Have you ever wished your dog had a mute button? Or that there was some simple way to silence them, even in the middle of an obnoxious barking spree?
Never was this more true for me than after my daughter was born. It turns out barking dogs and sleeping babies don’t mix. And if you have an especially reactive dog (like mine!), just about anything can ignite a barking extravaganza.
So how do you teach a dog to be quiet? Bark collars can work for some dogs, but not without inflicting pain or increasing anxiety. They also prohibit your dog from doing their job. After all, there are certain situations where we want our dog to bark.
You may not enjoy it when Fido growls and barks at the window every time the FedEx truck goes by, but you probably do want them to warn you if someone is sneaking around your car in the driveway.
Not only does teaching your dog to speak on command give you the opportunity to work on the quiet cue, but it also teaches your dog that their vocalizations can be regulated by your behavior.
This is where the quiet command really becomes a valuable tool. It allows you to control your dog’s barking based on the situation. Package man at the door? Hit the mute button. Solicitors coming up the drive? Let the dog go crazy!
Oddly enough, the easiest way to teach your dog to stop barking on command is to first teach them to start.
How to Reduce Barking Tendencies
A dog that alerts you when someone comes near your house is a valuable tool. But a dog that loses their mind every time they see a squirrel out the window is just plain annoying. If your dog is highly reactive or there are just certain times during the day that any barking is too much barking, then taking steps to reduce barking altogether is more important than a well trained quiet command.
Don’t Bark With Them
The most common mistake owners make when trying to get their dog to stop barking is to yell. To us, this seems like the perfect reaction. After all, when another person is doing something we don’t like, yelling often stops the behavior. Even our dogs, under different circumstances, can react the way we want when we yell. But barking sprees are not one of those times.
You may feel better after giving your dog a good talking to, but it’s unlikely their behavior will change because of it. Yelling at your dog during a bark-fest or scolding them afterward will only feed the anxiety that fuels barking.
If your dog is worked up and screaming and you start to yell too, your dog just thinks that you’ve joined in the fun. To them, you’re not yelling at them, you’re yelling with them.
Instead of getting worked up when your dog does, try ignoring them. Sure, they’ll get plenty of stimulation and encouragement to keep barking from whatever triggered the scream-fest in the first place, but eventually, they will stop. And, once they do, you should offer them plenty of love or a tasty reward.
Make sure you wait a few seconds after they stop barking. After doing this on a few occasions, your dog will start to put together that they only get your attention once they stop barking, never while they are doing it.
While this technique may never erase their reactive barking behavior altogether, it is likely to shorten the episodes and reduce the excitement during them.
And once your dog is reacting with less intensity, they’ll be more likely to listen to your quiet cue if you chose to give it.
Manage the Environment
If you have a reactive dog or just a dog with natural guarding instincts, ignoring their barking may help diminish the intensity of the episodes, but it won’t stop them altogether. If your hope is to keep your dog from barking at all, the best way to accomplish this is to manage what your dog can see and hear.
What your dog can’t see, can’t make him bark. Managing what your dog can see and hear outside can greatly reduce their tendency to bark at passersby.
If your dog frequently reacts to people walking by your front window, then closing the curtains is the simplest way to change their behavior. Using a baby gate to keep them away from street-facing windows can work, too.
If your dog is also reactive to noises, like the neighbor’s dog barking or the squeal of the UPS truck’s breaks, then closing windows is another must. If that’s not enough, try playing music or using a noise machine to drown out any outside noises.
>>>If your dog reacts to noise by shaking, hiding, and panicking, you may be dealing with a dog with a noise phobia.
If you’ve tried visual blockades and noise reducers and your dog still seems bent on finding something to bark at, that’s a good indication that they are just bored and looking for entertainment. In this case, it’s your job to provide better alternatives. Treat balls and other puzzle toys are great distractors while your dog is stuck at home. Safe chews like bully sticks or stuffed Kongs are another stimulating option.
Even if you do use these methods, don’t forget about the importance of physical exercise to help tire your dog out. Taking your dog for a long walk or quick jog before you put the baby down or get to work will help reduce anxiety and barking behavior.
>>>Have an anxious dog? Calming treats can help!
Many dogs resort to barking if they get bored. Increasing their physical and mental activity can help reduce this problem behavior.
Use Counter Conditioning to Reduce Anxiety
Another highly effective way to reduce barking tendencies is to use counter-conditioning training. This method is much more labor-intensive than simply closing the curtains and even more so than teaching your dog quiet, but it can be very helpful.
Your dog barks at things out the window because intruders on their turf induce anxiety. It doesn’t matter if the thing they bark at is a human, squirrel, or the neighbor’s cat (or all of the above), the underlying emotion is the same. And, if you can remove this negative anxiety and replace it with a calmer, more positive emotion, your dog will stop barking in response to that stimulus.
The basic idea of counter-conditioning to reduce barking is to present your dog with a high-value treat each time something appears out the window that they would normally bark at. As long as your dog isn’t too amped up, they should take the treats and not bark (much). Once the person or cat or squirrel is out of sight, stop treating.
Only once the stimulus comes back into sight should you start giving your dog treats again. Over time, they will learn that when a person walks by the house, really good things happen. At that point, you’ve changed your dog’s perception of the situation. Once they see the passerby in a positive light, they won’t feel the impulse to bark at them anymore. Instead, they’ll go looking for you expecting treats, which is a much easier behavior to deal with.
For as long as humans have been living with dogs, dogs have been barking. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons early humans kept dogs around. You won’t be able to erase centuries of instinct with counter conditioning, but you can reduce the frequency of barking with a little effort.
How to Teach Your Dog to Speak
There are many great ways to reduce your dog’s tendencies to bark, but the best way to control their barking is to teach them to stop barking on command. This nifty trick preserves your dog’s role as guardian of the household while giving you the power to stop their barking with one quick cue.
One of the easiest ways to teach your dog to stop barking is to first teach them to start barking on cue.
Teaching your dog to speak on command allows you a very controlled way to get your dog barking. Unlike ringing the doorbell or knocking, using the speak command doesn’t come with a lot of emotional baggage. Emotions, especially anxiety, interfere with the learning process and can make it difficult for your dog to grasp a new concept like the quiet command.
Luckily, most dogs pick up on speak very quickly. Once your dog knows how to start barking on command, you can quickly turn around and start teaching them the opposite behavior.
Step 1: Find something that makes your dog bark with excitement
Before you begin the actual training, you will need to reflect on the different situations that make your dog bark. Is there any activity that causes your dog to bark with excitement, such as fetch or getting their leash out of the closet?
Guarding the front door is something most dogs take seriously, but using the doorbell to entice your dog into barking may cause too much anxiety for them to learn properly. It’s better to find a less exciting stimulus to get your dog to speak.
Using a positive-emotional situation like this will make it easier for your dog to pick up on what we are trying to teach them. But, if your dog only tends to bark in response to more negative situations like someone coming to the door, you’ll have to use something like a knock or doorbell to get your dog to bark instead.
TIP: If you have to knock or ring the bell to get your dog to bark, do as little as possible to get the behavior. For example, instead of pounding on the door, try tapping once on the wall. Or, instead of having someone ring the bell outside, let your dog step onto the porch with you and watch you ring the bell. The idea is to get them to bark without sending them into an all-out frenzy.
Step 2: Reward them for barking
With your treat bag filled with tasty treats, start by recreating the situation that makes your dog bark.
The moment your dog barks, use your positive marker (a verbal “yes!” or a clicker if your dog is clicker trained) and reward them with a tasty treat and praise.
Repeat this sequence over and over.
At first, your dog may be a little confused by your behavior–Why do you keep getting the leash out but not taking me for a walk?–but eventually, you should notice that they offer the bark more quickly with each rep.
Continue to work until it is clear that your dog understands that they are being rewarded for barking.
Step 3: Wait for them to offer a bark on their own
Once your dog understands that they are being rewarded for barking, give them a chance to offer the behavior without working to elicit it with your behavior.
Stand in front of your dog with a tasty treat in your hand, but don’t do anything. Stare off into the distance and make your dog work to get your attention.
It may take a minute for your dog to offer a bark without any type of cuing from you. Give them a chance to figure out what you want them to do on their own. They will be more likely to make the connection if they are forced to think it through without your help.
TIP: If your dog doesn’t bark after a couple of minutes of waiting or loses interest entirely and leaves the room, go back to the previous step and do more reps before trying this step again.
The moment they do bark, use your positive marker and reward them.
Get out another tasty treat and stand in front of them as you did before. Again, wait for them to offer a bark. Reward them once they do.
Continue this sequence until your dog quickly offers a bark when they see you holding a tasty treat.
Step 4: Add the verbal cue “speak!”
Once your dog is offering a bark relatively quickly, you are ready to name this behavior.
This time, before you reach into your treat bag to show your dog you have a tasty treat for them, say “Speak!”
They may not bark right away, but they should offer a bark within a few seconds. Once the do, use your positive marker and reward them.
Again, say your speak cue and wait for them to bark so you can reward them.
Repeat this process over and over until your dog immediately responds to the speak cue by barking.
TIP: Once you have put the speak behavior on cue, stop rewarding your dog for offering the behavior on their own. This is key to teaching your dog that barking is good when it’s asked for, but it won’t get them anything to just bark randomly. If they do bark at you in an attempt to get your attention or get treats or food when you haven’t given the speak command, turn around and ignore them until they are quiet.
Insert Video 1 – Training Speak
In this video, Pyro and I will show you how to entice your dog to bark so that you can reinforce the behavior and then how to put that behavior on a verbal cue.
Step 5: Vary the situation and repeat your cue
Once your dog has mastered barking on cue, you want to make sure they will perform the behavior under varying circumstances.
Try taking them to another room in your house and giving the speak command. It may take them some time to respond now that the variables have changed. Let them have some time to think it through and reward them once they do finally comply. If they don’t, you may have to go back a few steps and retrain them in the new environment.
Once they are barking on cue consistently in that room, try going to another or outside. Continue changing the environment to increasingly more distracting places until you feel confident that your dog will speak on command under most circumstances.
How to Teach Your Dog Quiet
Once your dog has mastered the speak command and you have been using it consistently for a few days, you are ready to teach them how to stop barking on command.
Start in a quiet room with lots of high-value treats.
Your dog shouldn’t think they’re in trouble just because you told them to be quiet. This new cue should be used as casually as speak, shake, or sit.
Step 1: Ask your dog to speak then present a treat and say “quiet”
Start by asking your dog to speak. As your dog barks, immediately present a treat right in front of their nose and at the same time say “Quiet!”
TIP: Make sure you say your quiet command in a neutral but stern tone. Don’t yell it or say it angrily. Remember, you are giving your dog a command, not barking with them. If it is too difficult for you to say quiet in a neutral tone, try a different cue such as “hush” or “mute.”
Your dog should immediately go silent as they focus on the treat in front of them. Mark the silence with your positive marker and give them the treat.
Repeat this sequence over and over again. Your goal is to build an association between the word “quiet” and the behavior of stopping barking.
TIP: If your dog stops responding to the speak command during this step, it means the behavior was not fully trained before you started. Spend a few days reinforcing your dog for barking on command before attempting the quiet command. Make sure to only offer rewards for speak intermittently to get your dog used to the idea that not every repetition will be rewarded.
Step 2: Ask your dog to speak then give only your quiet cue
Once you have done a few dozen reps, it’s time to test your dog to see if they will respond to just the command.
Ask them to speak again. The second they bark, give your quiet command. Your dog should immediately stop barking and stare at you quietly.
Once you give your quiet command, your dog should stare at you with anticipation of their reward. As long as they aren’t barking or whining, you should reward them.
Repeat this sequence until your dog is consistently offering a quiet stare in response to the cue.
Step 3: Increase the amount of time your dog is quiet
At this point, it is unlikely that your dog has put together that they are being rewarded for being quiet. They understand they need to stop barking and do something else, but what exactly that is may still be a mystery to them at this point.
To help drive home the idea that they are being rewarded for stopping barking and being quiet, you will need to increase the amount of time they are quiet before they get their reward.
Start by asking your dog to speak and then give your quiet cue. After they go quiet, wait one second before marking the behavior and rewarding it.
Repeat this process again, but this time, wait two seconds. Continue asking for more and more time until your dog will easily stay quiet for about five seconds before you reward them.
TIP: If your dog barks after you give the quiet cue but before you have rewarded them, wait for them to get quiet again for a full second, then mark the behavior and reward them. The next repetition, you’ll need to shorten the length of time that you want them to be quiet before you reward them. Increase the time intervals more slowly with each rep.
It will take a lot of practice before you’ll be able to use your quiet cue to keep your dog from barking in exciting situations. But with a little practice, they will be able to watch the squirrels climb through the trees without having to yell about it.
Step 4: Reinforce your quiet cue in more exciting situations
Once your dog understands that the quiet cue means they need to stop barking, you are ready to test it in more exciting situations.
Instead of using your speak cue to get your dog to bark, go back to what you did to get your dog to bark when initially teaching them to speak. This may have been getting their leash out of the closet or tapping lightly on the wall.
Perform this action and wait for your dog to start barking, the second they do, give your quiet command and wait for your dog to stop barking. The moment they fall silent and look at you, use your positive marker and reward them.
Repeat this a few times until your dog starts to anticipate the quiet cue. At that point, switch to a more exciting action to get them to bark. Try knocking harder on the wall or opening the front door.
TIP: If your dog takes their reward and then starts barking again, use your negative marker and wait for them to get quiet again. Once they do, reward them again. If they stay quiet, continue feeding them rewards every few seconds until they have visibly calmed down.
Once your dog barks, give your quiet cue and reward them once they comply. Once they consistently fall silent when you give the cue, start waiting a little longer before rewarding them.
Now that your dog really understands quiet, put it to the test by asking them to be quiet in the middle of a barking spree as someone passes by the house. If they don’t respond, you know its time to go back and do more training to make this cue real-life ready.
Continue trying the quiet cue with different bark-inducing situations. Work up to the most exciting situations (like the doorbell or someone actually walking by the window) slowly. With each new situation, reward your dog quickly at first and then ask for more silent time before the reward as they get the hang of it.
Continue Training in the Real World
Continue to work with your quiet cue in real-world situations whenever they come up. You can reward your dog with praise and love if treats aren’t available, but make sure to set up true training situations every once in a while and reinforce the behavior with high-value treats.
If you find yourself in a situation where you know your dog won’t listen to the quiet cue (like when passing a reactive dog on a walk or when they tree a squirrel in the yard) don’t give it. Instead, remove your dog from the situation as calmly as possible. If you give the quiet cue in a situation your dog can’t possibly comply in, you are setting both of you up for failure. And every failure destroys the reliability of any command.
If your goal is to have control over your dog’s barking in every situation, then you will need to continue controlled training in higher and higher stress situations until your dog shows you that they understand the cue well enough to comply anywhere.
Once you get to that point, congratulate yourself! You just installed a mute button on your dog.
Sara Seitz has spent most of her life in the pet industry and has a bachelors in animal behavior from Colorado State University. Sara started working with dogs and cats as a high schooler at a rural boarding kennel. There she learned a lot about the bad and the ugly of the pet service industry. But not even the toughest day at that job would dissuade Sara from following her dream of working with animals.
In college, Sara got a job at a dog daycare and boarding facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her new career provided even more opportunities for learning about dog behavior than her classes did. As general manager of the daycare, Sara helped the company launch a new in-home pet sitting branch and trained to become a certified dog trainer. Between shifts taking care of peoples pets in-home and supervising dogs during playtime at the daycare, Sara organized and taught obedience classes.
Sara has always been passionate about bettering the lives of our canine companions. She soon found that advocating for and educating owners in the power of positive reinforcement training was one of the best ways to help dogs and their owners live happier lives.