At the end of a long day, the last thing you want to deal with is your dog barking at night. Nighttime barking can lead to frustration and anger when it prevents you from being able to fall asleep. Worse still, if it wakes you in the middle of the night. But how do you stop dog barking?
You can begin to resent your pooch for interrupting what should be a restful and mostly quiet part of the day. Your neighbors may also get annoyed with a dog that barks uncontrollably at night time. To stop barking at night, we first need to know why it happens.
Why does a dog bark at night?
There are three main reasons why your dog may start barking at night.
Night time disturbance causing fear or protective barking
Occasionally, a dog will bark when it has been alerted to some kind of disturbance in or around your home. It is instinctive for your dog to feel protective and the barking can be a fear-based reaction to potential danger. And let’s face it, this kind of barking is forgivable and even praise-worthy if the dog alerts you to an intruder or possible home invasion.
Stress from being isolated or confined
This could be that you have had your dog sleeping within sight of you since it was a puppy and then changed the sleeping arrangement so that it can’t see you at all.
For example, you used to have your dog sleep on your bed or even at the foot of the bed. At some stage, you may have changed the location of its bed to another room or even outdoors. Or you may have decided that it’s time that your dog sleeps in its crate all night.
Situational changes can cause the dog to experience a degree of isolation or confinement distress. After some time being in such close quarters to you, your dog may feel anxious at the sudden lack of closeness and respond by barking.
One of the most common reasons why your dog may bark at night is due to the barking behavior having been learned and then positively reinforced by you.
The fact that you may have reinforced the barking behavior may be a complete surprise to you. It often begins during the stage when your dog is a puppy or even a fully grown, but new arrival into your home.
Getting used to a new environment
The first few days in a new environment can be quite an anxious time for a new puppy or dog, and nighttime barking or whining can occur during that early period of settling into a new home. Or your dog may bark more than usual if you are traveling or camping.
In an effort to soothe your new arrival, you may respond quickly to the distress by petting or talking to your dog in a reassuring tone. This quiets the barking and can immediately relieve any anxiousness the new arrival may feel.
The problem occurs when this barking and subsequent response by you to relieve it, happens again and again. Your dog is learning quickly that in order to get your attention, it merely has to bark and you will respond.
This kind of responsive ‘reward’ reinforces the behavior each time and the dog learns very quickly that barking brings attention from you – whether in the form of cuddles or admonishment.
So how do I stop dog barking at night?
It’s important to first identify what might have caused the nighttime barking in the first place.
If you’re confident that your dog is suffering from an isolation issue that causes distress, consider moving the dog bed or crate back to a position that might feel closer to you.
Some people are happy to have their dog close by at night, but if you’d like your dog to sleep independently in another room or outside, you can try to move the sleeping area gradually over time so that the dog doesn’t experience such a dramatic change. Perhaps you could try to move the bed just a foot at a time each night.
Reinforced behavioral barking is a more difficult but not impossible behavior to quell. You need to ‘reprogramme’ the dog into thinking that they will not receive any attention (positive or negative) reward from you if they bark at night time.
Undoing such a behavior that is programmed into your dog’s subconscious definitely takes some time and patience, but the reward can be a dog that sleeps soundly through the night and does not need your constant attention.
Prepare yourself to ignore the barking behavior.
It will take mental strength and stamina to complete the anti-barking training. However, consistency is a crucial part of the process in order to see a long-lasting reduction in your dog’s excessive barking.
Although it may be difficult to find the ‘right time to begin, take the leap as early as possible as the longer the barking continues, the more ingrained the bad behavior will be. Breaking a dog’s bad habit is not dissimilar to breaking a bad habit for a person.
Ask for support.
It may be helpful to get your partner, friend, or family member up to speed with your plan to train your dog not to bark. Having a support person to fall back on when you feel like your dog is ‘untrainable’ or when you feel like your training efforts are not working is important.
You may want to inform your neighbors about your plan to prevent nighttime barking and that the training may involve a few noisy nights – they should be happy to hear that you are proactively working on the issue.
Gather anything that may help you to get some sleep if your dog barks continuously during the training period. Earplugs or a white noise machine may help you to mute the barking and make it easier to ignore it.
The first day of training your dog to stop barking at night
You should move through your usual routine and bed your dog down in the other room or outdoors. Don’t try to change the dog’s bedding or location of the bed at the same time as commencing training as this may cause complications due to the dog being out of sorts due to the change.
If you go to bed and the dog immediately starts barking, resist the urge to get out of bed. Put your earplugs in / start your white noise – whatever might distract you. The key is to ensure that your dog doesn’t get any reaction of any kind from you.
The barking will almost always get worse before it gets better
Despite what you might think, this is actually a good sign. It is perfectly normal for the barking to escalate in the beginning. This is due to the previously reinforced barking behavior, not being reinforced anymore.
To explain further, in the past when the dog wanted your attention, he barked and as a result, you provided attention (either in person or verbally from afar).
This reinforced the barking behavior and made the behavior stronger each time the barking was rewarded with attention. Removing the reward of your attention means the dog isn’t getting its ‘reward’ and so the barking may flare up temporarily before gradually improving.
The key here is to persist and be consistent. Reducing nighttime barking will be successful only if the reward (your attention) is removed permanently. Continue with the training and you should be able to stop your dog barking at night.
If your dog continues to bark incessantly
It may be time bring in the big guns! The American Kennel Club provides a good explanation of how bark control tools might help dogs that bark excessively.
However you choose to approach, don’t give up!