Wheaten terriers like to bark, but in general, their barking should not get out of hand to become a major nuisance if it's kept under control. They aren't typically considered overly yappy dogs as some of the smaller terriers, but of course, this is just a generalization.
Left to their own devices, terriers in general can be very vocal dogs. This is due to the fact that many of the working terriers were selectively bred for being vocal.
To better understand a wheaten terrier's barking, it's therefore important to take a look at this breed's history and what stimuli or situations appear to evoke the barking behaviors.
A Look Back in History
Wheaten terriers originate from Ireland where they were mostly used as versatile farm dogs. This breed's common description “an iron fist in a velvet glove” derives from this breed's muscular body encased in a soft and silky coat.
As several other small terriers, wheaten terriers were helpful in ridding the homes and farms of rodents and other small critters. On top of hunting and killing vermin, wheatens also made good herders, watch dogs and guardians of livestock.
Most of these tasks required some form of barking. Therefore, it comes quite natural for these dogs to have an inclination to bark. Below are some circumstances in which wheaten terriers may be likely to bark.
Barking at Critters
The traditional term used by terrier-men for barking is "giving voice." In the past, this distinctive trait of barking when aroused turned useful when terriers were sent out for hunting. Indeed, the barking was selectively strengthened over several generations due to its usefulness.
It could have happened that the terrier was trapped somewhere or was difficult to locate. In such cases, barking served as a locator beacon and the louder the barking, the better, explains Dawn Antoniak-Mitchell in the wonderful book: "Terrier-centric Dog Training."
Whether barking from arousal or barking from frustration, such as when the dog is prevented from hunting (like being behind a fence or locked in the home), it comes as no surprise that barking is a rather normal affair when living with a terrier.
How to reduce it: Animal proof your yard as much as possible with the right type of fencing. hire an exterminator using pet-friendly methods to get your home or yard free of unwanted critters. If you fail to do that, your tenacious terrier won't give up barking from arousal or barking to be let out to hunt.
Terriers struggle giving up when they sense critters and they have very sensitive hearing that helps them detect the faintest sounds. Playing some white noise at night (fan, white noise machine) may help somewhat buffer noises.
Barking When Playing
Even when terriers play, they can generate quite a cacophony of sounds. So much so, that many terrier owners notice a difference between the level of noise spawning from play among terriers and play from other types of dogs.
Terriers have a reputation for being more vocal than other dogs when they play. They'll growl, yodel and yip.
"Just listening to two terriers playing can be quite scary to people who aren’t familiar with “terrier talk," further observes Dawn Antoniak-Mitchell.
How to reduce it: take your dogs to play in areas away from neighbors or offer alternate quieter activities such as walking, hiking, canine nosework or some fun canine sports.
Barking at Intruders
With a history as watchdogs and livestock guardians, it comes as no surprise for wheaten terriers to use their booming barks to announce the approach of intruders towards their properties.
However, don't expect wheatens to send the intruders away once they have entered your property. If your wheaten terrier has been well socialized, he'll be more likely to welcome any strangers, happily bouncing around and face licking as if greeting long-lost friends.
How to reduce it: when you have guests over, put your wheaten on leash and feed him treats as the guests enter the home so to train him to be calm around company.
Is your wheaten barking his head off because he sees people or other dogs from the window? If so, prevent access to the windows. Draw those curtains, close those blinds and prevent your wheaten from jumping up to couch to look outside by moving it away from the window area. Applying window film can also reduce barking.
Did you know? Unlike fear aggression, which often pops up at an early age, territorial behavior in dogs is not expected to show up at least until a dog is 6 months of age or older, explains board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Lore I. Haug.
Barking For Attention
Is your wheaten terrier staring at you while he's barking? Does it happen mostly when you are sitting on the couch reading a book, checking your emails or watching TV? If so, suspect your wheaten is barking for attention.
The typical terrier that barks for attention is usually a dog who is bored, under stimulated and eager to have something to do.
Dogs who bark for attention typically do so while they're looking at the owner and they're usually hoping for the owner to interact.
When you look at your terrier, talk to him, or check what he wants, you are reinforcing this barking as it's driven by a need for interaction.
Even if you scold your wheaten for barking, it doesn't matter. Scolding still qualifies as a form of attention--even if it's of the negative type.
How to reduce it: If your wheaten barks at you when he's bored and wants attention, ignore him. Then, when he gives up and leaves, praise and reward him. We tend to give attention to dogs when they misbehave, but it should be the other way around!
Now, when ignoring a barking dog, be aware of extinction bursts, that is, the phenomenon of the barking increasing or morphing into something else (like pawing at you, nudging you with his nose) in hopes of generating a response.
Ignore the extinction bursts as well. If you give attention to any of these behaviors at this crucial time, you'll have reinforced persistence. If you instead ignore the barking (and any other attention-seeking behaviors) these should gradually subside.
However, make a mental note and find ways to prevent these episodes of barking from occurring in the first place. For instance, if your wheaten barks at you in the evening when you sit on the couch, make sure to walk him first, feed him and then give him a fun chew toy or stuffed Kong to enjoy while you're watching your favorite movie.
Now That You Know...
As seen, wheaten terriers have plenty to bark about! As annoying as the barking can get, it's important to realize that it is quite unrealistic to expect a dog breed with a history of being selectively bred for barking to stop barking once and for all.
However, what is very possible is to reduce the amount of barking, and this can be tackled through management techniques along with training.
Extra Tips to Reduce Barking in Wheaten Terriers
Here are some bonus tips on how to reduce barking in wheaten terriers.
Keep distance from triggers. Wheaten terriers, as other terriers, tend to get hyper aroused when they see something that triggers them. Their tenacity combined with their hyper aroused state often seen when their adrenaline kicks in, often causes the rest of the world (including you!) to magically vanish.
Removing his focus once he's in this state of mind may feel like an arduous task, however, you can gain some leeway by learning how to keep your terrier below that critical stimulation threshold so he can pay better attention to you.
Often your best bet when your wheaten is barking at something on walks is to increase distance from whatever excites him and keep moving. Putting more distance will help him stay better under threshold so you can keep his focus on you.
Keep that brain and body busy. Wheaten terriers thrive on exercise, training and mental stimulation and therefore love to be kept busy. This isn't surprising since they were bred to hunt, run, dig and bark on a daily basis.
Fail to keep these dogs busy, and they may find their own forms of entertainment such as barking, digging, jumping, chewing and nipping.
Let's face it tough, in today's modern age, where terriers are more often kept as companions, there isn’t a whole lot happening in their lives.
Left in a yard with nothing better to do, wheatens won't spend most of their time thumb-twiddling. Instead, they'll likely start barking at every minimal sight or sound, or they may find other entertaining hobbies such as digging, chewing and destroying things.
So make sure to provide regular exercise, socialization, training and mental stimulation (brain games, food puzzles). A tired wheaten terrier is much easier to live with and train.
Keep your voice low. When you yell at your dog when he's barking, he likely thinks you are barking too. Your dog won't likely understand why you are so upset.
Redirect your terrier with play. Many terriers get frustrated and bark often because they don't have a chance to chase critters as they would like. Provide your dog an outlet. For instance, when your terrier barks (or better, is about to bark) you can wiggle a flirt pole (stick with a stuffed animal attached) and let him play with that, occasionally rewarding by tossing some tasty treats to the ground.
Train to respond to a smacking sound. Grab some tasty treats and practice at home in a quiet setting making a smacking sound and then feeding your terrier a treat. Repeat several times until your wheaten realizes that every time you make this sound, a tasty treat follows. Next, try doing this exercise in the yard and then once you get a solid response practice it when your wheaten sees triggers by the window or on walks.
Try the "hear that" method. Terriers are vocal dogs and they like to alert about any outdoor sounds. If you know which sounds are known to trigger a bout of barking, preempt this form of barking by using the hear that method for reactive dogs.
Be determined to help your dog succeed. Terriers aren't the easiest dogs to train. Training a wheaten terrier requires a good level of determination. If you give up, you won't see results. You'll need to be equally focused, persistent and tenacious as your dog is.