Why Does My Shih Tzu Bark?
Recently, we were asked this question:
“I have a Shih Tzu that is about 4 years old.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out why he barks at nothing.
He would be sitting outside and just start barking.
He will bark at nothing.
And then something will startle him because he will yelp like he is hurt.
My oh my, how to stop my shih tzu from barking.
Does anyone have any answers for me?”
Someone else asked the same question, describing a similar situation:
“My Shih Tzu always barks when I’m not at home.
I can’t get him to stop!
He does this every day and I wonder if there is something I am doing wrong.
Or if it has to do with the environment I leave him in.
I don’t understand where the barking is coming from.
I thought my dog was the happiest Shih Tzu around.
But lately I can’t understand why he barks at night, or while I am not there.
How to get my shih tzu to stop barking.
Does anyone know?”
We have some information that may explain why Shih Tzu bark.
And probably more interesting, how to stop your Shih Tzu from barking.
What Is Your Precious Shih Tzu Telling You?
All dog breeds bark, but it’s up to you to listen to your dog’s barks to understand why he is barking.
You are trying to understand the sound your dog makes, in combination with his body language.
Shih Tzu dogs are known for their sweet and gentle demeanor.
However, these dogs aren’t known to bark a lot.
They usually only do so when they’re trying to communicate something to you.
Some are as vocal as they are smart.
A Shih Tzu is a very small breed.
A Shih Tzu that barks excessively can be a problem that even the best dog pet owners can run into.
The great news is that barking is not something that Shih Tzus need to do in order to be happy.
There are barks that are meant to tell you that something is wrong or that there is an emergency.
Other barks are just a way for your dog to tell you something or that he wants something.
Common reasons or situations for barking are:
- He is trying to tell you that there is an intruder in your home or a stranger that is suspicious
- Your Shih Tzu may bark in order to protect you or its territory
- He could be trying to say hello to another dog
- Is your Shih Tzu barking at every little thing or out of sheer boredom?
- Does your dog bark because he is anxious or even afraid?
- He could be trying to tell you that he is in pain or uncomfortable
- He could be trying to say that he is hungry or thirsty
- Or is your Shih Tzu just barking because he wants to get your attention?
Generally speaking, barking is a sign of stress, frustration, anxiety, or over excitement.
None of these emotions are fantastic for your Shih Tzu.
Remember that a content and calm Shih Tzu does not bark!
Types Of Barks And What Do They Mean
There is the Growl, which is a low-pitched continuous sound which is sometimes followed by a short, high-pitched sound which sounds like a Whine.
Then there is the Howl which is a long, continuous sound which is continuous in nature.
The Moan is a continuous, low-pitched sound which can be either continuous or intermittent in nature.
And of course the Bark, which is a non-continuous low-pitched sound.
The first step is to distinguish between whining and barking, as they are very different in their meanings.
Whining tends to be a higher-pitched sound which is continuous in nature.
It is a call for attention, it is a very good sign that your pet wants to play or wants to be petted, or wants to go out for a walk
Barking is a lower-pitch sound which is mostly intermittent in nature.
Each barking sound may have a different meaning:
- A high-pitched but brief duration whimper/growl could indicate that your dog is in pain, or uncomfortable, and would like love or help to make the pain go away.
- A longer, louder bark that has a deeper pitch. This is usually a warning bark, indicating that there is a stranger or animal in the area.
- A short, sharp bark, often repeated, is a sign that the dog is alert and aware of something interesting.
- A bark that sounds like it’s full of anguish and distress is a sign that the dog is being bullied.
- A rapid succession of very short barks is a sign of excitement and alertness.
Before calling upon a professional trainer, you might want to try several steps yourself.
Let’s take a look at the root of barking first.
After that, you can start working with your furry friend to try to stop it.
Shih Tzus Barking When You Are Not Home Is A Common Occurrence
Usually, people have no idea that they have a problem until the neighbor or even worse the dog control officer pays you a visit.
Understanding why your dog is barking is the key to stopping it.
That way you can actually address the root of your dog’s problem and not just treat the symptoms.
Now, this is important, you MUST remember you have to see it all through your Shih Tzus eyes!
The reason for this is that your dog is a pack animal.
It understands that there are leaders and followers.
And one of the pack leader’s jobs is to protect the pack.
So when on Monday morning everybody leaves the house to go to work and school and leaves the dog at home alone, he becomes stressed.
You would too if you lost your ‘pack’.
That is the reason why they are stressed and barking.
They are calling out to you to come back.
They just are trying to do their job.
If you are a parent with a young 3-year-old child, one of your main jobs is to keep that child safe.
So you keep an eye on him. All the time.
All over the house, you know where he is.
He is safe, you are calm.
Suppose he would suddenly walk out of the house and shut the front door behind him, locking you in, what would you do?
Chase after him? Of course.
But what if the door was locked and you could not open it? And all the other doors and windows are locked.
Then what would you do?
Shout for help?
Well, that is exactly what your cute dog is doing.
You certainly would not sit down calmly, and have a cup of coffee, knowing your young child was wandering around the streets alone.
Are you starting to see why your Shih Tzu is stressed and barking when you leave?
And what about all those other annoying behaviors?
Think of chewing, destroying things, and trying to dig under the fence. These mostly happen when you are not around.
They are all symptoms of a stressed dog that is desperately concerned about you not being home and safe.
Remember your dog cannot speak English to tell you any of this!
So what might be a solution?
Well, it is almost certainly not simply giving him a toy to chew on whilst you are away.
Imagine saying to the parent who is totally stressed that their young child is out on the streets:
“Don’t worry, here’s a box of chocolates”.
You may love chocolates, but it is not going to work in this situation.
Toys jammed full of food and other distractions do not treat the root of the problem.
They are only treating the symptoms and so may work, if you are lucky, for half an hour or so – max – but not long term.
Most of you will know that this does not work because you will have already tried it.
One basic solution is quite simple.
You need to become the calm, assertive ‘pack leader’ in your Shih Tzu’s eyes.
Once you do this correctly your dog will not see it as their job to protect you.
You will be able to come and go as you please, and they will be totally calm.
No tricks here, just an honest understanding.
Now, becoming the pack leader is not complicated.
Anyone can do it.
How To Become The Leader Of The Pack – The Alpha Dog
As the owner of your dog, you know that your Shih Tzu is part of the family.
And with that comes certain responsibilities.
You may have heard the term “Alpha Dog”.
It is used to describe the dog that is the leader of the pack.
It is the dog that other dogs in the pack look up to, and that takes the lead in all kinds of pack activities.
The Alpha dog is the boss and the one that needs to be obeyed.
We need to remember that dogs are social pack animals with a leader and followers.
Dogs are happiest when they have this structure.
It creates balance and harmony for them.
The followers want to be told what to do and know what the leaders expect of them.
All the humans are Pack Leaders, and the dog is subordinate.
Your Shih Tzu will know its pack position instinctively and is not going to change it.
We have to be aware of this pack hierarchy.
You can not turn a follower into a leader.
If you put a dog like that in charge, it will become anxious or fearful because it will not know what to do.
Dogs are creatures of habit and if there is no clear leader in the pack, they will just create one.
The problem is that if you do not establish yourself as the boss, he will take over the role.
And that’s not good for your dog or your family.
So, your precious little Shih Tzu expects YOU to act as the pack leader.
He needs you to show you are the boss.
Consequently, it is important for you to be and act as the leader, the ‘Alpha Dog’.
How can you become the Alpha dog?
You need to earn the respect of your dog.
Your Shih Tzu needs to understand that you are the leader, and that you need to be obeyed.
For that to happen you will need to be the one in charge.
You will need to be the one in control of everything, you will need to take the lead.
Here are some characteristics of the ‘Alpha Dog’:
- Alpha dogs need to have leadership skills
- Alpha dogs need to have great strength
- Alpha dogs need to be able to protect the pack
- Alpha dogs need to be part of the pack because the pack needs someone to follow
Are you the Alpha dog?
When you are confident that you have established yourself as “The Top Dog”, you will also need to make sure that you can provide him with a comfortable “time-out place”.
This will be his safe place if you need to go to work or out for the evening.
Create this quiet safe place in the house where he can retreat and relax.
This will definitely be a big advantage in helping him calm down when you are not around.
Once you have established yourself as the pack leader, you can focus your attention on training techniques to control his excessive barking.
Tips to Help Stop Your Shih Tzu from Barking
There may be other solutions just as effective.
Here are some tips that you can use that will help stop your dog’s barking.
• Use ‘SPEAK’ And ‘QUIET’ Commands
Many dog owners try to make their dogs “speak” by using speak commands.
Teaching the ‘speak’ command is merely teaching him to bark on command.
The trick is that once a dog understands what the word speak means (i.e., bark), they can then be taught also the quiet command.
Learning your dog to bark on command is a fun trick to show family and friends, and can also ward off intruders.
It can sharpen your dog’s natural instinct.
And it improves your communication with your furry friend.
You want to be able to achieve a very high-level mutual communication with your dog and you have got to teach things like this to him.
Teaching it also helps you get superb at your overall timing, which is a critical element when teaching a dog.
To begin with, it is important to have a training treat.
Something your dog really loves, like maybe a small piece of real chicken.
But you could also use his favorite toy if your dog is absolutely obsessed with that toy.
The key is that your Shih Tzu has to really love the thing that you’re teaching them with, not just like it.
Choose one simple word for the ‘speak’ command.
The word should also be easy to remember and used consistently, such as ‘speak’, ‘bark’, or ‘talk’.
You want to make sure it doesn’t sound too much like another cue word or your dog’s name.
The first thing you want to do is to let your dog know you have got something fantastic (which is the training treat, the piece of chicken, or the toy you chose earlier).
Simply keep it right there in front of him, but just out of his reach.
Your goal right now is just to wait him out and not give him the treat until he barks.
As your dog barks, say your cue word in a clear, upbeat voice.
Praise your dog and give him the training treat.
You want to let him know when he is on the right track, by rewarding each endeavor.
Note that it is very important that you do not reward him for ‘speak’ unless you specifically ask for it.
Be patient yet consistent.
Some dogs pick it up quickly, where others may need weeks to master this command.
Next, practice these commands in environments outside the home in varied situations like at the park or in the car.
Once your dog seems to understand the ‘speak’ cue, it is time to move onto the quiet command.
This is in principle similar to teaching him the ‘speak’ command.
Choose one simple word for the quiet command.
This cue word should be easy to remember and used consistently.
Good choices include “enough,” “quiet,” and “hush.”
When your dog barks wait for him to stop with it.
Then reward him with the training treat for the moment of silence/quiet and at the same time clearly say the quiet word.
Repeat this and gradually wait for slightly longer periods of silence each time before giving the treat.
Practice the ‘quiet’ cue frequently.
You can do this anytime your dog barks, but keep training sessions brief.
• Communicate you prefer the quieter version of him
Dogs have lots of stamina. They typically bark when they want something. Like our attention, or a treat.
It is important that you understand why your Shih Tzu is barking.
You want to make sure you give what it is he wants at that time (for instance a toy you hold) only after there has been a brief moment of silence.
That way you reward the silence, not the barking.
You communicate to him that you do not want him to bark.
The best time to correct unwanted barking is before it occurs.
Dogs are wonderful at foretelling when they are about to bark.
If you see that he is ‘thinking’ about barking, try to get his attention on you, and reward him for being quiet.
With most types of unwanted barking, you will need to be able to get his attention on you first, in order to get him quiet.
You want to make sure that you have got good eye contact with him.
When you have built some preliminary communication, the next step is to see if you can gradually get him to be quiet for a little longer.
Reward him after 5 seconds, after 10 seconds, etc.
Don’t be stingy on your rewards when it’s clear that your Shih Tzu is on the right track, have a bowl of training treats.
• Teach To Not Bark When Someone Knocks At The Door
You are now ready to move on and work on how to be quiet when someone knocks at the door.
This is going to be a lot more challenging.
If you wait for someone to come to your door, to then focus on training, your dog, is likely not going to be focused on you.
Your goal at this stage is to get success without overwhelming your Shih Tzu. Your game plan is to start with one knock and work.
Remember that you want your dog to be looking at you. Dogs do not respond well to an unfocused teacher.
So your approach needs to be controlled knocking. Have someone wait outside and knock a single time.
If he is able to be quiet, then really solidify that we liked that he was quiet. Reward him for that.
Start small and gradually increase the difficulty.
Set up various training scenarios.
Acknowledge the small victories and be prepared to be consistent for several weeks on this.
• Teach him how to be quiet while he relaxes in his dog bed
You need to encourage your dog to not be vocal while he is in his dog bed, or on his blanket.
It is important that your Shih Tzu learns to be calm and quiet when relaxing.
You can use the same technique as described earlier. Reward him when is able to be calm and quiet in his bed.
If you are teaching him this when he is still full of energy, it is best to have him get rid of that first. This will help him calm down in his bed.
Energy dogs are much more high maintenance who require a lot more, and they are not easily satisfied.
You could do some fetching with a ball or his favorite toy.
Fetch is the path of least resistance when it comes to satisfying a dog physically and mentally.
Better would be to exercise your dog, not just at that moment, but regularly and frequently.
If your Shih Tzu starts barking the moment you have to leave the house, try exercising your Shih Tzu before you leave him.
A tired dog is more likely to relax. A tired dog is a happy dog.
Providing regular and enough exercise for your dog is needed regardless of barking issues; it helps calm their mind and body.
The added benefit is that your Shih Tzu will stay in shape.
Exercise is just as good for you as it is for your Shih Tzu.
It has positive effects on the cardiovascular system, and the vital functioning of the lungs and kidneys. Muscles and joints will become strong and healthy.
Exercising will result in the hormone endorphin, which makes your Shih Tzu feel good.
The dog will be able to release excess energy and will return home more calm and less stressed.
Create a daily exercise schedule with regular walks, and plan at least one of the exercise moments just before leaving.
• Find the right space
Your Shih Tzu should have an area inside or around your house that is comfortable for him.
Try to find that comfort area, make an effort to reserve at least part of a room or corner that is specifically for your Shih Tzu to retreat or relax.
Try leaving your Shih Tzu in different areas – some dogs will relax more outside, others inside and some prefer smaller areas such as a washroom.
Make sure that area has a spot for water and food, and an area covered with newspapers where your dog can defecate.
Also have some of his favorite toys and a place to rest, like a cozy dog bed or a small blanket.
• Fed and watered
Always leave fresh water in a bowl and make sure that your Shih Tzu is warm and fed before you leave.
Leave some kibble, enough for your absence.
To know which one is the best for your Shih Tzu, go here for more in-depth information on Shih Tzu food.
• Leave toys around for your dog (best not bones)
Leave some toys around for your dog. Toys can be extremely helpful in a variety of ways.
The right ones can help your dog with
- strong chewing urges associated with teething
- keep a dog busy both when he’s home alone or when you don’t have time to offer attention at the moment
- help to resolve separation anxiety issues
- boost a dog’s activity level
A toy can help your Shih Tzu settle down, or it can help ease the loneliness that often develops when he is home alone.
The feelings of isolation can be overwhelming. Separation anxiety is a very real and very common issue.
Anxiety dogs are the most teachable dogs in the world. Unfortunately, they are also the dogs that people give up on the quickest and the most because they do have so much energy.
If you feel your dog has separation anxiety, you might want to read more detailed information here.
Toys to keep your Shih Tzu occupied should best stimulate real play in some way. Think of toy movement or sound.
When a toy wiggles or bounces in a funny way, it will give your dog a sense that play is a two-way street. And toys that call out in amusing voices or noises can keep him occupied for quite a while.
In some cases, chewing is a form of stress relief and for others, it’s a habit that helps pass the time.
Remember that if good chew toys are not provided by you, your Shih Tzu might look elsewhere in the house to find something like your shoes, socks, or any other of your personal items.
• Music and TV
Consider leaving music on for your Shih Tzu or the TV – these distractions can help relaxation and stop the barking.
You may also try music specifically tailored to dogs, like classical music clinically demonstrated to calm canine listeners.
These musical arrangements reduce anxiety behavior and induce calmness for many dogs, maybe also for your Shih Tzu.
This album on Amazon – Through A Dog’s Ear: Vol 1, Music To Calm Your Canine Companion – has music specially designed to calm dogs and is praised by many pet parents.
And this album – Calm Pet – Desensitizing Sounds for Animals, Volume 1 – also has good reviews.
• Herbal remedies
There are some herbal products for Shih Tzus which can help relax them. Note that they do not really treat the cause of the issue, they simply help relax them.
In some cases going to your vet to treat anxiety, their first solution might be to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication.
We recommend only using natural products unless your dog’s anxiety is so severe that your vet is worried about their well-being.
Here are some natural remedies to consider:
- Essential oils – Ingredients that help calm your dog are:
The calming benefits of lavender have the same effect on dogs as they do on humans! Lavender affects the central nervous system, giving it calming and grounding effects.
Chamomile has muscle-relaxing and anti-inflammatory properties, helping to relax the muscles and relieve situational anxiety. It is also helpful for dogs who are prone to an upset stomach during hyperactivity.
Egyptian geranium has been found to have a soothing impact on dogs, helping to reduce anxiety and mental stress.
The ThunderEssence Dog Calming Essential Oils might be worth trying.
It is specifically made for dogs, and veterinarian recommended. It is available on Amazon.
- CBD (cannabidiol) oils – these reduce anxiety by boosting serotonin. It comes from the hemp plant, but it contains no THC or psychoactive properties.
- Herbs like chamomile, valerian, and St. John’s Wort can act as mild sedatives that might help calm your dog. These herbs can be made into a tea and added to your dog’s diet, used as a tincture, or given in capsule form.
A good selection of dog calming products can be found here on Amazon
• Dog walkers
A break in the middle of the day can certainly help break up your dog’s day. You can either walk your furry friend yourself.
Alternatively, you could ask help from a family member, a neighbor, a friend.
You could also consider using professional dog walking services. They can cater to every quirk, charm, and special needs.
They have dog walkers with experience caring for:
- Older dogs
- Disabled dogs
- Dogs that require medication
- Dogs with separation anxiety
• Leave calmly
When you have to go outside the house, leave your dog calmly.
Try to say goodbye 5 – 10 minutes before leaving to help him stay relaxed as you go.
Your dog may see telltale cues that you’re leaving (like your putting on your coat or picking up your keys) and get so anxious about being left alone.
Try putting on your boots and coat, and then just watch TV for a little while instead of leaving.
Or pick up your keys, and then sit down at the kitchen table for a while.
This might reduce your Shih Tzu’s anxiety because these cues won’t always lead to your departure.
Your dog won’t get so anxious when he sees them.
Try to behave in a very calm and quiet manner when going out and coming in.
This will lower the contrast between times when you are there, and times when you’re gone.
Contrastly to the popular idea that getting another Shih Tzu is going to stop the problem is something I would stay well away from.
Remember, the source of your dog’s issue is not always boredom.
After all, many dogs who bark all day when the owners leave are the same dogs who lie around the house doing nothing most of the weekend when the owners are at home!
Some dogs simply are not getting enough mental and physical exercise.