How to Train an Old Dog Not to Bark: A Practical Method


If your old dog is barking more frequently than they used to or if you noticed that the sound of their bark has changed, it can be frustrating and worrying at the same time. Believe it or not, this behavior is pretty common in dogs who are older, and there are plenty of reasons why it is happening.

Your old dog might be anxious, scared, confused, or in pain, and barking is the best way for them to get your attention.

Reasons Why Your Older Dog Barks Too Much and What to Do

You may be wondering why your old dog barks so much without any reason, especially when you don’t notice anything unusual with them. However, this is unlikely.

Excessive barking, whining, or howling are pretty common among older dogs, and depending on the cause, there are things you can do to manage their barking.

Here are some common reasons why your older dog is barking too much.

Your Dog is Confused

If your old dog barks frequently at night, it can be a symptom of “Old Dog Syndrome” or Canine Dysfunction Syndrome. It’s like Alzheimer’s Disease in humans. If your old dog has this condition, they might seem dazed, lost, confused, and sometimes “out of it.”

A dog with CDS might:

  • Forget that they have eaten already
  • Forget to eat
  • Forget where they are supposed to go
  • Forget that they are supposed to eliminate outdoors
  • Be confused about where they are

These will make your old dog feel anxious, causing them to bark too much.

What to do:

CDS can wreak havoc on the personality, attitude, behavior, and routines of your old dog. Although it is common, it does not happen to all dogs.

There are also things you can do to relieve the symptoms. You can change their diet, modify their behavior through training, use medications, and change their lifestyle.

When you are able to lessen their confusion, you will notice that their symptoms will be reduced – which can include excessive barking.

You can help your old dog by not ignoring their barking. They are making noises because they are anxious and confused.

If your dog barks at night, sometimes, a gentle TLC or a few quiet words will help them settle back down. You can also offer your dog a handful of their favorite kibble, hand them a comfort blanket or toy, or take them for a quick trip outside because maybe they just need to go relieve themselves.

Your Dog is in Pain

Like humans, as dogs get older, their bodies, over the years, have already seen a fair bit of wear and tear. Body deterioration is a natural occurrence with getting older. Major organs and joints won’t work excellently as they used to.

It can cause pain and discomfort for your dog. They usually feel more pain when their brains aren’t busy, especially at night, when everyone is asleep. That pain and discomfort will cause them to howl or bark.

What to do:

Too much barking in old dogs due to pain and discomfort can be upsetting for both of you. However, there is a range of treatment and medications available for them, so there is no need for them to be in pain regularly.

It would be best to take them to their vet, so the appropriate medication can be prescribed to alleviate the pain. You can also discuss with your vet if there should be changes in their diet or what activities are needed for them to feel better.

Incontinence

Your old dog might be barking because they are trying to tell you that they need to do their business. Remember that old dogs can’t hold their pee or poop long. If your old dog has enough control, they may be able to prevent themselves from wetting their crate, bed, or the floor. However, this may be painful and difficult for them.

When your old dog is not able to hold it long enough, get ready to clean up their mess in the morning. Incontinence in old dogs is not unusual, and they cannot help whatever is happening to their bodies. It is a part of the natural aging process.

What to do:

Dodgy bowels or a leaky bladder will mean that your old dog might need a few trips outside to go potty.

If your dog is barking to tell you that they need to relieve themselves, ignoring it will only make the problem worse.

The primary and most crucial step to stop your dog from barking is to take them outside for them to go potty. However, waking up a few times a night can be exhausting for you and your dog and is not ideal for the long term. Fortunately, there are treatment options for your dog’s incontinence.

You can pay your veterinarian a visit to discuss the root of your dog’s incontinence and give the most appropriate treatment for your dog. Your vet can give medications or resort to surgery if needed. You can also use belly bands or dog diapers.

Anxiety

Dogs might go through some behavior and personality changes as they age. They may become a bit more anxious than they were. Your old dog might begin barking at strangers more frequently and even at people they know. They might also bark at cars, loud noises, or when you are out of their sight.

Separation anxiety is also common for older dogs, even if they have never worried about you being out of their sight before. When your dog is generally feeling upset or anxious, they will bark to let go of that pent-up emotion.

What to do:

If your dog’s barking is caused by fear or anxiety, you have to know the root of the problem to improve the situation.

Maybe your old dog has always slept in their crate or bed in the living room, but now they seem to be upset each night. You can try moving your dog’s crate or bed in your room so that you are close to them. As a result, your dog may settle down, knowing that someone they love is near.

You can also try putting an old and worn shirt of yours into your dog’s crate or bed. Maybe your scent will be enough to calm them.

Having a soft toy can also help old dogs alleviate their stress and anxiety.

You can leave the TV or radio on at a low volume that is enough for your dog’s hearing to pick it up to relieve their anxiety. A pheromone diffuser or a night-light may also help.

If none of the things above worked. You can consult your veterinarian for the right medications. There are also natural treatments that can alleviate anxiety.

Sensory Problems

As your dog’s body ages, their body parts don’t work like they used to, and senses such as hearing and sight are no exception.

Cataracts or poor vision will mean that your dog is seeing everything from a foggy or blurry viewpoint. This can be scary for them.

Hearing loss is common, as well. When your dog does not hear or see properly anymore, it will change their world. The condition could also make underlying anxiety even worse, or make your confident dog quite nervous.

What to do:

You can do something to improve this kind of situation. If your dog has cataracts, surgery can correct the condition.

However, it is normal for your dog’s eyesight and hearing to deteriorate, and you have to learn to live with it.

If your dog’s deteriorating senses are causing them to bark excessively, you can do something about it.

For eyesight problem

If your dog has a problem with their eyesight, they might have difficulty finding their way around at first.

Your dog needs to commit the arrangement of the house and the yard to memory so they can navigate properly. What you can do is avoid moving the furniture around. You can also keep the doors open. Putting up a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs can also be helpful.

If you have kids in the house, don’t allow them to leave their toys lying around the house.

In the yard, avoid changing the path layouts and flower beds. If you are planning to have a pool, it’s for the best interest of your dog to postpone it. If you already have a pool, have it securely fenced in.

You can also leave a low light where your old dog sleeps. This will make them less anxious when they wake up.

For hearing problem

If they sleep in a different room, keep the radio or TV on to keep your dog company at night.

If you have been noticing that your dog is barking louder than normal, it might be a sign that your old dog is getting deaf.

Your dog may seem to ignore you whenever you call them or startled when you pet them.

Your Dog is Frustrated

If your dog barks during particular activities, they might be frustrated because they are having a hard time dealing with some tasks.

For instance, if your old dog stands at the bottom of the stairs and barks profusely, they might be telling you that they want to go up, but their old joints are painful.

What to do:

Excessive barking of an older dog that is caused by frustration typically occurs during the day when they are active. This is probably the easiest to diagnose because you can easily recognize the source of their frustration.

Some instances when your old dog can be frustrated are:

  • Being unable to chase their toy ball or play actively with it.
  • Difficulty in chewing food or treats.
  • Unable to join in activities or play with other dogs in the house.

What you can do is help your old dog overcome their limitations, such as giving softer food or treats, purchasing toys that are sedentary but still interesting. You can use distraction then substitution for things your dog cannot manage.

You just have to be creative, empathetic, and persistent to help make your dog’s life less frustrating.

Managing Your Dog’s Excessive Barking Through Training

If your old dog doesn’t have some serious medical condition mentioned above, and if it’s because of some behavioral issues, you can train them to deal with their excessive barking.

Preventing the Habit of Barking

Do not shout at your dog when they are barking

When your dog barks and you yell at them, they will think that you are rewarding them with attention. Your dog might even interpret your shouting as a response to their bark. As a result, your dog will inevitably repeat the behavior.

Ignore the barking

Instead of shouting at your dog for barking, try ignoring them. If your dog doesn’t seem to associate barking with responses and attention from you, they are less likely to repeat the behavior.

Distract your dog

If ignoring your dog’s barking does not stop the behavior, you can try to distract them. Continue to ignore the barking, then drop something on the floor – it could be a toy or something that your dog finds interesting. It will usually get your dog’s attention and will cause them to investigate.

Redirect your dog to something you can reinforce positively

Once your dog is distracted from barking, you can use a familiar command, such as sit or down. If your dog obeys the command, you have to reward them immediately. This will reinforce the behavior that you commanded instead of barking.

  • This is why it is important for your dog to have the basic training they need from the start. Distracting your dog with commands that they are familiar with is an excellent way to prevent reinforcing barking.
  • You can also use clicker training to positively reinforce good behaviors.

If the barking happens outside, bring your dog inside

If your dog happened to bark at passersby outside, bring them inside and ignore the barking. Wait for your dog to stop barking at the passerby, then you can put their leash on. When your dog barks again at another passerby, lead them inside the house using the leash. Do the action mid-bark, so your dog will know that when they bark, it would be the end of their fun out in the yard.

Provide your dog with plenty of exercises

Barking is one of the ways your dog can express themselves, and they may bark as a response to certain emotional states, such as boredom. Giving your dog plenty of exercise and attention will prevent them from developing a barking habit out of boredom.

You can train your dog twice per day at 15 minutes per session. You can also take them out to exercise twice a day to run or play fetch. Energetic and large breeds can last for up to an hour of playing.

If your dog still barks excessively after the exercises mentioned, you can ramp up the amount of time you spend for every exercise session outside.

Finding the Root of the Issue

Investigating your dog’s barking

One of the important steps to stop your dog from barking is to find the cause of the barking. You may need to work out, especially if your dog always barks whenever you are not around.

You can talk to your neighbors to help you track your dog’s barking behavior. Ask them when they notice the barking and if there is a pattern to the behavior. Letting your neighbors know that you are aware of your dog’s barking problem and working to deal with it will help them consider you as their ally instead of being part of the issue.

You can leave a video recorder running while you are out. Record your dog for a number of days and review the videos for you to be able to have a better understanding of your dog’s behavior.

Identifying the cause of your dog’s barking

After gathering your evidence, start looking for triggers and patterns.

Common triggers might be:

  • Getting your attention because of an urgent need, such as hunger, thirst, or need to do their business.
  • Feeling frustrated or bored. Your dog might be bored because they have been confined in the same area, and they don’t have any means to release their energy. All they can do is bark to create a distraction or release their anxiety.
  • They feel afraid. If a thing, person, or noise scares your dog, it barks as a response. If their ears are pulled back and their tail is lowered, your dog is responding out of fear.
  • They are feeling territorial. If your dog perceives another dog or person as an intruder in their territory, it will bark assertively to let others know that the area is their territory. You will know if your dog is barking territorially when you see their ears forward and their tail held up high.
  • They are feeling excited. Your dog may bark when you return home from work to express their eagerness.
  • They are experiencing health issues. Your dog may bark if they are dealing with health issues such as pain, mental distress or deafness.

Take your dog to a vet

If you suspect that your dog’s excessive barking is due to some health issue, it is best to take them to your trusted veterinarian. If their barking is indeed due to a medical condition, your vet can provide the right treatment and medication for your dog.

Curb the Barking

Get rid of the motivation

Once you have identified the root cause of your dog’s excessive barking behavior, you can now work on removing the trigger.

Your dog is barking because it feels some sort of reward from the behavior. When you remove the cause, your dog will lose its motivation to bark.

For instance, if passersby cause your dog to bark, you can close the curtains or blinds to block their view outside. When you are in the yard and your dog barks at someone passing by, bring them inside the moment, they begin to bark.

Ignore the barking

When starting to re-train your dog, you have to begin by not reacting to their barking. Your dog might interpret your yelling or telling them to stop as giving attention. As a result, reinforcing the undesirable behavior of barking, regardless of whether you are scolding them or angry.

Do not acknowledge your dog when they bark. Don’t pet them and look at them. Don’t give them treats either.

Be consistent. Refrain from the urge to acknowledge your dog’s barking in any way.

You may also want to tell your neighbors and explain to them that you are in the process of stopping the barking behavior of your dog. Apologize as well if there is an inconvenience on their part.

Reward your dog for being quiet

When your dog stops barking, wait a little more to make sure that your dog won’t be confused about the reason you are rewarding them. Then you can reward their silence with a treat that they like. You have to do this consistently so that your dog will start to realize that when they bark, they won’t receive a reward and will receive one if they become quiet.

Your dog will then associate the behavior of being quiet with getting a treat. You can then gradually increase the time your dog must be quiet before you give them the reward.

If you are using a clicker, remember to mark their silence with a click before giving the reward.

Redirect the attention of your dog

Whenever you notice that your dog begins to bark, you can redirect their attention to things that will distract them.

A great way to redirect their attention is to command your dog to lie down because it will not be interpreted as a reward for barking. When your dog quietly lies down, you can give them a treat, but only when they are quiet.

Keeping your Dog Adequately Adjusted

Provide enough exercise for your dog

Dogs need environmental stimuli to maintain their health and remain well-adjusted. They are social beings too. You can take your dog for walks at least twice a day around the neighborhood. You can also take them to open spaces or parks where they can run freely.

Give enough attention to your dog

Dogs always feel the need to be a part of a family because they are pack animals. For instance, when you come home from work, allow your dog to socialize with the rest of the family, as well.

Never leave your dog unattended or outside while you are at home. This will make your dog frustrated and anxious, which can lead to poor behavior, such as barking excessively.

Consistency is important

It will be helpful if you teach your dog the “quiet” command. It is much more productive than yelling at your dog with words “shut up!’ or “be quiet!”

You can begin by teaching your dog to “speak” or bark on command.

When your dog has mastered barking on command, you can then teach the “quiet” command.

Strategies You Can Use to Teach Your Dog Not to Bark

Tackle the Cause Method

First Step: Food puzzles

Your dog may be barking because they are bored and got nothing to do. They know that barking will bring attention. When your dog barks, you can give them food puzzles as a distraction. This will keep them quiet and tire them out. As a result, they won’t have energy left for barking.

Second Step: Exercise

Your dog may be full of energy; that is why they are barking. You can increase the amount of exercise you provide them to exhaust them out.

Step three: Remove their motivation to bark

If you see your dog barking at something in your home, it may be a plant or a piece of sculpture, get it out of their sight. When your dog is not able to see the trigger, they won’t bark.

Step four: Turn on the radio or TV

If your dog barks at noises from other dogs or strangers, you can leave the radio or TV on loud enough for them to hear. Because of this, they won’t be able to hear the noises that trigger them to bark.

Step five: Provide toys

Toys will keep your dog preoccupied for a long time. If your dog is set on chewing a stuffed monkey until its ears come off, they won’t have the time to bark.

The Gadget Method

If all else fails, this would be the last resort. Remember that you can only use this on healthy dogs, not those that have health issues.

You can use deterrent collars, noise collars, citronella collars, spray collars, head halter, or muzzle.

Final Thoughts

The old saying goes, “you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.” Whoever said that is lying. Dogs of all ages can be trained. An older dog that has a problem with excessive barking can be trained. There are various options you can try to teach your old dog not to bark. Choose what works best for you and your dog, and be consistent.

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