Labrador barking is a common and stressful problem. This is the nature of the Labrador breed, who are naturally loud and chatty, and have little reluctance to let their presence be heard. Our Labrador barking center is a complete guide to managing Labrador barking problems. We’ll share the main reasons why dogs bark, what your Labrador’s bark means and how to stop your dog barking depending on the cause.
When Barking Gets Out Of Hand!
There’s no doubt that barking can become a major nuisance. It can cause sleepless nights, family fights, neighbour disputes and much more.
The reasons for barking in any breed of dog, can be complex. Barking is of course a means of communication, but it isn’t the only means. And dogs can be taught to communicate without doing it. Interestingly many Labradors rarely bark at all. In fact one of the most common questions we are asked is ‘why doesn’t my Labrador bark at strangers’ And ‘how can I make my dog bark when someone comes to the door’.
For those of you struggling with a noisy dog this probably seems very unfair! It’s as though your dog has all the barks while other dogs have none!
Why Is My Labrador Barking All The Time?
Not all barking is unwanted, and we’ll consider those of you who want your dogs to bark a bit more than they do, in a moment. But first let’s help those of you that are fed up with the noise and want it to stop!
One of the first things we need to establish before we can stop a Labrador from barking, is why he is doing this. Now if you are on the receiving end, you might not care very much WHY your dog is barking, so long as he STOPS. I understand that. But bear with me, because the method we use to stop your Labrador barking will depend very much on why he is doing it.
Why Do Dogs Bark?
Fortunately we usually only need to consider three different types of barking when it comes to Labs that are barking all the time and driving their owners up the wall.
Types of Labrador Barking
The three most common types of unwanted and frequent barking are
- Barking for attention,
- Night time barking,
- Barking at passers-by.
Is Your Labrador Barking for Attention?
Attention or demand barking can be very upsetting. The dog will often bark incessantly as soon as anyone gets up, moves around, or whenever he is feeling ignored. Attention barking dogs will often repeatedly take things too, socks, cushions, and then bark furiously if prevented. It’s all part of the attention seeking picture.
While all puppies vary in their natural inclination to make a noise, what happens around those puppies, as they grow up and even as adult, has a huge impact on their future behavior. It doesn’t matter whether or not your puppy is naturally noisy, or whether you have made him that way, the end result and the answer is the same. We’ll look at that in a minute.
The root cause of barking for attention
Attention or demand barking usually starts with an exited or bored dog, combined with frustration and a big reward. Puppies and older dogs get frustrated when they can’t immediately have something they want. Especially if they are already in an over-excited state, or bored witless.
The first step in creating a dog that barks to demand attention happens when he is rewarded generously each time he does it. Very often people do this inadvertently. They don’t even think about it. The dog barks, and they give him his dinner, the dog stops barking. It seems to work. Let’s look a bit closer at that.
How demand barking gets started
Rewarding unwanted behaviors by mistake is very common. Remember that you don’t need to feed or praise a puppy to reward him. Anything that your dog finds enjoyable, even the sound of your voice, can reward and therefore reinforce the behavior that precedes it. By reinforce we mean that the behavior will be more likely to occur again.
The laws of behavioral science are quite clear on this. Good consequences reinforce bad behavior. Every time. If your puppy barks at you whilst you are trying to prepare the dinner, getting his lead ready for a walk, talking to a friend, or working on your laptop, and you give him what he wants (food, a walk, attention) he’ll be delighted.
He’ll probably stop barking too and you might temporarily think you’ve solved the problem. Only you haven’t of course. Because next time he wants something, he’ll use his clever trick of barking at you in order to get it. Only this time you might not want to give him what he wants. Indeed you might not be ABLE to give him what he wants. He persists, and you get fed up with the noise, so you relent and give in. And before you know where you are, you have a big, and growing, problem on your hands.
Can You Cure Labrador Barking?
The short answer is yes. If you have accidentally taught your puppy to bark at you for attention or to answer his demands, don’t panic. It isn’t difficult to reverse this. In fact, it is one of the common behavioral problems that is relatively easy to solve. But you will need to be determined. And you will need other family members on board. If they sabotage your efforts and give in to the dog, you won’t get very far.
Your anti-barking strategy
You need to draw up your battle plan and attack this problem from three directions.
- Improve your dog’s emotional state
- Teach the dog that barking doesn’t work
- Teach the dog that being quiet is the key to getting what he wants
Let’s look at his emotional state first.
Keeping your dog calm and occupied
All dogs are much more likely to bark with frustration when they are over-excited or very bored. If members of your family are getting your dog in a state, winding him up, and playing rough games with him in the house, now is a good time to have a quiet word. And if your dog spends very little time in training sessions, he may be badly in need of some more of your attention and a little mental stimulation.
Ten minutes, preferably morning and evening, spent training him and making him use his brain will make a world of difference. Review your dog’s exercise needs too, Labs do really benefit from plenty of exercise and it is easy to let this slip when you are busy. Once you’ve covered your dog’s need for interesting activities and a physical workout, it’s time to start reversing the barking habit, and teaching your dog that being quiet is what gets him rewards.
How To Stop Your Labrador Barking For Attention
Your first step is to STOP reinforcing the barking. No more putting the lead on the dog when he barks for a walk.And no more opening the door when he barks to go out in the garden. Let him out when he is quiet and do it often enough to cover his bathroom requirements! No more putting your dog’s dinner on the floor while he is yapping at you. And don’t give him that cushion off the sofa to stop him barking in your face. All the rewards have to STOP.
Important: To begin with this may cause even MORE barking
That’s right. Your dog is going to be pretty disappointed that his usual method for getting what he wants isn’t working any more. He is going to try even harder to begin with. Bark, bark, BARK…! But you are not going to give in are you? I thought not.
Using a marker
Now, get ready with a marker – basically it’s a way of letting your dog know when he got something right. You can use a snappy version of the word YES as your marker.
And alway follow your marker with a reward. The reward can often take the form of giving the dog the thing you think he wants (like letting him out through the dog for example), if that is possible.
Why do I need a marker?
Or it can simply be some food. If you are going to use much food you need to clip a treat back to your belt or keep handy pots of treats around the house.
The reason you need a marker as well as the reward is because to begin with, your dog may not be quiet for very long. If you don’t mark the exact point at which the noise stops, he may have trouble figuring out exactly what it is you want him to do.
Your training plan
So, this is what you are going to do
- Ignore the barking whilst he continues
- Prepare to ‘mark’ the moment when he stops
- Avoid barking triggers and ensure your dog’s needs are met
Ignore the barking
If you respond to the barking in any way, you may inadvertently reinforce it. Try to ensure that nothing whatever happens to benefit the puppy whilst he continues to bark. This is not always easy but it is essential.
Prepare to mark silence
At some point the puppy will pause. Grab the moment and ‘mark’ it with a word (Good! or Yes!) and follow your ‘marker’ with a reward (attention, access to an activity he enjoys or food). That is all you can do the first time this happens. But you can prepare ahead to reduce the chances of it happening again, and to make it easier to control the behavior in the future.
Avoid barking triggers
Think about the circumstances that triggered the barking, and avoid them to begin with where possible. This is especially important with puppies. Was the dog frustrated because he was being made to ‘wait’ for something? Puppies, for example, have very short attention spans. Being made to sit and wait for a toy or their dinner is likely to result in whining or barking. Prepare these things out of the puppy’s sight and hearing to avoid ‘winding him up’.
Later, as training progresses, you can start to ask for ‘quiet’ in more challenging situations.
Remember to meet your dog’s needs
Dogs are more likely to bark when their mental and physical needs are not met. Could the dog have been very bored? Providing stuffed Kongs for him to chew can help a puppy cope with periods of boredom, keeping him occupied whilst you eat a meal for example.
Breaking his day up into short chunks and ringing the changes can help to keep him occupied. For example, 30 minutes in his crate followed by 15 minutes in the garden and another 15 minutes in the house whilst you keep an eye on him, rinse and repeat. This is less likely to result in boredom than two hours in the crate, an hour digging up your roses, and another hour getting under your feet in the kitchen.
With an older dog, remember to ensure that he has had sufficient exercise and some time spent training. Training isn’t just for puppies and naughty dogs, it keeps all dogs out of mischief!
Is Your Labrador Puppy Barking For Company?
Your puppy should not be deprived of human love and companionship. Dogs that are isolated, and lonely may develop a serious barking habit. So think hard before you kennel a dog outdoors or leave him alone in the house all day.
Having said that, all puppies need to learn to spend some time alone. Albeit short periods of time to begin with. And some puppies may start barking when crated or shut in a puppy proof room. There are things you can do to avoid this risk. It’s all about getting the puppy used to the idea that separation or confinement ends when they are quiet. And only when they are quiet.
Puppies love to be able to ‘see’ their grown ups! This is very useful to us when we are teaching puppies to be quiet around the home and in their crate. Creating an easily closed visual barrier between you and the puppy can really help with barking and whining. You can impose the visual barrier when the dog behaves inappropriately and remove it when he behaves well.
The open door technique
One way of doing this is to put the puppy in a crate in another room but to position the crate where he can see you clearly whilst the door between the two rooms is open. If he is silent, the door is left open. If he makes a noise you simply close the door. This technique can be very useful when a dog has got into a habit of barking during mealtimes for example.
Don’t forget to open the door as soon as he is quiet, but close it immediately if he starts again. You will find that to begin with you have to close the door a lot! But he will soon catch on.
Building quiet habits in your Labrador
Remember, build good habits and quiet behavior right from the start. Reward your puppy often when he is quiet and relaxed. Ignore any noise, don’t be tempted to start a ‘conversation’ with your barking dog. Last but not least, remember to plan ahead so that you are prepared with distractions for those times when he is likely to be bored or demanding.
Barking At Night
Dogs bark at night for a number of reasons. And it is always a big deal. Puppies bark at night or early in the morning, to get company, because they need the toilet, or because they are hungry. Older dogs sometimes start barking at night because they are disturbed, and enjoy the company that results, so triggering a barking habit. Some dogs bark very early in the morning because they’ve had enough sleep and think you have too.
We look at all this, and more in our comprehensive article on night waking and nocturnal barking in Labradors.
Barking at Passers-By
This is a very common problem. How many times have you had to walk the length of a garden fence with a dog flying along parallel to you and barking its head off? Even for the most dog-savvy person, this can be quite an un-nerving experience. Especially if you have small children or a nervous dog with you. As the owner of the dog in question, it can be a serious source of embarrassment.
If you are worried that your Labrador barking at passers-by is upsetting people, it probably is.
Barking at the window
You quite often see dogs in the window of a house trying to do the same thing. Tearing up and down a window sill or along the back of a sofa, flying at the glass as though they are about to break through it. Dogs in cars can be the same.
Although it is not perhaps quite as stressful to the passer-by, it is perhaps even more upsetting to you as the owner when it’s in a contained space. Your usually very companionable dog suddenly becomes a creature you can’t control and don’t understand.
What is happening in the situations above is a phenomenon known as passer-by syndrome. Dogs (and other animals) learn new behaviors in a very specific way that has been thoroughly scientifically researched and then described or set out, under the title of ‘Learning Theory’.
Learning theory tells us that any Labrador behavior that is immediately (within seconds) rewarded, will be reinforced. That is to say, the behavior will be more likely to happen again in the future. This is exactly what is happening with passer-by syndrome.
Here and then gone again
Let’s face it, passers by are by definition ‘passing by’. They appear, then disappear again within seconds of appearing! Many dogs are a little wary of total strangers. Others quite enjoy the sound of their own voices, or simply like running up and down. So you can imagine what happens if the dog runs up and down, or gives a little bark during the few seconds that the passer by is in view. Just seconds later the passer by has gone again!
If the dog finds that disappearance rewarding, and many dogs do, anything he did just before the person vanished will be reinforced. That means it is much more likely to happen again in the future. And so as time goes on, and more passers by, pass by. The barking increases. That little woof becomes another woof, then several woofs. Any running up and down also increases and gets faster. Running generates excitement too, so even if the running dog didn’t bark to start with, he soon will.
Barking and Running at the Fence
If a dog has regular visual access to passers by, and is at all impressed by his own perceived ability to make them ‘disappear’, passer-by syndrome will inevitably take over. The barking and excitement is continually reinforced, and will get worse and worse. So you need to act, preferably sooner rather than later.
The solution to dogs barking at people
An established passer by syndrome can be very difficult to eradicate without removing the dog’s access to passer’s by. Whilst you can reward good behavior when you are there, you cannot control what passers by do, or how your dog reacts to them when you are out of sight. For that reason the most successful solution is always the removal of the dog’s visual access to passers by.
Owners of a barking dog can find this very frustrating to hear, but established problems do require committed responses sometimes. Although you might feel annoyed to hear there is no quick fix, you should feel pleased that you can regain control of the situation through another means.
Remove visual access
Indoors, preventing your Labrador from seeing the source of his excitement can sometimes simply be a matter of closing the curtains. Or of restricting the dog’s access to rooms which overlook a public walkway.
In gardens it is more difficult and may require the construction of a visual barrier or fence. If you live in a rented property then you will need to talk to your landlord or erect a temporary gap-free barrier behind the fixed fenceline.
If you have to leave a dog alone in a car for a short period of time, you may be able to prevent visual access to passers by quite simply using a piece of cardboard against the windows. This may all seem like a big deal, but if you suspect your dog is beginning to develop passer by syndrome it is well worth nipping it in the bud. Left untreated it can become a truly unpleasant problem.
Barking at sounds
Some dogs bark every time there is a knock at the door (quite reasonable provided it doesn’t go on and on). Some dogs bark every time a car door slams out in the street (not quite so reasonable) Some dogs bark every time a door closes in your house, every time there is a footstep in the flat upstairs, every time a cup is plonked on the kitchen counter (not reasonable at all) and so on.
If your dog does this, and constantly barks at every little sound, footstep, or voice, the chances are you have had enough of it. A great system for improving this particular problem is to teach your dog to bark on cue. It’s also the bit you’ve been waiting for if your dog rarely barks and you want him to bark when strangers come to the door.
How To Teach Your Dog To Bark
Bark / No Bark training is is a great technique for both dogs that bark at sounds, and dogs that don’t bark much at all. You’d think that teaching a dog to bark would be the last thing you’d need. But actually, putting a behavior ‘on cue’ in this way, often has the effect of diminishing it at other times.
My dog won’t bark
Remember, if your Labrador won’t bark much, that’s largely because it isn’t in his nature to do so. You can teach him to bark on cue, as described in the link above, but you’ll need to tell him when you want him to do it. It won’t help when you aren’t there.
So for example, when strangers come to the door, once you have taught the cue ‘speak’, you’ll be able to tell your dog to ’SPEAK’ and hopefully that will alert the strangers that there is a dog in the home. If that is what you want.
Personally, I think if your Labrador is not a natural guard dog, that’s probably a good thing. This is not a breed designed to guard people or property, though some will, most Labrador’s talents lie in other directions. Like being warm, affectionate, friendly, and brilliant retrievers.
Nervous or Reactive Labrador Barking?
Last but not least, let’s take a quick look at nervous barkers. Some dogs bark out of fear or anxiety. This tends to be more of an issue outdoors in the wide world, where your dog has to meet with other dogs and people. Fearful dogs have a tough time of it, but fortunately there is help at hand We have a great article on helping reactive dogs, by Sian Ryan so if your dog falls into this category, it’s well worth a read
Barking at other dogs may also arise because your dog is over-excited and wants to go and play. This is demand barking so the rules above apply. Don’t release your dog while he is barking furiously, or you will reinforce the barking (make it worse). Do avoid triggers that overwhelm your dog while doing the training above. Set him achievable goals.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website