How to Stop Your Sheltie Barking
Does your Sheltie bark a lot? Is she triggered every time she hears the doorbell or sees the neighbor's cat outside? Here are three ways to understand and stop this exhausting behavior.
Sometimes Shelties bark simply because they're happy and excited. We're pretty relaxed about barking during playtime indoors, or on walks on the beach, because this is a natural expression of joy.
However, barking to alert you to perceived danger (when really it's just a leaf blowing past the window) is not to be left unchecked. Not only is it exasperating for you, but your Sheltie becomes locked in a pattern of anxiety when she detects a threat and no-one's doing anything about it. Let me explain.
Stop Your Sheltie Barking by Giving Her Jobs
Shelties only bark for good reason—good in their minds, at least. The excessive barking comes from their breed ancestry. Shetland Sheepdogs were bred for many generations to guard and herd flocks of sheep, so your pet today is genetically primed to be an alarm dog. Her hyper-vigilance makes her compelled to alert you to any changes in the environment which could signify trouble.
But there are no predators in your house. No flock to keep in line. And without a job to do, Shelties take it upon themselves to herd any fast moving objects, and bark at sights and sounds which really aren't a threat. They can be triggered by events inside or outside the house, including children playing in the street, visitors at the front door, and other pets passing by the yard.
Your Sheltie isn't barking to annoy you. She really does consider this her job. So give her a different job to do.
Stop Your Sheltie Barking by Reducing Anxiety
If you eliminate her boredom and she's still barking, she may be highly anxious. Monitor your Sheltie closely to identify her triggers and work on desensitizing her to them. For instance, let's say she's afraid of the sound of the vacuum cleaner. She barks at it like it's a predator or some kind of threat. You need to give her some positive experiences around the vacuum until her anxiety gives way.
Switch the vacuum cleaner on to its quietest setting and sit down with your Sheltie at whatever distance she decides is safe. She's probably barking like hell at this point. Talk to her in a calm, soothing voice ("no bark, it's okay") and model the fact that you're not afraid, so she needn't be either. Don't pat her or baby her, as this comes across as reassurance that barking is the correct response. Hold her firmly if you want to provide her with a sense of security and stop her running around. Otherwise keep your hands down so you're not tempted to pat her.
The moment she stops barking, even if only for a second, praise her and give her a liver treat. She'll remain quiet long enough to eat it, while you offer solid praise and get the next treat ready. Keep giving treats while she's not barking. It will seem like overkill at first, but every second she's not barking in the presence of the vacuum, you're winning.
Expect her to resume barking at some point. This is a habit that's been ingrained for a long time, perhaps even years, so the reversal will take many repetitions. But each time she stops, it will get easier.
Stop Your Sheltie Barking with Obedience Training
Shelties have lots of energy when they're young, with peak barking behavior between 1-4 years. You will go crazy if you don't work on obedience training to curtail it.
The moment your Sheltie barks at your neighbor mowing his lawn, acknowledge the trigger, then correct her with your chosen no-bark command. "Okay. Okay. SHHH!" She wants you to know about the lawnmower and now you do. Now you're saying it's okay and she must be quiet. Don't yell at her, bang your hands, or run across the room; to your Sheltie it feels like there's good reason to frenzy because now you're hyped up too.
If she keeps barking, slowly stand or walk towards her and give the command again. "Okay. SHHH!" Be firm and authoritative. Make eye contact with your dog. You can also click your fingers or point at her to make it very clear that you're not happy about the barking. For some Shelties, this level of dominance is enough to make them feel safe: you're alerted to the trigger, and now you're in control of everything.
However, a bossier Sheltie will continue to raise the alarm. He still thinks he's running the show, and doesn't really trust that you've got this. You need to gently hold his muzzle so he can't physically bark, then you repeat the command. You're not yelling or trying to scare him. You're just taking charge so he can relax.
Once your dog accepts you're the boss, he'll stop barking and return to a calmer state. He'll release the tension in his body and likely avert your gaze. The moment this happens, praise your Sheltie lots and give him a liver treat for being such a good boy. Go through this routine every time he alarm barks for several days straight.
Shelties are adored for their sensitivity and gentle nature, so their sudden, shrill alarm bark can be pretty shocking when you're not used to it. When your Sheltie finds her voice (usually in the first year), make sure you keep it under control with consistent training up front. Once the "no bark" command is ingrained, you will find life with your Sheltie becomes a lot more enjoyable.