. Always follow the training protocols outlined below.

Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP): This is a synthetic analogue of apaisine, a pheromone produced by lactating female dogs that produces a calming effect on puppies. You can use a diffuser at your home (it won't have any effect on you!) or there are sprays and collars as well. I have heard really good results from owners that have used it.

Comfort Zone Adaptil Diffuser Kit

Thunder Shirt: This is a wrap that goes around your dog's body tightly and helps him feel secure. It was originally design for dog with fear of thunderstorms but will also work to relax any fearful dog in other situations. They come in different sizes and colors too!

Thundershirt for Dogs

Royal Canin Calm Food: This food is enriched with tryptophane, an amino acids required by the brain to produce neurotransmitters needed for relaxation and sleepiness. The company has done some scientific studies shown that after a few weeks of switching to this diets dogs have lower cortisol, a molecule used to measure stress.

Royal Canin Calm Dry Dog food

You do not have to use all of these relaxation techniques together, pick one or two. Pick the ones that best fit your schedule or you think are working better for you and your pooch. Start using the above techniques at least a week before you start training. It will help your dog focus on what you will teach him instead of being afraid. Keep doing them until you start seeing some good progress with training.

Methods for Solving a barking dog problem

Systematic desensitization and Counterconditioning are the training techniques you will use to stop a fear barking dog problem. They sound like a mouthful! But they are actually easy methods to implement. The only things you need are TONS of patience and to go very SLOWLY.

Systematic desensitization: You will have your dog approach the scary subject/object very slowly. How slowly? As slowly as it takes for your hound to NEVER react with fear or barking to the threat. The first few trials your furry friend and the scary object might be 10 feet away from each other. Then 9.5 … and so on. The idea is that as you get closer your pet MUST NOT react fearfully. Click on the link for a more info.

Counterconditioning: Your pet doesn't like the scary object, he feels afraid every time he sees it or hears it. With this technique your will literally change his "feelings". Every time the scary object appears you will give your pet a reward. Not just any reward but the most yummy treat he has ever tasted. And, very important, this yummy treat ONLY appears when the scary object appears. After many training sessions your pet will start associating the "ex-scary" object with the best treat in the world…and guess what? He will start loving the "ex-scary" object! Click on the link for more info.

To solve a fear barking dog problem combine these two techniques during training sessions. Here is a step by step example of what to do if your canine is fearful of strangers (but switch strangers for whatever it is your dog is scared of and it works the same):

Step-by-step Treatment for Fear Barking

To solve a fear barking dog problem, we combine these two techniques during training sessions. Here is a step by step example of what to do if your canine is fearful of strangers (switch the word "strangers" for whatever it is your dog is scared of and it works the same):

Step 1: Keep a log

Buy a cheap notebook and keep a log of each session, this will help you see the progress even if it is minimal. It will also remind you were you left off the last training session. This is important because you DO NOT want to go too fast.

Write down the date, time and subject used for training (i.e., who was helping you as the stranger or if the person used costumes). Write down how your pet reacted the first trial and how he reacted the last trial during the same session.

Step 2: Find helpers

Find volunteer helpers. They can be friends or family members to start with, then you will move on to complete strangers as you go on walks with your hound.

Step 3: Dog Peek-A-Boo!

It's time for your pooch to meet the stranger. Start at a safe distance and short periods of time (2-5 sec).

What is a safe distance? If your pet shows ANY signs of fear (barking, growling, freezing or any other type of anxious body language) then you are too close to the strange person. Move further away. If your dog is good, give him that yummy treat! Then move away from view of the stranger and do it again!

It's like playing Peek-A-Boo!

TIP:

Give the treat to your pet when he/she sees the scary person, not you. This means you need to pay close attention to your furry friend.

Repeat this until your pet eagerly anticipates seeing the stranger at a distance. This means that you might be doing this same thing 10-50 times on day 1, 10-30 times on day 2…whatever it takes to see that tail-wag at the site of the far-away stranger!

TIP:

The size of the treat must be the size of a pea to avoid over-feeding your dog. You may also need a high value dog treat.

Step 4: Reduce distance

After many repetitions (it can take from several days to weeks depending on the degree of fear your pet has) you will notice that your hound is completely comfortable when a strange person is in sight (at the safe distance).

Now you can move a little closer…BUT CAUTION…do not move too close, you do not want your dog to react fearfully! Move close enough that it is significantly different from what you were doing before, but not so close that you see any signs of fear in your pet.

Now repeat the same thing, give him a treat at the sight of the stranger, leave. Come back and repeat…repeat…repeat.

Step 5: Change outfits

Repeat steps 1-4 until you are side by side with the strange person. This same person could be using different outfits, like a hat one day, a closed umbrella another, etc. But do this only if your dog is OK, no fear reactions.

Step 6: Repeat steps 1-5 with a different person.

Step 7: Repeat steps 1-5 with extending the time your dog sees the stranger.

Step 8: Repeat steps 1-5 with 2 strangers at the same time.

Step 9: Repeat steps 1-5 with a stranger trying to pet your dog. (Only do this if you are sure your pet will not bite).

Step 10: You can add as many variables as you need, depending on what your dog is afraid of. Be as creative as you can and always move slowly. Throughout this whole thing your dog should NOT feel stressed or bark.

By solving your barking dog problem with this methods, you are getting him used to strangers and also rewarding quiet behaviors.

The number of steps it will take to solve a barking dog problem depends on how fearful your pet is. It also depends on what he fears. For example, if your dog is scared of other dogs, once you reach the point at which you are side by side, you might want to add steps to help him interact and play with the dog. To do this just wait to give him the reward until you see a positive response, like a calming signal or him trying to sniff the other dog in a friendly manner.



More you can do to solve a  fear barking dog problem

  • Before and during the systematic desensitization and counterconditioning program make sure your dog has very little chances of encountering the object of his fear. This will decrease his stress levels and training to solve a barking dog problem will go a lot smoother.
  • When your dog shows fear to something, like a loud sound, do not over react yourself! Keep calm and completely ignore the noise (or object) as if it is something of no importance. Then calmly remove your pet from the situation. 
  • You can act as a safe wall between your dog and the scary object. For example, if your hound is afraid of kids and one of them runs towards your dog while on a walk, physically put yourself between the kid and your dog. Stop the kid and kindly ask him to not bother the dog. Do this calmly and confidently. This shows your pet that you are a good leader that takes care of his pack and will help him feel secure. 
  • You can use a RED bandana around your hounds neck to signal to other dog owners that your pet needs space and they shouldn't come to close.
  • Do not put your pooch in a scary situation. Never force your pet to interact with something he doesn't want to until you have done the proper training to solve this barking dog problem (then you won't have to force him!). If you must, cross the street to avoid undesirable encounters.
  • Try Clicker Training! The sound of the clicker is very distinct and helps fearful hounds be more attentive to training. It can also speed up learning and solve your barking dog problem faster.

Things you should NEVER do

  • Some traditional dog trainers will use a technique called "flooding" to solve a barking dog problem due to fear. This is a very stressful technique that I DO NOT recommend. This technique involves placing the dog side-by-side with the scary object/subject and not letting him leave or fight until he gives up. It is terrible to see and I can't even imagine the horror the dog has to put up with. So, say NO to flooding.
  • Never punish a fearful dog for barking, because next you will have an aggressive dog that bites! Barking is his way of telling the scary object to move away, if you punish this he will then have no option but to go straight to the attack.
  • Because all electronic, no-barking or citronella collars work with punishment, they will not work to solve this kind of fearful barking. They will only make the dog even more afraid and more stressed, leading to an even worse situation. PLEASE do not use an electronic collar if you have a fearful dog. The above advice is what you need to solve a fear barking dog problem.
  • Avoid using threatening body language. These include: walking in a straight line directly towards the dog, hovering over the head of the dog, trying to pet the dog with palm down on top of his head, staring into the dogs eyes. Instead approach the dog in a curve, let the dog smell your hand before patting on the side of his face or chest, and have the person facing slightly to the side.

Important:

If you have an aggressive dog with a history of biting look for a professional and certified dog trainer. He/she will be able to show you how to proceed in a safe manner and solve this barking dog problem.

Summary to solve a barking dog problem

You can use the above methods no matter what it is your dog fears, it works the same way. Examples of fear in dogs are:

  • Fear of other dogs
  • Fear of other animals (horses, cats, etc.)
  • Fear of Strangers
  • Fear of Loud noises (gunfire, fireworks, etc)
  • Fear of being restrained (i.e. on a leash, with no way out)
  • Fear of people or other dogs approaching suddenly or in a threatening manner
  • Fear of strange objects (bicycles, crouches, wheelchairs, etc.)
  • Fear of nail clipping or other grooming
  • and many more!

No matter what your pet is afraid of, the method you should follow to solve a fear barking dog problem is the same:

  • De-stress your pet: play, massage, etc.
  • Use systematic desensitization and counterconditioning to change your dog's feelings from fear to Joy.
  • Do not use any aversive-based method with your fearful dog.

If you have questions follow this link to the Stories and Questions form. You must describe your situation with at least 150 words and must upload a picture of your dog for your question to be answered and uploaded.

You can also leave your thoughts, comments or suggestions in the box below.

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