Is your reactive dog barking excessively? Try this trainer's simple exercise to help them feel calm

Dog barking on beach
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When your dog doesn’t seem to stop barking you’d be forgiven for feeling frustrated and annoyed. If you’re in public, it can feel embarrassing, and if you’re at home trying to take part in an online meeting, doing the housework, or even just relaxing, incessant barking can be incredibly distracting. 

If your dog is a reactive dog and not even the best dog toys can distract them, you may be feeling at a loss as to what to do. There are many possible reasons why your dog barks at everything, but regardless of the cause, you'll be relieved to know that there's so much you can do to help your pup overcome their reactivity. 

This advice from certified dog trainer San Choi of Ruff Roll Academy in particular could prove really valuable – it certainly gave us some ideas!

Choi’s advice is designed to allow us to help our pups feel calm when they hear or see things that might trigger them, whatever they might be.

First, Choi recommends teaching a looking behavior. “Yes, you can train your dog to look and not bark, but you have to do it systematically working up to bigger and bigger challenges to see success,” he says. “Start with giving your dog a mark, or ‘yes,’ when they hear or look at something.”

However, you should make sure you’re physically at a distance from the thing that might trigger barking – ideally, at a distance that’s far enough that they won’t yet be triggered to bark. As Choi explains, “The idea is to show them a trigger at a lower intensity that does not send them to the point of stress where barking and other behaviors may come up.”

This exercise involves desensitization, with which it’s always important to start further away before moving closer. Choi says that the technique he’s outlining here uses the concept of differential reinforcement training – this is when you reinforce the desired behavior while withholding reinforcement for any other behaviors. So, if your dog does something undesirable, you don’t use negative reinforcement or punish them, you just ignore it. 

Don’t be afraid to reach out to a qualified professional for help, either. As Choi says, “Understanding the full scope of dog behavior can be so nuanced it’s always helpful to call in a qualified pro.”

Here’s what one dog parent in a similar situation did to help address their dog’s reactivity – you might find this article useful: My reactive dog impacted my entire household, here's what I did about it.

Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering pets, lifestyle, health and culture, and he has six years' experience in journalism. He was senior editor at, and has written for The Independent, GoodToKnow and Healthline

He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' golden retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.