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  • April Schrader, CPDT-KA

How to Handle Reactive Barking at Home

Living in a world filled with various sounds can be a challenging experience for our furry friends. Some dogs react strongly to everyday noises inside the house, such as doorbells, phones ringing, or even the clinking of dishes. Understanding and addressing sound reactivity is crucial for their well-being and emotional balance.

Understanding Sound Reactivity: Dogs possess keen hearing abilities, allowing them to detect sounds that might go unnoticed by humans. Sound reactivity can manifest in different ways, including barking, growling, or pacing. It's important to differentiate between alert barking and reactive barking. Alert barking is a natural response to a sound, followed by quick relaxation. On the other hand, reactive barking indicates persistent anxiety, and if left unchecked, it can escalate.


Recognizing Reactive Barking as Fear: Reactive barking often goes hand-in-hand with fear. Dogs that react to sounds with persistent barking might be expressing their unease. This behavior suggests that the triggering sounds trigger an anxious response, and your dog's barking serves as an attempt to cope with this discomfort.


Identifying Triggers: To address sound reactivity, begin by identifying the specific triggers that set off your dog's reactions. Take note of the sounds that consistently provoke a response, as this will guide your training efforts to gradually desensitize and change their association with those triggers.


Desensitization and Counterconditioning: Desensitization involves exposing your dog to the triggering sounds at a very low volume, initially below their reactive threshold. Pair these sounds with positive experiences, such as treats, playtime, or some type of enrichment activity such as a snuffle mat. Gradually increase the volume over time, always ensuring your dog remains relaxed and comfortable. During this process, use the "open bar, closed bar" technique. This means that treats happen when the noise is happening, and they stop when the noise stops. When your dog has finished playtime or their snack, stop the noises. This reinforces the positive association with the sound and helps your dog understand that good things happen when they hear the trigger noise. Counterconditioning changes your dog's emotional response to the trigger sound. Instead of associating it with fear, they'll learn to associate it with positive feelings. Offer high-value treats or toys to create a positive connection between the sound and positive experiences.


Create a Safe Space: Provide your dog with a safe and comfortable space where they can retreat when they feel overwhelmed by triggering sounds. This can be a cozy corner equipped with their bed, toys, and water. Encourage them to go to this space when they hear a triggering sound, and reward them for using it. If your dog tends to bark out of windows at the source of the noise, consider blocking their view or moving them away from windows, such as placing them in a crate or utilizing a room without direct window access. You can also use sound machines or play soothing music or the TV to help drown out the noises when you're not at home. Additionally, some dogs find comfort in having their crate covered, creating a cozy and secure den-like environment that can help reduce their reactivity.


Positive Reinforcement: Using positive reinforcement techniques can greatly assist in managing sound reactivity. When your dog remains calm in the presence of the trigger sound, reward them with treats, praise, or a favorite toy. This reinforces their calm behavior and encourages them to stay composed. Avoid using punishments, as they can increase your dog's fear and anxiety, making the reactive behavior worse. Instead, focus on creating a positive and safe environment that helps your dog build confidence and reduce their reactivity over time.


Consult a Professional: If your dog's sound reactivity proves to be severe or difficult to manage on your own, don't hesitate to reach out for expert guidance. A professional dog trainer or behaviorist can create a tailored training plan to effectively address the issue. Their expertise can assist your dog in building confidence and resilience while working through their reactivity. If you need assistance, you can contact us at Best Buddy Dog Trainer via phone at 301-231-1907 or through email at jeff@bestbuddydogtrainer.com. We're here to help you and your furry friend navigate sound reactivity and create a harmonious home environment.


Sound reactivity in dogs, particularly reactive barking, often signals underlying fear and anxiety. By identifying triggers, utilizing desensitization and counterconditioning, and seeking professional guidance if needed, you can help your dog navigate their sensitivity to sounds. With patience and a compassionate approach, you can guide your furry friend toward a calmer and more relaxed state in the face of triggering noises.

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