Nuisance barking can be a big problem for owners. No one wants to be the neighbor with the crazy barking dog. If you want to improve your dog’s behavior you first have to understand it. Dogs have different barks for different behaviors. Dogs will bark to alert, for attention or out of frustration and many will bark or howl when left alone.
Barking is very hard for pet parents to work through because a lot of our instincts end up reinforcing the behavior. For example take a dog who is barking at a strange dog or person on the street. As nurturing human beings, pet parents often think they should sooth and calm him with petting, where the dog most likely will take this to mean you like my behavior, keep doing it.
The other major issue is barking dogs can trigger owners to yell or punish the dog to try to stop them. This might suppress the behavior but it is more likely to cause the dog increased stress and to continue barking. Frustrated owners will sometimes turn to punishment in some form like “anti-bark” shock collars, these tools are not very safe or humane and most of the time they will make the problem worse by creating anxiety.
To train your dog not to bark or to stop barking you will need to understand what is causing him to bark. If a dog is barking because there is something outside triggering him (by sight or sound), change the environment so your dog doesn’t have access to watch and bark out the window, or some noise like music to cover sound. This is a “self-rewarding” behavior for the dog. Think of it from the dogs’ point of view. The mailman comes to the house, dog barks, mailman leaves.
He thinks he made the intruder go away, success! If your dog is barking or howling because he is alone, increase his exercise routine before you leave him and give him something interesting while you are gone like a puzzle toy with treats inside. For the attention seeking barker find something that makes him bark out of excitement like a toy, ball or your attention. Wait until he is quiet and reward him when he stops barking; he will learn quiet behavior gets him what he wants faster than getting too excited.
Lastly, reward and praise your dog when he is calm and quiet. Quiet dogs are often ignored, but barking gets a lot of feedback. Let your dog know he has made the right choice when people walk by the window or when his ears perk up, and he will be more and more likely to watch quietly.