As a certified dog trainer, I get a lot of questions about barking. And, there are a lot of assumptions about why this breed is so vocal.
Sometimes, the assumption is that they only bark for one reason. But I’m here to debunk that assumption today.
And I’ll share 6 ways I use to help my private clients and students in my membership stop their German Shepherd barking problems.
To achieve the best results in dog training, you always want to work through a problem systematically.
And if you want to modify your German Shepherd’s barking behavior like a professional while being kind and clear, these are the 4 steps to follow…
- Get clear on the real reasons your GSD barks.
- Understanding your dog’s body language.
- Knowing your dog’s ABC (this will make sense soon!)
- Your behavior modification options.
Why Does My German Shepherd Bark so Much?
Listed below are 7 real reasons why dogs bark. And it can even be a combination of these emotions and reasons.
- Breed-specific Function
But ultimately, your GSD barks because…
And that’s what we’ll go over today in this blog post.
I realize you’re here to find solutions to your GSD’s barking, and I promise you’ll get some excellent solutions, based on kindness and clarity in my behavior modification plans.
And, you’ll also learn how to help your dog use other avenues instead of barking.
But none of the solutions will matter if you don’t start with communication…
Body Talk – Reading Your Dog’s Body Language
If you’ve been in my world for a while via my blog, membership, Facebook group, or my email newsletter, or if you’re one of my clients, you already know that I teach a lot about canine body language or TEMP.
And I believe that if you want to solve your Shepherd’s excessive barking, you need to understand the “why” of your dog’s barking.
And that means you’ve got to get really good at reading what they tell you with their body and face.
Because even though they are barking, their entire body will tell you what the underlying emotion is that’s driving their barking behavior.
So by looking at their body language and the environment, you will understand the reason behind your GSD’s barking.
And ultimately, that will give you the feedback you need to pick the best solution.
In this next short video, you’ll learn some basics of canine body language.
The A B C of Barking
A B C is something we use every day in professional dog training to decipher, understand and help dogs make good behavior choices.
- Antecedent (trigger or cue).
Every behavior has a cue or a trigger that happens before the behavior. And a consequence that comes after the behavior.
And this is a really important concept for you to understand as you move forward in working on your Shepherd’s barking.
Although it might look like your GSD is barking for no reason, once you start doing some investigation you’ll find that there’s always a reason.
Because behaviors don’t happen in a vacuum or for no reason.
- It could be another dog.
- It could be a stranger passing by.
- It could even be a sound like the garbage truck.
These are all potential cues or triggers that set your dog off barking.
And then there is also a consequence that happens after they bark.
- The scary thing (stranger or garbage truck) goes away.
- You pet them.
- You play with them.
And if you cast your mind back to the beginning of this blog post, you’ll remember…
Your dog barks because it works!
Let me explain with a real-life example…
My friend Sandy is arachnophobic. And I’m not exaggerating either!
At the sight of a spider, Sandy will literally run barefoot for miles through the thorny Brambles of Mordor.
And once Sandy has run far enough, she feels safe from the spider – that’s the consequence of her running away or her behavior.
So Sandy will keep running away because her behavior makes her feel safe from the spider.
And it’s exactly the same when your dog barks at a trigger…
- Your Shepherd sees a stranger.
- They bark loudly, and the stranger moves away.
- Your Shepherd is “safe” from the stranger.
Below is a more detailed way to look at the ABC of any behavior, including your Shepherd’s barking…
A = Antecedent (the trigger or cue that puts the behavior into motion)
- You say “sit.”
- You see a green traffic light.
B = Behavior (the activity, action, or skill performed)
- Your “sit” cue causes your dog’s butt to go down.
- The green light causes you to push the gas pedal.
C = Consequence (the “payoff” can be wanted or unwanted)
- You reward your dog once their butt hits the ground.
- You go faster as you push the gas pedal.
Now let’s look at an example of a specific case I worked on with a client…
- Their GSD hears the garbage truck (Antecedent).
- Their GSD starts barking (Behavior).
- The garbage truck leaves (Consequence).
Now, the garbage truck didn’t leave because their Shepherd barked at it.
But, in their dog’s mind, the unwanted thing (the garbage truck) left because it was “scared away” by the barking.
And in the example above, if the consequence is something your dog wants (like for the garbage truck to go away), it’s reinforcing, and they will rehearse the behavior more and more.
What Triggers YOUR GSD to Bark?
So now that you have a good understanding of the A B C of barking behavior and your dog’s emotions through their body language, it’s time to start a list of what specifically triggers your GSD.
And the more specific you can be with creating your dog’s list of triggers, the better you’ll be able to help your GSD choose different behavior.
Here are a couple of ideas to start you off…
- A knock at the door.
- The doorbell ringing.
- The garbage truck.
- A novel object like a plastic bag.
- An ice cream van passing by.
- A lawn mower.
- Another dog barking.
- People walking by the house.
- Dog’s barking on the TV.
- Strange people on walks.
- Strange dogs on walks.
- Other dogs playing.
- A holiday decoration out on a walk.
- Being alone at home.
Below I’ll share how I nailed down a specific trigger my dog Lexi had.
Getting Specific on a Trigger
Lexi was highly triggered and would go into a barking frenzy when the garbage truck arrived on Friday mornings.
First, I tried to desensitize her to the truck sound, but that sound didn’t trigger her.
Then I thought it might be the backup beep the truck makes, but that wasn’t it either.
Finally, I realized the sound that triggered her was the hydraulic system lifting and tipping the bins.
Until then, I’d been trying to desensitize her to the wrong sound and wasn’t getting results at all.
The bottom line is, getting specific will help you pinpoint exactly what it is that triggers barking in your Shepherd.
What is the “Payoff” or Consequence for Your GSD Barking?
Next, you want to pinpoint what the consequence or “reward” is for your Shepherd’s barking.
In our garbage truck example, if the “scary thing” moves away, it’s a positive consequence for the dog.
If, for example, your dog is attention barking and you pay attention to them, that is also a positive consequence.
Remember that positive consequences will make the behavior much more likely to occur again in the future.
Now, armed with all this knowledge, you’re ready to dive into your behavior modification options to stop your German Shepherd’s barking problems.
The Behavior Modification Plan
When trying to deal with barking issues, a lot of folks use what I call, “throwing spaghetti” to see what sticks.
The problem I see with this is, it causes a lot of confusion for both the guardian and the dog.
If you want to help improve your GSD’s barking behavior, you’ve got to have a management plan and a training strategy.
What follows is the exact process I use with clients and members to help them resolve their dog’s barking problems.
Treat Any Underlying Issues
The first question you need to ask is, “Is there anxiety?”
This could be General Anxiety Disorder or Separation Anxiety.
Especially if you’re finding that your dog is barking at lots of triggers all the time.
If it’s present, it’s definitely something your vet should diagnose. So, it’s vital that you consult with your vet if you suspect an anxiety disorder.
Depending on how severe your dog’s anxiety is, your vet will talk you through the various options available to manage it effectively.
Below are some of the options your vet will discuss with you…
- Calming music.
- Adaptil or pheromone collars.
- Veterinary-prescribed medication or anti-anxiety treatments.
The next question to ask is, “is there a health issue?”
Think of something like a dog who experiences a dip in glucose levels in the afternoon.
This might cause them to bark like crazy at a specific time each day. And simply switching their feeding schedule to three times a day could solve the barking issue.
And the final question to ask is, “is there pain or discomfort?”
If you’ve ever experienced low-grade, chronic pain you know how it can affect mood and feelings of well-being. And dogs experience those same negative effects if they are in pain.
Your vet will be a great help here in doing a full exam to determine if your dog is experiencing noticeable pain on the pain scale.
Identify Your GSD’s Triggers
As I mentioned previously, be as detailed and specific as possible when you’re deciphering your dog’s barking triggers.
Here are a few more ideas to think about as you add potential triggers to the running list you’ve started writing.
- Garbage truck.
- Truck backup beeps.
- Mail carriers.
- Other dogs barking.
Prevent Triggers from Happening (where possible)
Now that you’ve got a list of your dog’s triggers, it’s time to put some management in place to prevent rehearsals.
This is the first big step to solving barking problems.
Because prevention and management are very helpful when you first start working on these problems.
Let’s say one of your dog’s triggers is a squeaky front gate. Simply oiling the gate regularly might be enough to stop their barking altogether.
If your dog likes to watch and wait at the window to bark at passersby, you could cover the windows with opaque window coverings.
This will still allow the light to come into the space but prevent your dog from seeing any people or dogs walking by.
And if your GSD is triggered by passersby chatting, you might consider music specially composed for dogs. This type of music reduced barking by 70% in shelters.
Change the Consequence (where possible)
As yourself, “can I set things up, so there’s a more positive consequence if my dog doesn’t bark than if they do?”
So for example if your dog barks at the mail carrier. Carry treats in your pocket and each time your dog starts barking, call them to you and deliver a treat.
In the beginning, it won’t be perfect, but over time your dog will head straight toward you as the mail carrier approaches to deliver your mail.
You will have to use high-value treats for this because barking can be a very valuable behavior for your dog.
This blog post will show you how to get your GSD to tell you what their highest-value treats are.
Desensitize or Counter Condition Your GSD to the Trigger
This is where the trigger doesn’t cause barking anymore because you’ve helped your dog learn a new emotional response to the stimulus.
In short, the trigger is not scary or worrying to your dog.
Let’s say your dog is triggered by the sound of your doorbell.
You could record the sound of the doorbell on your phone and while the sound is playing on the lowest volume, your dog experiences high-value treats.
When the sound plays, your dog gets a constant stream of high-value rewards.
When the sound ends, the rewards also stop coming.
How long this will take depends on how sensitive your dog is o their trigger.
Redirect or Distract
Here, you’re giving your dog something else to think about instead of the trigger they want to bark at.
This is one of my go-to methods with my private clients and their dogs have had a lot of success this way!
Some redirect and distract ideas are:
Bully sticks, Yak chews, or other long-lasting chews.
Food-filled toys like Kongs, Topples, or busy Squirrels. Ideally, you’ll want to fill and freeze these before offering them for a longer-lasting experience.
Teach an Alternative Behavior
When I started my dog training journey with my first barky dog, Charley, I successfully taught an alternative behavior like the Speak/Quiet cue.
But it doesn’t work for all dogs and most times, it’s hit-and-miss. As I learned with my next barky dog, Lexi!
So as a certified professional dog trainer, I like to set people and their dogs up for success and so instead I recommend using the Consequence Change method.
It’s much more reliable and still teaches your dog an alternative behavior.
Sometimes Management is the Only Solution
This might not be something you want to hear, but the truth is, sometimes management is your only option.
For example, traveling with your dog in a crate if they bark at triggers passing your vehicle. If they can’t see the triggers, that might be enough to manage the barking.
Walking your dog early morning or late evening to avoid triggers. changing direction or moving off to the side if you approach a trigger like other people or dogs on your walk.
And if your dog’s trigger is low-flying planes and you live on a flight path, your best option might be to speak with your vet about natural calming aids.
3 Things that will Never Get German Shepherd Barking Under Control
Punishing your dog by hitting, kicking or a raised hand in the ‘ready to smack’ position. This will scare your dog and cause mistrust.
And in the case of attention-seeking barking, it may only reinforce the behavior.
Shouting at your dog will not make your dog stop barking.
In most cases, your dog will turn a deaf ear and continue barking.
Using a bark collar. This will cause your dog considerable pain and discomfort. It is not a proven method to stop barking.
It will also cause negative feelings in your dog. These feelings can be associated with a person or animal present when the shock is applied.