Do Blue Heelers bark a lot?
Australian Cattle Dops are not known to be excessive barkers in general. Usually, if they do it is while being protective of the home. However, any dog can develop nuisance barking behavior due to anxiety, attention-seeking, boredom, overexcitement, or other possible causes. The good news is that if a Blue Heeler does become a nuisance barker it is often relatively easy to fix.
One of the main reasons an Australian Cattle Dog may become a nuisance barker is when they are left home alone. Blue Heelers are very human-orientated and love company. This makes them a little prone to developing separation anxiety. For a guide to leaving a Blue Heeler home alone see here.
If your Blue Heeler is barking excessively it is crucial to determine the cause of the behavior so the best solution can be used. Often they will develop other behavior issues for the same reason. To learn more about other Blue Heeler behavior issues and solutions see here.
Why does my Blue Heeler bark so much?
When a dog bark or vocalizes in some way such as whining or howling, they are communicating. They are trying to tell you something. They may be inviting you to play, warn of danger, or scare off intruders.
Barking to communicate can be classified into three types.
Communicating a Physical Need
This is their way of communicating for you to accommodate one of their needs. This can include when they are hot, cold, hungry, or thirsty. It may also mean that they are in pain or discomfort.
Communicating an Emotional Need
They may be telling you they are bored, overexcited, or feeling anxious. This can become attention-seeking behavior which can become a habit if not managed. Many dogs do tend to bark a lot when they are excited. For ways to calm a Blue Heeler see here.
Barking may be triggered by environmental cues such as other dogs barking, people passing by, sirens, thunder, or fireworks.
Not all barking is bad. If they are barking for the purpose of communicating it is usually specific to an occasion and is short-lived. It is not generally not excessive or nuisance barking.
Causes of dog nuisance barking
If your dog’s barking has become a nuisance behavior you will need to find the reason for the barking and what triggers the behavior. Knowing why your dog is barking is the first step in finding a solution to the behavior.
If your dog is an excessive barker, there are probably numerous triggers that get them started.
Potential triggers and reasons for barking can include –
If your dog is suddenly barking and vocalizing when they normally don’t something may be wrong. They may be trying to communicate that they are in pain or not feeling well. This type of barking has a different sound and a distressed tone.
Excessive pent-up energy
Blue Heelers are high energy and need the opportunity to release and burn excessive energy. They require moderate to intense energy-burning activity daily. For a guide to Blue Heeler exercise with suggestions see here.
Failure to provide for this need can result in behavior issues with barking being a common one.
Blue Heelers are smart and require plenty of mental stimulation and enrichment to tire and challenge their minds. Boredom and lack of stimulation are one of the main causes of a lot of Blue Heeler behavior issues. This certainly includes nuisance barking.
For suggestions on how to provide mental stimulation and enrichment for a Blue Heeler see here.
Attention seeking behavior
Blue Heelers can form a strong bond with their owners and want to be with them all the time. When they are with you they want your attention. This can also be tied to boredom and excessive pent-up energy.
Increasing the amount of exercise and mental stimulation they receive will help tire them so they are more settled and happy just to be relaxed when around you. Attention barking can also be a behavior that you have inadvertently rewarded. When they bark for attention you may have given them affection. They quickly learn that to get attention they should bark.
Territorial and protective barking
Blue Heelers are great guard dogs and will sound the alarm if someone is coming or they perceive a threat. For more on Blue Heelers as guard dogs see here. However, this can become a nuisance behavior if not managed.
This type of barking can become a self-rewarding behavior. if a person or dog is passing by they will bark. The person or dog will continue to pass right on by as they were going to be anyway. The dog then thinks that they warned the perceived threat off and have done a good job.
This can be a difficult problem to fix unless you are there to correct them and tell them it is ok. Often the easiest solution, at least in the short term, is to manage the situation by not putting them where they can see anyone passing. Either put them in the backyard or make it so they can’t see out the window.
Many dogs will bark and growl at any person or other animal that they see as a perceived threat. This is a fear-based behavior and can become a real problem if not managed. It can result in reactive behaviors such as lunging at people or even developing into genuine fear aggression.
Most dogs will bark when they get into a state of overexcitement. As they become even more frantic the barking escalates. Overexcited is a stressful state of mind for a dog. They don’t go from 0 to 100 instantly but can get there pretty quick.
The key is to catch the state of mind early and calm them. The higher the level of excitement the more difficult it becomes to settle them down.
If your Blue Heeler is overexcited all the time it can tend to become hyperactive. To learn how to calm a hyper Blue Heeler see here.
Anxiety from being left alone
A common barking issue is a home-alone dog. This is usually the result of some type of isolation or separation stress or anxiety. The nuisance barking is usually accompanied by other behavior issues related to separation anxiety such as destructive behavior, attempts to escape, and even toileting in the house. For a guide to leaving a Blue Heeler home alone see here.
What not to do to stop a dog barking
There are a couple of things you should not do when trying to fix a barking problem.
Don’t yell or get angry with your dog when they are nuisance barking. This will likely encourage them to bark more. To a dog, your yelling is like barking. They think you are barking so they will join in and bark some more.
Never use physical punishment to stop dog barking. This will actually create a worse problem. Many dogs can be quite sensitive dogs and harsh training techniques don’t work well with them. Punishment may make them fearful or anxious and may even lead to aggression.
Another technique that is often used is to hold their muzzle closed with your hand. We don’t really recommend this approach. If your dog struggles and resists while you do this you may hurt them or get yourself bitten.
How to stop a dog from barking
There are many suggested ways to either manage or fix a nuisance barking issue. The best approach will depend on the individual dog and the type and trigger of the barking problem. Every dog is different and what will work with one may not be the solution for another.
Once you have determined the reason and triggers for the barking behavior you will be able to create a plan and approach that will be the most likely to succeed. Your dog may have many triggers that set up the barking. They may bark when excited, bark at passing dogs and people, or bark because of anxiety. You may need to work on each trigger at a time.
Some possible approaches to take to fix or manage a nuisance barking issue with your dog include –
Teach the quiet command
This may seem a bit simple but can be highly effective. Teach your Blue Heeler to stop barking on command. Obviously, this requires that you are present when they are barking.
There are a couple of approaches to teaching the quiet command. The first way is to provide a distraction or alternative to barking. When they bark hold a treat or toy in front of them. When they are quiet reward them with a treat or toy and give lots of praise.
An alternate approach is to teach them to speak on command. This may seem counterintuitive to encourage unwanted behavior but it is very effective. Do something that you know is a trigger for them to bark such as ringing the doorbell. Give them the “speak” command when they bark.
Once your dog barks on command it is simple to teach them to be quiet on command. Hold a treat in front of them to sniff and give the “quiet” command. Gradually increase the time between the “quiet” command and giving them the treat. Over time you can phrase the treat out altogether.
Crate training is an excellent way to train a Blue Heeler puppy. It teaches them multiple things including potty training and avoiding destructive behavior. It also helps to teach a puppy or adult dog not to bark.
They will soon learn that they are not released from the crate when they are making a noise.
Increase exercise – both physical and mental
Excessive pent-up energy and boredom are common causes of nuisance barking. Try increasing both exercise and mental stimulation. Within a week you should see an improvement in not just barking behavior, but in general also.
For a guide to Blue Heeler exercise with suggestions see here.
For suggestions on how to provide mental stimulation and enrichment for a Blue Heeler see here.
A dog can learn to be calm using a technique known as a calm hold. This works very well for a dog that is barking due to over-excitement. Over-excitement can also result in a dog that is hyperactive. To learn more on how to calm a hyper Blue Heeler see here.
Place your hand on their shoulder or side holding them still. Don’t make eye contact and it is not even necessary to speak. If you wish you can say “relax” in a calm unemotional voice. You can hold them by the collar to keep them in place.
Once your Blue Heeler has settled and is calm you can remove your hand.
Distract or redirect the barking behavior
When your Blue Heeler barks, call them to you. Give them a treat or praise for coming on command. Alternatively, you can distract them with a toy.
Another trick that works really well is to have them lay down when they come to you. It is difficult for them to bark when laying down.
Remove them from the trigger
If your Blue Heeler barks at people or other dogs passing by, remove the opportunity for them to bark. If outside, put them in the backyard or bring them inside so they can’t see people passing. If inside, close the curtains or put them in another room or crate.
If your Blue Heeler is barking for the purposes of attention-seeking, simply ignore them. You can even turn your back and cross your arms or simply walk away. This is known in dog training circles as negative punishment.
In dog training, positive means to add something such as a treat, and negative means to take something away such as your attention. They soon learn that barking will not get them what they wanted and that is attention. You possibly inadvertently taught them to bark for attention by giving affection when they barked. They will soon stop the behavior if it no longer works for them.
Desensitize them to the stimulus
This is when you gradually get your dog accustomed to whatever is causing them to bark. Start with the trigger or stimulus at a distance. Gradually move the stimulus a little closer and reward them with a treat for being ok with being closer. You want your dog to learn that the stimulus is not a reason to bark and results in a good experience or treat.
A good example of this would be a dog that barks at the vacuum cleaner. Over time they will not be bothered by the appearance of the vacuum with the desensitization training.
Many people will resort to using an electronic shock collar to stop a dog from barking. We don’t recommend this approach. These collars can actually result in making your dog fearful and in some cases even become aggressive.
An alternative is to use a Citronella spray collar. These are a much more humane way of interrupting the barking. When a dog barks they spray harmless citronella from the collar. To a dog, citronella is an unpleasant smell and deterrent.
These collars are highly effective and I have found work with the majority, but not all, of dogs.
View Citronella Spray Collar on Amazon.
Professional dog trainer/behaviorist
If all else has failed and your dog is still nuisance barking it is best to consult with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. They will be able to access the situation and recommend the best course of action.
Summary – Stop Blue Heeler nuisance barking
If your Australian Cattle Dog has become a nuisance barker the first step is to establish the reason and circumstances that cause them to bark.
Once this is established you can let find the appropriate course of action to either manage or fix the nuisance barking issue. It is also crucial to ensure your Blue Heeler is receiving sufficient exercise and mental enrichment. A physically and mentally satisfied dog is less likely to bark unnecessarily.