Behavior & Training
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Victoria Stilwell: How to Deal with Out-of-Control Barking
You have questions, she has answers

You’ve no doubt seen Victoria Stilwell in action on It’s Me or the Dog, where, using positive reinforcement, she shows wayward pups and their sometimes equally wayward guardians how to get along. Now, Victoria joins our roster of training experts in offering sound and practical advice on a variety of, shall we say, behavior faux pas. Please join us in welcoming Victoria to The Bark.


Q: My dog’s barking is driving me (and my neighbors) crazy. He’s a healthy, two-year-old Sheltie mix, and I’ve been told that it’s impossible to train him not to bark—that I should have him surgically debarked, something I find completely appalling. Please tell me there’s a way to teach my dog to control his noisy self.

A: Dogs who bark excessively can cause big problems for owners, but even though it may seem completely out of control, this behavior can be modified to a bearable level. Sometimes barking dogs can cause such distress that people resort to having the dog’s vocal chords surgically removed, but I’m glad that you find that idea appalling, because most trainers and veterinarians would advise against taking such a drastic measure. Debarking can cause immense anxiety, as it takes away an important part of the dog’s ability to communicate. I do recommend, however, that you take your dog to the veterinarian for a thorough medical check up, since any extreme behavior can be exacerbated by a medical condition. 


Shelties are working dogs and are known to be vocal. These days, most dogs who were once bred to do a certain job find domestic life boring, and barking relieves that boredom. If this is the case, increased exercise and mental stimulation will refocus your dog’s mind onto something more positive and help tire him out.


Dogs bark for many reasons—to get attention, as a warning, in response to other barking dogs, out of anxiety or when excited—and it is important to identify the triggers before training.


If your Sheltie barks to get attention, don’t reward his demands. Telling your dog off is inadvertently rewarding him for barking even if the communication is negative. In this case, it is best to ignore the barking, wait for five seconds of quiet and then reward him with attention. This way, the dog learns that he gets nothing from you when he barks but gets everything when he’s quiet.


A dog who barks when excited (i.e., before going for a walk or being fed) is harder to work with because an owner’s pre-departure or pre-food cues are usually highly ritualized. Again, do not reward your dog with the things he wants until he is calm. For example, if the barking happens as soon as you go for the leash, drop the leash and sit down. Keep repeating this until your dog is quiet. If you successfully attach the leash but he barks as soon as he gets outside, immediately go back inside. This technique requires patience, but if you are diligent, your dog will quickly learn that quiet equals a walk.& Dogs who suffer anxiety when left alone will often bark a lot during the first 30 minutes after departure, while others continue until their person comes home. If this is the case, you must get a trainer in to help, as separation anxiety can be a very difficult behavior to modify.


Shelties tend to be particularly sound-sensitive, responding to noises that the human ear cannot hear. Also, because they were bred for herding, some Shelties have a high chase and/or prey drive and are easily stimulated by fast-moving objects such as squirrels or birds. If your dog barks excitedly in the back yard, for example, immediately take him back into the house and only allow him out again when he is quiet. Keep repeating if necessary and never leave him in the back yard unattended. If your Sheltie reacts and barks at other dogs or people in or outside of the home, it might be because he hasn’t received adequate socialization and feels uncomfortable. In this case, he needs to go on a desensitization program so he can gain the confidence he needs to cope in a social situation.


As you can see, there are many reasons why dogs bark, but please don’t listen to those who say that extreme barking can’t be modified, because there are lots of ways to reduce what is a very normal but sometimes annoying behavior.

This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 58: Feb/Mar 2010
Victoria Stilwell, star of Animal Planet's popular "It's Me or the Dog," is the author of two books and active with international rescue groups. positively.com

 Photos: Leesia Teh, Leesia Teh Photography

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Devon T Wootton | August 26 2014 |

Hello, I've never read your book, however, my grandparents recently got a shelty by the name of Halo. As adorable as the little guy is, he seems to be terrified of literally everything... from the cars outside (while he's safe and sound inside), to leaves falling out of our tree. Normally this wouldn't be an issue, but due to my physical handicap I can no longer walk him as much as I know I need to (they couldn't even if they wanted to). I'm pretty sure this is causing him to act out when grandma is on her eay to bed (either because she's the matriarch or weakness). Please get back to me with any advice or any info you have on this... who knows it might even convince me to read your book xb seriously tho please get back to me

Submitted by Angela | July 20 2013 |

Hi. i have a wonderful Spaniel called Archie. I have managed to lead train him so he doesn't pull, and he is really good in the house, doing 'sit' paw' 'wait' etc. He even waits till I tell him he can eat! He loves playing with other dogs when he is off lead. However, he wants to play when he is on the lead and just jumps up and leaps for the other dog. Not aggressively though. If the other owner is dog savvy and lets him sniff, he is fine and walks away quite happily, but obviously some owners don't want this. How do I stop him lunging? Thanks.

Submitted by Deborah Moore | July 8 2014 |

If you're talking about leash reactivity, that's one conversation. If you're talking about overly enthusiastic greetings, then you can work on solving that problem by teaching your dog a proficient sit/stay and a solid leave it. You also need to teach your dog a cue like Look or Watch to get attention back on you. Just like you teach your dog to have a polite greeting with humans, you need to teach your dog a similarly polite greeting with other dogs. Best bet is to find a local positive reinforcement trainer. An experienced trainer can help you with this in a relatively short period of time.

Submitted by valerie lincoln | September 15 2013 |

My eight year old Jack Russell Kayla starts demanding her dinner at least 1 hour before it is due. My husband and I cannot sit outside due to this also after she has been fed about 15 minutes later she starts barking again for us to go in. I have tried putting her inside but she just keeps barking what can I do?

Submitted by Amanda | September 16 2013 |

hiya, we rescued a 5 month old lab x last july, hes perfect in every way bit when out walking with him when he sees another dog he goes crazy,pulling n barking n whining, once hes said hello tho hes fine, but some owners see his hackles go up n think hes aggressive but hes not,its like having a naughty child.please please help....walks arent as nice as should be.

Submitted by tracylee | October 9 2013 |

I have just got a jack Russel x he is a awesome dog. Im a stay at home mum but sometimes I have to leave to go shopping only foe about a couple of hours if that. He seems to be barking a lot when im gone so my neighbour's are telling me. I leave food ,balls, ropes and squawker toys for him to play but he still barks. He is only 9 months old I got him from a animal shelter about a week ago. What can I do to stop his barking? thanks Tracylee

Submitted by Alicia | October 21 2013 |

Please help.... My 7 year old Pomeranians bark excessively as soon as I open the backyard door for them to go out. They both run out as fast as they can, barking as loud as they can, every single time they are let out. It seems to be getting louder and louder. It's come to the point were they wake my son up when he is napping. Something needs to change or they will have to go. I feel bad because I have had them since they were 7 weeks old. I have tried starting to open the door a little, when they start to bark I shut the door and tell them firmly NO. A couple times later they will not bark when the door opens and go out but the second they are outside the barking begins. I need any help it advice y'all might have.

Submitted by Craig | October 22 2013 |

I have a staff lurcher cross, though not for much longer this carries on. Every day I have to leave her alone to get the kids from school she fouls in their room. She gets at least a 2hr walk everyday and is given access to the garden just before I have to collect them. I've tried kongs toys etc for distraction/entertainment leaving tv or radio on, hormones and many other things I can't even think of right now. I've already spent200 plus on a behaviourist. If I leave her outside the neighbours complain about her barking to the point where they threaten to call the authorities as it is a ral nuisance she doesn't stop from the minute u go til she hears the car get back, whether that is 10mins or 3hrs. It's getting to the point where is he is either rehoused (I don't see anyone being willing to put up with this in a dog) or destroyed as it is putting my kids health at risk. They are young and still put things in their mouth from the floor in their room. Any suggestions welcome as I am at my wits end. I grew up around dogs and so did my old man and never known a dog like it.

Submitted by Jessica | November 17 2013 |

I have a 7 month old min pin and he barks when there no one home. How can I stop his barking I have tried tv and leave shirt with your smell on it, toys and chew bone and I tried leave tv on as confert .

Submitted by inez torres | December 7 2013 |

My 1 year old yorkie, just started barking at night the past 2 nights he just barks and barks he had not have this behavior before so I'm concerned about it help.....

Submitted by Emmi | January 2 2014 |

Does anyone have any advice for me? I rescued a working type Cocker about 4 months ago. He was a gundog, and is 3 years old, but was put into rescue as he had started to bark when working and the barking was getting worse. By the way, the barking is a kind of yelping and screeching noise (awful). He does it when he is off lead, running around madly, and very excited at his freedom. This means that it is very difficult to control, by giving treats, or praise, etc, as he is nowhere near me. He is a lovely dog, whose recall is (almost) excellent, and he learns very quickly. But I am at my wits end with this, and I am considering that I may have to put him back into rescue. All the 'stop barking' help pages on the web, are about dogs being excited when someone comes to the door, or as they are about to go out for a walk, etc, but I cannot find anything pertaining to my particular problem. HELP!!!

Submitted by M Fitzmauice | January 29 2014 |

I have 2 Yorkshire Terriers and since we moved house they are driving us mental. Their barking is out of control. We can be in the living room with them and if my son moves in another room the younger one growls and the male (6 mths older)at 18 months old barks and barks and barks. We get up to use the bathroom at night and they bark.We have separated them at night and this sometimes helps but mainly does not. They bark at visitors and jump at them, they just seem to have no respect for us as their owners we have resorted to the noise of a newspaper each time they bark, but they cower and then bark again, nothing seems to deter them and we re now going insane through lack of sleep. My husband comes in from work at 1am and they know it is him but the barking is horrendous and gets the whole household up. Suggestion Please we love our pets but are being driven to screaming at them all the time. HELP !!!

Submitted by kelly | February 10 2014 |

hi my problem is that i cant go out and leave my dog at home or he barks and howls excessively disturbing my neighbors who have young kids. my dog is a three year old jack russel, is ther a way to train him to be quiet when i have to go out?

Submitted by Eleanor CHIVELL | February 18 2014 |

Hi Victoria,

I have a 20 month old Border Collie, who loves her walks and is very energetic. However, whenever we're on our walks and there are children, especially small kiddies on bikes, small toddlers with their moms, moms with kids in push-chairs etc, ..... my dog starts barking at them, and on the leash she will lunge at them if they're close. No matter how much I try to keep her quiet, she barks. Once she gets started, nothing seems to stop her barking. I think she's scared of children (maybe a bad experience when she still with the breeders, they have grandchildren) or is this quite common in Border Collies? What should I do, as this stresses me out no end. I've been trying to get her used to walking through a busy market with me the last 2 weekends, but there are so many push-chairs and small kiddies there. What should I do to get her to stay calm and accept children the way she accepts adults? Please give me some advice.

Submitted by Joanne Sharod | March 11 2014 |

Please help my dog is 11 years and hes barking at everything hes always been a bit of a barker but over the last year its become a huge problem my husband saying it me or the dog and is going to leave. Im seeing the vet tomorrow I hate locking my dog in the kitchen but cant do anythink else at the moment. Please help a very very sad dog owner.

Submitted by jo | March 23 2014 |

We have a 6 year old dog which we took on a year ago. I have recently walked her with other family members and myself and she just walks passed other dogs. However took her today with my husband and she went crazy again. Anyone any ideas? Would really appreciate some insight into what is triggering this different behaviour.

Submitted by Claudia Kawczynska | March 26 2014 |

You probably should consult with a trainer so she can see for herself what might be triggering this reaction. Does your husband hold the leash the same way you do? Does he tense up more, perhaps, and "signal" to the dog his concern? Did your dog react to another dog because the other dog perhaps "triggered" her? Do you use a harness when walking her (which might be a good idea). There are so many variables at play here. Perhaps you can try to video tape this and show the tape to a trainer.

Submitted by Danielle | April 7 2014 |

My 20 month old westie Buddy insists on barking at the tv if I watch anything with animals on. I've tried ignoring him that didn't work so tried a firm no with no success. I'm out of ideas. I'd love to watch tv without him barking at every animal on the tv. I love him to bits but can do without barking at the tv.

Submitted by Megan | May 19 2014 |

We have a barker. We don't mind some barking. However, when she gets going she doesn't stop for 20 minutes or more. The dog is a 7 month old Australian Shepard/Beagle mix (there are some other breeds in there, just not sure what because she was a rescue). I have been working on the quiet common and making sure to not reward her when barking but to reinforce positive behaviors. However, when she is outside all training goes out the window. We have a privacy fenced back yard. But if she sees a shadow, hears kids or other dogs, or senses a person is in the yard next to us she starts going. She is an active puppy and likes to chew on toys and explore the yard. She gets bored inside. But I feel bad for my neighbors if I leave her out and she continuously barks. Also, when I do try to stop the behavior by going and getting her to bring her in she runs. She thinks it is a game and will not come, even if I use lunch meat or cheese (her favs). She just doesn't listen outside. Inside she has great listening skills. Any suggestions?

Submitted by Gail | August 23 2014 |

My dog constantly barks causing the neighbors to complain. She starts most of the time when we are gone and doesn't stop all day. We have tried many barking collars treats toys and nothing works. We do not want to debark her but it's getting to the point that if it continues we will have to seek alternative solutions. We love her dearly and by the way she no's it's wrong when she barks. Please help

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