Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
A dog who barks when you sit on the couch can be a rather annoying behavior, and if you live in a tight-knit neighborhood, it can get you in trouble too, especially if the barking is pretty persistent.
When confronted with this form of barking, many dog owners may assume it happens just because the dog is on a quest to irritate them or just because the dog is behaving badly.
This often causes dog owners to respond to the barking in an irritated, frustrated, and sometimes even angry manner.
This approach often contributes to having the opposite effect, with the dog engaging in more barking, or if the dog happens to quiet down, the onset of negative side effects (like stress, anxiety, fear of the owner, destructive behavior along with the onset of other secondary problems, which can be worse than the barking itself!)
Barking Is a Form of Communication
Barking in dogs is a form of communication, and by barking when you sit on the couch your dog is likely trying to tell you something.
What is he trying to say? This can vary between one dog and another and can vary based on context. There are many different types of barking in dogs.
Before tackling how to stop a dog from barking when you sit on the couch, it can be therefore helpful trying to understand what your dog is trying to communicate.
Knowledge gives you better understanding and more power on tackling the behavior and with more understanding, you are likely to approach the problem with more self-control and patience.
Some dog owners and trainers call this "demand barking," but I feel this term is unjust because dogs don't demand things; they make requests by barking in hopes that we can understand them.
All animals have needs. Even a goldfish in a tiny bowl needs to be fed and his water changed routinely. Dogs have a variety of needs and it's important to meet them.
Your dog's barking when you sit on the couch can be because he is trying to tell you that he is hungry or his water bowl is empty or maybe he needs to be taken outside to potty.
It could also be that your dog is bored and understimulated which brings us to the next type of barking.
On top of the need for being given water, food and potty breaks, dogs have a strong need for exercise and mental stimulation. Dogs also thrive from interaction and engagement with their owners.
If you have been away from home for most of the day and your dog was left alone, your dog's biggest perk of the day is your return. Your dog has likely been waiting with great anticipation for your return all day, attentively listening to any sound in hopes it's you.
If when you come home, you feed your dog and then just plop yourself on the couch, your dog may bark in protest.
Your dog has lots of energy and he has been anticipating your return all day. Seeing you sit on the couch and stare at a talking box (the TV) can make him feel like he's not acknowledged.
His muscles are full of energy and his mind is eager to do something. Suppressing this form of barking will only bottle up his emotions and energy at a deeper level which may lead to destructive behaviors (like chewing, digging) and even the onset of stress and anxiety.
Is your dog barking at you with a high-pitched bark as he looks at you and lowers his body in a play bow with this tail moving excitedly side-to-side? If so, your dog may be inviting you to play.
Dogs, especially the younger ones, have a naturally strong desire to play. With no other dogs to play with, they will seek us out as their playmates, inviting us to join them in play.
Yes, barking is one of the behaviors that is most often inadvertently reinforced by dog owners. It can start with just the dog randomly barking for some reason and soon learn that every time he barks he is given some form of attention (even negative attention qualifies as attention!) from the owners.
Dogs who bark this way are often described as barking while looking at the owner and then waiting for a reaction. When nothing happens, the dog will bark again in hopes of getting some form of engagement/interaction from the owner.
How to Stop a Dog From Barking When You Sit on the Couch
As seen, dogs bark when you sit on the couch for a variety of reasons. Identifying the underlying reason can help you tackle it correctly, going to the root of the problem. Following are several tips to help you decrease this type of barking.
The Problem With Barking For Attention
The biggest hurdle dog owners face with dogs barking for attention is that any type of attention (even attention of the negative type) constitutes a reward.
This means that you can't shush your dog, laugh at your dog, look at your dog, smack the dog (never recommended) or even ask your dog to do something else because all of these things ultimately qualify as a form of attention!
So what's left to do? Ignoring seems to be the only option. Ignoring means just that, not paying any attention to the dog as he barks while you're sitting on the couch, and even walking away and leaving the room if need be.
Things to Expect When Ignoring the Barking
When ignoring a dog who has barked and received attention for it in the past, this situation paves the path for what's known as an extinction burst.
An extinction burst causes the barking to intensify (louder or for longer) or the dog may try new behaviors (like pawing or even nipping).
If the owner is very adamant in ignoring these signs (leaving the room may help with this) the barking may eventually decrease and then stop (more bouts of extinction bursts are expected in dogs with a strongly established history).
For sake of an example, it's sort of like kids that when they don't get candy at the store and they start whining. And when they see that whining doesn't work, they'll escalate to crying and screaming and putting up a tantrum (extinction burst).
If we stick to our plan and don't give them candy despite all the drama, they'll learn to stop pushing it and the behavior will eventually extinguish, but if we give in though and buy it, -even just that one time-, they'll always try to ask for candy because by buying the candy we have reinforced persistence.
Now enduring an extinction burst is not easy. If we end up giving the dog any attention during this time (because neighbors may complain or we just can't take it anymore), we would yes, reinforce persistence allowing the behavior to become even stronger than before.
However, if we have no close neighbors or live out in the boonies and are able to endure the cacophony of sounds, chances are the dog may eventually give up, however, we need to consider though that the dog may still have unfulfilled needs despite what I may think.
So does ignoring solve a dog's barking? It can in some cases, but consider that barking is a self-reinforcing behavior. This means that, when your dog barks, he's also venting his feelings so it still feels good to bark to some extent.
Ignoring a dog that barks, can, therefore, help a specific situation but only short-term.
Your ultimate goal is to get to the bottom of the barking behavior, and pre-empting it as much as possible since barking is an outward sign of an internal emotional turmoil that needs to be addressed.
Watch for the Onset of Behavior Chains!
A commonly recommended approach that you may find in a variety of websites or dog training books is to reward the dog for moments of silence.
While this approach seems to make sense, considering that behaviors that are rewarded tend to repeat and strengthen, this approach ignores the phenomenon of behavior chains.
Behavior chains take place where an undesirable behavior becomes part of a chain. For example, your dog may learn to bark and then stop barking to get a reward.
Once a chain insidiously establishes, it can be difficult to overcome, so it's best to prevent it from happening.
Make Sure Your Dog's Physiological Needs Are Met
Before sitting on the couch for the evening, make sure that your dog has been fed, that he has access to a clean bowl with fresh water. Also, make sure to take him out to pee and poop so that when he comes back inside he's empty.
With your dog's basic needs to eat, drink, pee and poop met, you know that you have all of that covered.
Make Sure Your Dog's Exercise Needs are Met
Most dog breeds were crafted for specific tasks, and this required often a good level of energy and stamina.
Retrievers were collecting downed birds, spaniels were flushing birds out of bushes, scent hounds were sniffing trails, sighthounds were chasing hares, small terriers were hunting vermin, huskies were pulling sleds, etc.
Nowadays, most dogs are unemployed, so they are very prone to getting bored and frustrated. So before sitting on the couch, it may help to do yourself and your dog a big favor: go on a nice walk, relax and enjoy the present, and every now and then, don't forget to let your dog sniff around as a reward for walking nicely.
Just loosen the leash and tell your dog "go sniff." Sniffing can be a tiring activity too as it requires concentration.
Make Sure Your Dog's Needs for Mental Stimulation Are Met
After taking your dog on a nice walk, before sitting on the couch, make sure to provide your dog with some activity.
The activity doesn't have to necessarily include you (although it would be great if you could play with your dog for a few minutes each day).
You can encourage independent play by providing some entertaining food puzzles and brain games for him to enjoy using a portion or your dog's entire meal this way.
Nowadays, there are many food puzzles on the market. Snuffle mats, Licki-mats, Kongs, Kong Wobblers, Nina Ottoson puzzles are just a few of the many. I use these very frequently because they help keep the dog's mind busy and out of trouble.
Brain games such as fun treasure hunts encourage dogs to use their seeking system which promotes focus, confidence and self-control.
Make Sure Your Dog's Needs for Chewing Are Met
After being walked and provided with a cooling-down activity, there's nothing better than chewing on something to end the day. According to dog trainer Victoria Stillwell's website, "Chewing is a potent stress reliever and releases pleasurable endorphins into the body."
Providing your dog with a safe, edible long-lasting chew (ask your vet for recommendations) can help your dog feel happy after he has walked, "hunted for his kibble" and now that he has "killed his prey" he can enjoy "chewing on it."
Chewing helps dogs release some stress and frustration, and at the same time, it provides dogs with something to do in alternative to barking.
Make it a habit of providing the chew on your dog's doggy bed placed nearby the couch. Your dog will learn to lie on his mat for it and will look forward to his new routine.
Make Sure Your Dog Has a Nice Place to Nap
By now, your energetic dog should feel quite satisfied with his day. He was walked, given opportunities to sniff, he was played with and given fun food puzzles, and now he has a nice long-lasting chew to enjoy.
By the time he is done with his chew, he should be relaxed enough to feel like it's time for him to take a nap. You can provide the perfect setting for a nap by dimming the lights a bit and refraining from talking in too exciting tones.
Another thing to consider is that, if your dog has been walked, exercised, played with and given enough mental stimulation, it may be your dog is tired and getting cranky. Here are tips for puppies and dogs who get cranky when tired.
Don't Forget About Capturing Calmness!
In other words, when you catch your dog acting calm and not barking, reward that. Of course, be careful to avoid a behavior chain, so you need to wait for enough time to elapse from his last bark.
For example, if your dog barks as a way of begging to be petted, make sure to pet him when he is in a calm state of mind. Call him to you when he is not barking, ask him to sit and pet him telling him what a good boy he is. When you are done, say ''all done!" and get up to do something else.
Also, train him to sit before you toss him the ball rather than him barking for you to toss it. Train him to sit before being taken out, train to sit before he is fed his meals, train him to sit when you put the leash on. More about this is covered here: Games to train your dog better impulse control.
If you are about to do something your dog wants but he manages to bark, provide a consequence that makes him less likely to have what he wants.
For example, if you are preparing his meal and he barks as you pour food in his bowl, put the bowl away and return once he's been quiet for some time.
The goal is therefore to teach your dog that calm, composed behaviors unleash all the rewards when barking does not. It's sort of like teaching children that they can get what they want contingent upon "asking nicely" rather than throwing a tantrum.
Will My Dog's Barking When I Sit on the Couch Stop for Good?
I am not a big fan of the word "stopping." Dogs have a voice, and you can't just stick a mute button on them for the rest of their lives.
In a similar way, we aim to reduce a baby's crying in the night by changing diapers before they cause irritations, but we don't expect a baby to stop crying once and for all.
Also, we need to factor in other phenomena. For instance, while teaching a dog new routines and desirable habits, it takes time for the barking to reduce. You may encounter here and there, a phenomenon known as "spontaneous recovery."
In other words, along the path, the barking behavior when you're sitting on the couch will eventually come back. It's as if the dog remembers the behavior out of the blue and thinks about trying it again. If you stick to your new habits, this too shall pass.
As new routines are established though, you should see a gradual yet steady reduction of your dog's barking behavior while you're sitting on the couch.
- Yin, S (2002). "A New Perspective on Barking in Dogs (Canis familiaris)". Journal of Comparative Psychology. 2. 116: 189–193.
- Schassburger, R.M. (1987). "Wolf vocalization: An integrated model of structure, motivation, and ontogeny". In H. Frank. Man and Wolf. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Dr. W. Junk.
- Feddersen-Petersen, Dorit Urd (2008). Ausdrucksverhalten beim Hund (in German). Stuttgart: Franckh-Kosmos Verlags-GmbH & Co. KG
- Barking: The Sound of a Language by Turid Rugaas
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 25, 2021:
alexadry Your hubs about dogs are informative, interesting, and well-researched. You have enlightened me on many issues about dogs. I admire your great interest about dogs and their unusual behaviors.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 22, 2021:
This is another well-written article about dogs and how to correct various problems, Adrienne. I always learn from your articles.
BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on July 21, 2021:
I'd say it's wanting attention, especially if the doggie has been home alone all day.
Your article is well written and playtime is a must.
I think animals and peolpe are alot alike...we crave that attention..we get used to a certain pattern.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 18, 2021:
You share some great advice about dog behavior, Adrienne. Your articles are always interesting and informative to read, even when my dog doesn't have the problem that you describe. A dog in my future might have the problem, so I appreciate the information.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 17, 2021:
That is a problem that we never had. Our very first dog was a large Irish Setter. He could sit on the couch with his rear end with all four feet on the ground. I am sure he thought he was a person. Ha!
Sp Greaney from Ireland on July 16, 2021:
I've never put much though into why dogs bark but it's great to understand that sometimes there can be a reason behind it and that it can be fixed. I think dpgs deserve some playtime and walkies each day. Being an unemployed dog is probably very boring work.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 16, 2021:
This is a very informative article, Adrienne. I don't have a dog right now, but I have had a few over my life and barking can be a problem. I like the idea of rewarding good behavior.