Alert Barking: Advice From a Certified Dog Trainer on Dog Alarm Barking and What To Do About It
Step 10 of 14 in the Dogly Barking Channel
with Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw, Training Advocate

Is your dog the self-appointed announcer of every happening he or she deems noteworthy in your world? Making sure you're informed with a dog bark whether it's about other dogs walking by your home, a squirrel perched at your window, or the arrival of a package?

That is what's called dog alarm barking or alert barking, and dogs are often quite intent on providing this service, acting as your "dog alarm" to keep you in the know and safe. Let's jump into alert barking a bit more - what's behind it and what you can do to prevent or stop barking from your "announcer" dog.

Sometimes dogs bark excessively from sheer excitement. If your dog's barking behavior is coming from excitement, think about what is reinforcing this behavior - often it's attention. What's happening when the barking occurs: person knocks on the front door, dog barks, door is opened, and person enters and pets dog. Will barking happen again next time? You bet! 


What to do about your dog's barking

You can work to replace this barking with an alternative behavior. Initially you’ll teach your dog this behavior using the reinforcer you usually use during training (high-value treats), but eventually you can fade the use of food and let the greeting (what was initially reinforcing the barking) reinforce the new, preferred behavior. 

Try this

  • To replace excessive barking with a new, different behavior, you first need to teach your dog the new behavior (for example going to a mat) separate from the trigger (person at door).
  • Then you can begin to add in the knock or bell sound as a new cue for that behavior.
  • With the help of a friend or family member, have someone knock, immediately give the cue for the alternative behavior, and reinforce.
  • Repeat this and slowly fade out the cue for the behavior until the knock or bell sound elicits the alternative. 

You’ll need to practice quite a bit before you can use it in "real life” as opposed to during a training set-up. If your dog slips up and goes back to barking, don't correct or punish the behavior, just make sure it’s not reinforced.

Wait until your pup is quiet and calm before letting your guest in, and especially before letting your guest give your dog attention or pets. Is your dog quiet and calm now? That's our goal - and that's what gets all the positive reinforcement (treats and guests' attention)!

What you never want to do if your dog barks

It should go without saying but worth underscoring: you never want to use an anti-bark collar (shock collar, ultrasonic bark collars, etc.) to get your dog to stop barking. Anti-bark collars are painful for your dog, are counterproductive and derail training, and damage the bond between you and your dog.


What if your dog is barking out of fear & not just to alert you?

Sometimes fear or concern causes a dog to bark in this scenario - not just an impulse to alert you. With that emotion behind the dog barking, you’ll want to work on counter-conditioning, which means replacing the current emotional response (fear) with a positive one by conditioning your dog through positive reinforcement.

Again, using a helper to create a scenario that you have control over (vs. waiting for the opportunity to occur naturally, when you may not be prepared) pair the sound of the knock or bell with delicious food.

For some dogs, you may need to start with more subtle sounds - like the sound of footsteps outside - before moving to an actual knock. You can also use a recording of a knock or doorbell with the volume turned down initially.


Counter-conditioning for a different, positive response (vs fear)

When you’re working on counter-conditioning, you’re looking for a conditioned emotional response. Usually this means that the once scary stimulus (knock on the door) elicits a response of “hey, where’s my food?” (which often looks like the dog making eye contact with their human) instead of the fear response.

Once your dog stops barking because a more rewarding, satisfying response has taken its place, you'll want to practice it consistently and reward generously to make it a long-term habit.

This can take quite a bit of time for dogs barking reactively out of fear! In order to make it most effective, it’s best to reduce the occurrences of your dog experiencing the trigger in an uncontrolled way.

Try this

  • To reduce surprise triggers while in training, one idea is to write a note on your door for people to please not knock, but rather to text you when they arrive.
  • If you have successfully counter-conditioned, you can then also teach an alternative if you’d like!

We dive more deeply into fear-based barking, focusing on the emotions behind it and more ways to support your dog to manage it, in this dedicated guide here in the Barking Channel. You'll also find more on fear-based barking in our Reactivity Channel (everything from dogs passing you on walks to scary sounds like thunder/fireworks).

Recommended Products

Next up in the Barking Channel on Dogly

Now that you understand what dog alarm barking is and how to address it, let's move on to the next topic in the Barking Channel: demand barking! We’ll talk about why it might happen and practical tips for how to address it in the next guide here.

If you have any questions on alert barking or any barking behaviors, just ask the Advocates in the Community Discussion in the Barking Channel here on Dogly.

Or if you ever need more personalized dog training guidance, please reach out!

Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw

Training Advocate
Dogly loves Tressa because she sees training as a journey to better canine communication.

Tressa guides you

Anxiety - Kids & Dogs - Manners - Bite Prevention - Reactivity - Walking

Tressa is certified

Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner - & Family Paws Parent Educator