Your new puppy has discovered his vocal cords, and his formerly-adorable barking is starting to drive you crazy. Whether it’s because he’s bored and looking for attention or because he’s unhappy being crated, the best time to address this burgeoning behavior before it becomes a habit. Puppies bark for many reasons—like fear, pain, excitement, loneliness or confusion—and figuring out the reason for the vocalization will allow you to address it more effectively.
Don’t Encourage Him
One of the biggest mistakes new puppy parents make is accidentally encouraging a behavior that seems cute in puppy form, not realizing that it won’t be as adorable when the dog is fully grown. It’s hard to ignore the little yowls and barks your puppy makes (yes, they’re silly), but keep in mind that those baby sounds are going to get louder and more obnoxious as he matures. An easy way to keep yourself on the right track as you get to know your new puppy is to ask yourself “Do I like this behavior? Do I want it to continue when my dog is older?”
Understand the Source of the Barking
Puppyhood barking is challenging because you and your puppy are just starting to learn about each other. You want to be aware if your puppy is barking to let you know that he needs to go out for a potty break, but you don’t want to encourage inappropriate barking, like boredom vocalization. When trying to make sense of barking try to look for the antecedent – what happened right before the bark? Did your pup’s ball roll under the couch? That’s a demand bark and one you don’t want to react to. Instead, wait for a moment of silence and then retrieve the ball.
Is your puppy barking at your because you’re on the phone and ignoring him? That’s attention seeking barking, and if you acknowledge it, you’ve basically told him that being loud is an effective way to get your focus. In that scenario, set your dog up to succeed by giving him a busy toy before you get on the phone.
Many puppies bark when inside dog crates, and those barks probably mean one of two things: separation intolerance or the need to eliminate. Sometimes it’s challenging to tell the difference between the two, and since you never want to reward your dog for barking, (meaning, you don’t want him to think that barking always makes him get his way), you need to carefully consider the motivation behind the vocalization before you make a move.
First, think about the timing of the bark. Did you just put your puppy inside the crate? If you gave your pup a potty break before crating him, then the barking you’re hearing is probably intolerance or pre-nap protest (overtired pups often channel their frustration into vocalization). If your puppy has been quiet in his crate for a while and then barks and whines, it probably means that he needs to go out again. This is especially true if your puppy wakes in the middle of the night and makes noise, so make sure that you get him out for a potty break.
Make His Crate a Comforting Place
If your puppy barks nonstop when you crate him, it might mean that he needs more time to acclimate to being in the crate. First, make sure that you’ve selected the appropriate size for your puppy. It needs to be big enough so that your puppy can stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably, but not much bigger. Then work on desensitizing him to crating slowly, using treats, brief training sessions and positive associations. Give your puppy treat-stuffed busy toys to keep him happily occupied while he’s crated.
Focus on Socialization
Your puppy might fear bark when faced with unfamiliar people or new environments, and that means that you need to step up your socialization plan. Puppies need to have positive experiences with novel people, places and things in order to learn to navigate our world confidently. The goal is to expose your pup to these situations in a way that encourages confident curiosity without overdoing it. So if your puppy reacts to newness by barking, take a look at what triggered the reaction and take a literal step back.
If your puppy barks at unfamiliar people, put some distance between you and the person and give your dog a steady stream of high-value treats. This will help your pup to make a positive association to the stranger. The same holds true for anything that triggers a fear-bark response – allow for a buffer of distance and use treats to defuse your dog’s reaction. Give your pup time to approach at his own pace – don’t get him too close too quickly. Neophobia (fear of something new) in puppies needs to be addressed right away, as this behavior can become a default reaction that lasts a lifetime.
Curb Demand Barking
It might be cute when puppies bark like a big dog when playing, but this behavior can morph into nonstop commentary if left unchecked. The easiest way to keep this behavior from becoming a permanent part of your dog’s repertoire is to end the game the moment the barking begins. If your dog barks at you in order to get you to throw a toy, simply drop it and walk away for a few seconds, then return to your pup and ask for a simple behavior like sit. This adds some structure to your game, and teaches your puppy that polite behavior makes the game keep going.
And speaking of polite behavior, remember that manners are a two-way street with your furry best friend. Engaging in games that encourage barking and nipping, like wrestling or slapping your puppy’s face, makes it harder for your puppy to make the right decision. Plus, it’s just not nice to play in a way that makes your puppy upset.
Puppy barking can be confusing and annoying, but the good news is that addressing it early can prevent a lifetime of frustration.
Victoria Schade is a dog trainer, author & speaker who has contributed to The Washington Post, Martha Stewart, and other publications.