Just got off the phone with a new client. She lives in a senior community and her 9 lb. barking dog is creating problems for her neighbors. She's always had little dogs, but she's never had one that barked as much as this one. She feels that the barking has gotten worse over time and at this point she's frustrated that nothing seems to be working to get the dog to settle down when people walk by their unit, knock on the door, etc. Turns out this dog also barks at the TV, when the phone rings, and sometimes in the middle of the night, waking up his human. That's an awful lot of barking and several different triggers as well. Here's what I told the client:
Dogs bark, that's a given. Some bark all the time, others rarely. Some bark only when someone is on their home turf, ringing the doorbell, knocking on the door, delivering mail, etc. For some dogs, it is other animals that set them off; the squirrel on the fence, the birds in the tree, the dog on the other side of the fence or the dreaded cat next door. I've met dogs who bark at the television and those that bark at the beeping microwave! The one thing to keep in mind with respect to barking is this....it can be controlled. Just as you can teach a dog to bark on command, you can also teach them to quiet.
If your dog is barking in your yard or on your porch, it is also important to interrupt your dog's barking with something other than the word "Come!" You don't want that command associated with anything negative, so calling them to come inside when they are barking in the yard will, by definition, make coming when called a negative for the dog. Instead, whistle, clap your hands, stomp your feet, or squeak a toy. When you have your dog's attention, use their name and ask for the quiet or redirect them to a toy, bone, etc. so that they have something else to do. Interrupting barking when it first occurs means it will be easier to redirect your dog to something else. The longer you let the barking persist before you interrupt it, the harder it is to get the dog to stop. And remember that dogs who tend to bark incessantly/indiscriminately should not be left outdoors unattended as you won't be able to assign consequences to the behavior if you aren't home to do so.
So, while I agreed with my client that it is a real pain to get up at 3 a.m. to find out why her dog is barking, it is in her best interest to do so. It could be an opossum on her porch, but it could also be something more important like someone rattling the door knob or a fire in a nearby unit (that actually occurred which I think contributed to this dog's hyper-vigilant barking at night, in particular). In the case of the fire, her barking dog was just doing his job.