Barking during play: what to do?

If you’ve read our blog post about play, you already know that barking is a perfectly natural thing for dogs to do when they’re having fun with each other. That being said, the noise can still become a problem for the people around your playing pup, not to mention the neighborhood.

Is it really play-barking?

If you have any doubt about why your dog is yapping, you should first make sure that the motivation behind this behavior is, in fact, a desire to play.

While the symptom is the same, the solution will vary based on the motivation behind your dog’s barking.

Read: why is my dog barking?

How to progressively reduce barking during play

Have a realistic goal

If your dog is of a very vocal breed, such as a Husky or a Beagle, you have to understand that genetics are fighting against you. You’ll want to be careful not to get frustrated if you only obtain a small reduction in noise instead of a complete disappearance.

Your best bet in those cases will be management: avoid letting your dog play at moments or in locations where the noise can be too problematic. You can compensate this reduction is social activity by increasing mental stimulation.

Two important points, whichever method you pick:

1 – Consistency is not optional. You unfortunately cannot work on this “every now and then” and expect results. You’ll have to be attentive at all times, at least until the issue is under control. This requires a lot of energy on your part.

2 – Getting angry at the dog doesn’t help. Your dog is having fun while barking. Getting upset won’t change that motivation. Worst, if you scold or punish your dog when it barks, it might start to link that unpleasant experience to dogs. This leads to a much, much worse problem: fear of the other dogs.

Solution 1: Losing access to play

The best way to change this habit is for your dog to learn that barking during play makes it lose its friends.

To do this effectively, you’ll need a controlled environment, with the dog of a friend, and a lot of patience.

The idea is simple: let your dog into the room to play, praise and reward abundantly with food when your dog plays silently, and gently remove your dog from the room when it starts to bark.

  • Play-barking means it loses access to its friend for about a minute.
  • Doing literally anything else means staying with the friend and being paid.

Don’t forget: dogs are terrible at generalizing. When your dog’s barking is under control in the controlled environment, you’ll have to go train elsewhere. Don’t be surprised or get upset that the barking starts again, you have to train in multiple situations for it to be consistent!

It goes without saying, but this solution is very hard, damn near impossible actually, to do in a large space where your dog can just avoid being removed by staying away from you. You can mitigate this issue by having your dog on a long leash that you can grab to reel it back in, but the risk of injury to others is too high to try this in a dog park.

Solution 2: Recall

The next best thing is to have a solid recall to control your dog’s behavior. By repeatedly (many repetitions) recalling your dog at the right moment, you’ll be able to control the barking behavior while it plays.

As soon as your dog starts barking, call it. Better yet, recall your dog before the first noise even comes out. Once your dog has arrived, reward with food and send it back to play.

As it goes back towards its friend, it’s pretty likely your dog will once again want to bark. Recall it once again, even if it’s only been a few seconds. Zero tolerance!

Over time, your dog will start to better control itself and will even start to come back towards you before you have to ask.

My dog won’t answer to its recall while it plays, what do I do?

Having a recall that works every time while the dog is in a full-blown play session requires a lot of training for most dogs. For some, especially those who love playing and don’t care for food all that much, you’ll need the help of a professional to get there.

Here is some advice and a progression to increase the consistency of your recall:

Always pay: when you call your dog with a specific command (not just its name), pay every time. You want a motivated dog? Give it motivation! Recall is a demanding behavior. What would your interest for work be if you were only paid one out of five days, with no salary adjustment?

Pay well: your recall is going to be much more powerful it the reward behind it is of very high value or if it’s a toy your dog adores, that it doesn’t get otherwise.

Practice a lot: a good recall comes after a lot of training. Don’t try to rush through the steps below. Move on to the next point once your dog is excellent where you currently are, no less.

Recall at home
  • Start by calling your dog inside your own home until it is perfect.
  • Do this step even if your dog is already pretty good indoors. Your goal here is to teach your dog the new parameters (paid well and every time) in an extremely easy environment.
Recall in an empty parking lot
  • When your dog is great indoors, take it outside!
  • We’ll start with a very boring outdoors space: an empty parking lot. No smells, no distractions, no dogs, nothing! Just you, your rewards, and your dog.
Recall in an empty park
  • We then move on to a slightly more distracting environment. There are smells and maybe some movement in the distance.
  • Avoid the park where your dog normally plays, it’ll likely be too hard at this point.
Recall “close” to the dog park
  • Go to the park your dog normally plays at, but at a distance.
  • Your dog can barely see its friends over the horizon. Practice here!
  • Once your recall is good, get a bit closer and start over.
Recall inside the empty dog park
  • Working inside the area, but without the big distraction will help tremendously once your dog is actually playing.
Recall during play
  • Call your dog while it plays!
  • Call your dog strategically to work on the play-barking behavior!

This advice is only a fraction of what we can do to perfect a dog’s recall. If you’re still having trouble, don’t hesitate to contact us!

written by Stephen Fiset, dog trainer

Mis à jour le January 1, 2024