How can I stop my dog barking too much?

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A reader worries about her Great Dane barking and upsetting the neighbours, Your Dog expert Tamsin Durston advises.

Q: During lockdown, I adopted a rescue Great Dane (10 months old) as a companion for my other Dane. He came with baggage, but we are making progress. The one thing that is driving us crazy is his barking. He can’t go outside to toilet without barking and he doesn’t have an ‘off switch’. I’ve tried various humane gadgets without success, and now bribe him to come back in with a promise of treats. I worry that the neighbours will start to complain. 
Andrea Freegard, via email.

Tamsin says: Barking is a noisy but completely normal part of canine communication. The key to reducing and even preventing barking is to understand why
the dog is barking in the first place, and what he hopes to gain from it; then teach him that he can still obtain this by behaving in a different, quieter manner instead. 

This might involve introducing him to something that means he can’t bark at the same time, for example putting his nose to the ground and sniffing out some tasty treats instead of barking at another dog or person. 

If your dog is barking because he is scared, try to avoid the scary thing as much as possible and help prevent your dog from being in this position again. 

Dogs are more likely to bark if they’re not getting enough mental or physical exercise, so make sure you spend quality time keeping your dog engaged and active each day. 

Also ensure he doesn’t find barking rewarding; reward him for staying quiet instead. Although it may be frustrating, especially if you have neighbours to consider, telling your dog off might make him anxious or confused about you. It could even contribute to the problem, encouraging him to bark even more. Anti-bark training devices might appear to be a quick fix, but they don’t do anything to help the dog feel better about the world around him, and often make problems worse. 

For a tailored plan, your vet can refer you to a certified clinical animal behaviourist, who can help teach your dog to feel and behave differently.