Updated: May 18
I used to work in an animal shelter with the fantastic benefit of taking my dogs to work with me each day, where they could comfortably hang out in my office while I worked. It was only after I started working from home that I discovered just how busy my neighborhood is during the day on week days. If it was just me at home, I would have tuned out the neighborhood activity for the most part and probably not even noticed, but my dogs were very alert, and found the goings on to be concerning.
So my days looked like this: both dogs run to the window and start loudly barking because the neighbor across the street was getting his mail, or it was garbage day and the trucks were picking up garbage, or someone was doing yard work next door, or someone jogged past my house. There were many more situations that would trigger the barking and things were getting a bit out of hand.
Training dogs not to bark when looking out the window
I came up with a game plan and put it into place, and am pleased that it’s worked very well. Even better is that it’s pretty simple as training plans go, and luckily I already had a strong foundation behavior in place so was able to get results fairly quickly. And with a little bit of work this method can work for many, if not most dogs.
This training plan for dealing with a dog barking out of the window, or even for a dog that barks when he hears noise, is simply calling them and reinforcing with something they love. With my dogs many times what they get is food, but sometimes it’s a butt scratch, and at this stage in our training it’s sometimes a very enthusiastic, “Yay, what good dogs!!!!”
The foundation for this method is a really good recall inside the house (outside is a whole other realm of training!) If you don’t already have this, you’ll need to practice it when your dog ISN’T worked up at what’s happening in the outside world.
If you don’t already have a dog who’s pretty good at coming when called, your first step is recall training. This should be done at a time when your dog isn’t barking out the window. You want to set your dog up for success, so the best time to do this is when your dog isn’t too interested in anything in particular.
Make sure you have treats your dog will flip over – we’re looking for a Snoopy happy dance here!
Start by calling your dog when there’s a bit of distance between you, but you’re still both in the same room. Celebrate when he gets to you and deliver your treat. For more bang for your buck you can break that treat up and deliver the pieces one at a time. Now your dog got more than one treat (at least in his mind!)
Once your dog starts to immediately turn and come to you at the speed of light in anticipation of the treat, start practicing when you and your dog are in different rooms, but NOT when your dog is barking. Remember that this is practice and we want to establish a strong foundational habit before we use it for a more challenging situation.
Occasionally call your dog away from the window when they are looking out, however are not barking. Don’t overdo this!
Once your dog is flying to you from the other room, you can start using it for barking out the window. It is best (although not always realistic) if you can call when they first notice the noise, but before that first bark. We want to call before they get so over stimulated they lose their brain and can’t respond.
If your dog is barking and not responding to you calling, go to your dog, shove a handful of treats in a closed fist under their nose (the handful is to increase the smell factor – you won’t necessarily give all of it to your dog). If you get a momentary cessation of barking and a turn of the head, toss a treat on the floor away from the window. Once your dog has eaten that treat toss another, and repeat several times.
Be extremely consistent. Call your dog 100% of the time that he barks out the window, and for a very long time reinforce with those super-duper very good treats.
What I started to see with my dogs after working on this for a few weeks is that they would bark a few times and then come find me. Today was garbage day and although there were a few whisper barks, there wasn’t any loud out of control barking. I made a big deal out of that for the dogs – the garbage truck drove past, heads and ears perked up and I lavished on the praise for not barking.
Reward the absence of barking
Another part of this process, which is extremely important, is to proactively reward your dog when they are not barking. If you see your dog looking out the window and they are silent, that’s a really great time to praise and possibly even run into the kitchen and get your dog a few treats.
If you hear a noise but notice that your dog doesn’t bark, make a really big deal out of that as well. It’s important for your dog to get feedback about making good choices, so that they know what the behavior is that you do want them to perform. Consistency with this is just as important as calling your dog away from the window after they’ve already started barking.
As I’m writing this, my neighbor next door has someone doing some construction on their deck. At one point in time my dogs would have been barking at this stranger working and making noise just a few feet from the window in the living room. Right now they’re both curled up on the couch completely silent, and periodically when I hear a noise that would previously have triggered barking, I verbally tell them what good dogs they are.
We're still working on barking in the context of someone actually walking onto the porch and up to my front door - such as Amazon delivering a package. Even that has improved tremendously. Many times the dogs don’t bark, but when they do I can call them to me almost immediately.
I really wanted to get video for this post and ran into the trouble that every time the dogs barked and I grabbed my phone, the dogs would stop barking and come to me before I could hit record. Finally I did get one. You'll notice that Quinn wasn't barking at all, while Whimsy came as soon as I called!
Alert barking when outside
Although I said outside is a whole other matter, I have used this same technique for when my dogs are in the yard and bark at the neighbors. It requires a lot more of a strong recall foundation because it is more difficult for the dog to leave that big of a distraction.
If you have visions of your dogs quietly hanging out in the yard while the neighbors are active outside, this may not be a cure. But what it can do is prevent your dog from barking non-stop and annoying the people in your neighborhood.
I start working this by practicing recalls outside when there aren’t distractions so that it’s easy for the dog to come. When I’m ready to start working with them on the barking portion of it, I actually go outside with them and as they start barking, do a recall. If they don’t come, and initially they probably won’t, I’ll go right up to the dog with a handful of amazing food (this is the time for cheese, not kibble!) put it right under their nose so that I can actually feel their whiskers and back up a step or two and reinforce them by giving them a few treats for following me.
What can be extremely effective is that instead of handing the treat to your dog, toss a few pieces of the food into the grass. That act of sniffing and searching for food in the grass has a calming effect, and will make it easier to get your dog to settle down and perform a successful recall the next time around.
Chances are very good that as soon as your dog eats the food, he will turn away from you and resume barking. That’s OK! Just repeat calling your dog, reinforcing, and letting him go back to barking. And no, you are not reinforcing the barking. You are reinforcing the recall away from the distraction. The more you practice this the better your dog will get at coming to you when called, even if he is barking at the neighbors.
If you notice your dog looking towards the fence line, but your dog is not leaving you and isn’t barking, that is a great time to reinforce your dog with some treats for making great choices! If your dog stays put by you, every couple of seconds give your dog another treat. This will help your dog make the good choice of staying by you instead of running the fence line barking at your neighbors.
Because I really like my neighbors, and I don’t want my dogs barking disturbing them, I call them inside whenever I hear barking. And no matter whether they’re barking or not, my dogs get treats every time I called them in from outside. This keeps them highly motivated to come indoors when I want them to.
So my dogs may bark at the neighbors, but they aren’t barking for long because I’m opening the back door and getting them indoors as soon as possible.
What is interesting is that this is a method that seems to build up a habit of not barking even if the owner isn’t home. And if you are trying to resolve dog separation anxiety, it is so much easier if your dog doesn’t bark at noises when you’re gone.
This method won’t work with all barking, and may not work with all dogs. But it’s worth a try if your dog won't stop barking out the window, or if you live in an apartment and your dog barks at hallway noises.
If you want an additional way to reduce alert barking when your dog is in the house, it can be helpful to block the sights and sounds causing the barking.
Do you have a barking problem? I offer virtual training packages and may be able to help!