Most puppies will go through a period of development where they test out their owner's response to barking and whining. With the litter puppies use these sounds to communicate with their brothers and sisters and, more importantly to very young puppies, to their mother. Barking and whining is used as a way to signal to the mother dog that they are in distress, are hungry, are frightened or are lost. While most dog owners want their dog to bark once or twice to let them know someone or something is approaching their property, constant barking and whining can quickly become a problem.
Thousands of puppies are turned into rescues and shelters every year simply because owners didn't take the time to train their puppies or didn't have the ability to understand what the barking and whining was about. To try to understand more about your puppies barking or whining, start keeping track of when it happens. Barking and whining is most likely to occur:
When the puppy is excited or startled
When the puppy is hungry
When the puppy is thirsty
When the puppy is left alone or feels isolated
When the puppy wants attention even when you are in the same area
Depending on which one of these conditions proceeds the barking or whining it is often possible to work with the puppies natural behavior to curb the problem. For example, if the puppy barks when he or she sees you preparing the food, ignore the puppy and don't provide the food until the puppy is quiet, even just for a second. Soon the puppy will learn to associate being quiet with being fed, rather than being fed when being noisy. If the puppy is barking or whining because he or she is thirsty, this is a serious problem on the part of the owner. Puppies should always have a fresh, clean and abundant supply of water, although with very small puppies removing water just before the last trip outside for the night can help prevent accidents in the night.
A puppy will naturally get excited and bark and whine when it sees the family coming home after being gone, or when the puppy has been left alone. Instead of directly addressing the whining or barking, give the puppy a command it knows such as sit or come. When the puppy does this you can give him or her lots of praise for doing the right thing while ignoring the noisy behavior. Soon the puppy will come over and sit to greet you, which is what you wanted in the first place.
Barking to get attention from the owner is typical as this is how the puppy lets the mother dog know that he or she is lonely. Playing with and socializing the puppy, having lots of toys and activities and providing adequate amounts of exercise will normally curb these behaviors. Barking and whining when left alone at night is also normal behavior. Instead of getting up and talking to the puppy, or worse yet allowing it to choose where he or she wants to sleep, try providing extra exercise right before bedtime to help the puppy go to sleep. Adding toys and comfort items such as a dog bed or soft blanket wrapped around a hot water bottle can also be helpful for very young puppies.
Occasionally some puppies will have a condition known as separation anxiety. Often this occurs in puppies that were removed from the mother and littermates too soon or puppies that have been in multiple homes without bonding or feeling a part of any one family. These puppies may require medications that can be prescribed by a vet. A trainer may also be required to help you work with these puppies to overcome their anxiety and separation problems.
Most puppies will naturally want to bark to notify the family of new people or animals in the area of their house or property. This is usually considered to be "good barking" by most people that want to have a watchdog. The key is to teaching the puppy that good barking means bark until a family member gets there and then stop and be quiet.
To teach this concept the puppy must first know at least two commands, and those are come and sit. Once the puppy starts barking let it bark two or three times, then call the puppy to you and have him or her sit, immediately providing a reward in the form of a small treat or a favorite toy. This will usually be enough to distract the puppy and he or she will stop barking. If the puppy is intent on barking and doesn't respond to your call, walk up to it and show the treat, but don't give it to the puppy until they are looking at you and quiet. Gradually work from that point to the come and sit series.
If the puppy won't quit barking no matter what you try to do, you may have to move to a more invasive type technique. A tin can filled with dried beans or coins and then taped closed can be carefully tossed on the ground at the puppy's feet or just given a good shake close to the puppy. The noise will startle the puppy and he or she will stop barking, immediately praise and give a treat. In very extreme conditions a squirt bottle with clear tap water can be sprayed towards the dog's nose and mouth, which will have the same effect. These are typically not needed if the puppy is trained in the positive reinforcement methods discussed above.
The key to stopping whining and barking is to only attend and reward the puppy when he or she is quiet. Under no conditions should the dog get the treat, toy or walk when whining and barking is occurring. You may have to put the leash and collar on and then just stand there until the dog is quiet and sitting before heading out the door. If you remain consistent with this type of training it won't be long until your puppy understand exactly how they must behave to achieve their goal.
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