Alert barking occurs when your dog perceives a change in the environment. Dogs who alert bark excessively are often reacting to triggers around the home, such as birds, cars, and your neighbors.
Excessive alert barkers spend a great deal of their time looking and listening for triggers, so it’s important to keep the environment as free of triggers as possible while training a more acceptable barking pattern. Windows, curtains, shutters, etc., should be kept closed. You can also use window film to reduce visibility while still allowing light in. A white noise machine can help mask noises. If necessary, the dog can be kept in a part of the home that is far from the outside.
Once the dog is not being constantly bombarded with triggers, the alert barking should decrease. For some households, this is a good enough solution.
If you are still getting too much barking, you can use a technique like the one shown in this video. To do it, simply say “thank you” or call your dog the instant you hear a bark, and then feed them a treat. Note that you may have to meet your dog halfway (or even most of the way there at first). Over time, this teaches your dog to come to you when they notice something outside, and some dogs even forget to bark first!
NOTE: You can also use a clicker for this technique, as shown in the video, but a clicker is not necessary if you prefer not to use one.
You can also teach your dog to bark just once when he or she sees a trigger and then get quiet. You can start by getting your dog to bark by knocking on the wall (for example) and then praising and treat. The dog will have to get quiet to eat the treat, and then you can knock again. Once you are sure your dog will look at you and woof or bark when you knocl on the wall. start to say “Speak” before you knock. Remember to praise and treat after just one bark. Continue to repeat this pattern until your dog begins to bark just once every time, and then looks at you expectantly. You can then teach a cue for silence, such as “Quiet,” by saying “Quiet” after the one bark before you praise and treat, pausing for a half-second, and then praising and treating your dog for remaining quiet.
With both of these techniques, the goal is to teach your dog to bark just once (or not at all) and then look to you for instructions as to what to do next. Once you have established a one-bark pattern, you can simply let your dog bark once when he or she notices something new and then praise your dog for coming over to you after the bark (which many dogs will do automatically, since you have taught them that a single bark earns a reward). Alternatively, you can say “Quiet” after hearing one bark and then reward the quiet, or say “Thank you!” to let the dog know you heard the bark.
IMPORTANT: Some dogs immediately catch on and come to find you without even barking. Be sure to praise and feed in that situation too! Other dogs start to come over and bark right at you, to try to make you say “quiet” or praise them. If your dog does this, and you are sure there was nothing outside that triggered the barking, simply walk away. We want the dog to understand that they only get thanks, praise, and treats for letting you know about things going by outside.