How to Quiet Your Barking Dog
Many behavior issues that you may encounter affect only the relationship between you (and your family) and your dog. Excessive barking, however, not only affects your relationship with your dog, but it can also affect your relationship with your neighbors that can result in neighborhood disputes and violations of animal control ordinances. Barking dogs can become a serious issue on a number of fronts. If your dog’s barking has created tension in the neighborhood, address it directly by discussing the situation with your neighbors. Some barking is normal and reasonable, just as children make noise when they play outside. However, excessive barking for long periods of time is a sign that your dog has a problem that needs to be addressed.
The first thing that needs to be done is to determine when and for how long your dog barks, and what is the underlying motivation for the excessive barking. You may need video to obtain this information, especially if the barking occurs when you are not home. Ask your neighbors for their advice/opinions, drive or walk around the block and watch and listen for a while, or start a tape recorder or video camera when you leave for work. A complete behavior evaluation by a canine behaviorist can also help to determine the underlying cause, or causes, and is the best course of action to take. Addressing all underlying causes gives you the best chance for a favorable outcome. Below are the common motivators/causes for excessive barking and some general recommendations to treat them.
Social Isolation/Frustration/Attention Seeking
Dogs will bark excessively if they become bored or lonely. We lead busy lives and many of us work long hours. Dogs that are left alone for long periods of time without the opportunity to interact with you will become lonely and bored. This is especially the case with dogs that do not have another dog to play with and with those whose environment is relatively barren and without toys.
Puppies, adolescents (under 3 years of age), and active breeds like sporting and hunting breeds are all predisposed to this type of excessive barking.
- You need to provide an adequate outlet for your dogs’ energy. Running around in the backyard does NOT accomplish this. A dog needs to be walked. Nothing takes the place of a vigorous walk. Walk like you are late for an important appointment. Do not allow your dog to sniff and mark every blade of grass that you come across. A “sniff & pee” walk is not going to accomplish what we need.
- Teach your dog to fetch a ball or Frisbee and practice with him as often as possible. Another great game is to teach your dog how to find his favorite toy. There are many new puzzles out there that can keep your dog busy when you are away. Kong’s and Buster Cubes filled with food (be sure to adjust meals for this) are a great way to keep your dog busy. Be sure to rotate toys so your dog does not get bored.
- Take an obedience class or teach your dog new tricks. Dogs are very intelligent animals and you need to exercise their minds as well as their bodies. Taking an obedience class helps to develop an effective way of communicating with your dog. Working with your dog daily and taking him through some simple commands can help to keep his mind sharp.
- Make sure you spend sufficient time with your dog on a daily basis (petting, grooming, playing, exercising) so he doesn’t have to resort to misbehaving to get your attention. Keep him inside when you are inside. If possible, take your dog to work periodically.
- Doggie day care is another great option for those of us that work long hours. Your neighbors will appreciate this.
- Hire a dog walker to give your dog some extra exercise while you are at work.
- Never give your dog attention while he is barking. Ignore him until he stops for at least three seconds, then reward silence with attention or treats.
This type of barking occurs in the presence of “intruders.” Intruders include mail carriers and other delivery type people, people walking on the side walk or street, neighbors, or other dogs. Often times we encourage this behavior, especially when they are cute little puppies and the barking is not such a nuisance. Petting your dog and saying “it’s okay” or anything else will send the signal to your dog that this is acceptable behavior.
- Teach your dog to be quiet on command. When he begins to bark at something, allow two or three barks, then say “quiet” and interrupt his barking. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. It is important not to creat excessive fear when interrupting. Barking can be interrupted by shaking a can filled with pennies, air horn, hand clapping, or squirting water at his mouth with a spray bottle or squirt gun. This will cause momentarily cessation in the barking. At the very second the barking stops, say “quiet” and give him a treat. Remember, the loud noise or squirt isn’t meant to punish him, it is meant to interrupt the barking so you can quickly reward him. If your dog becomes frightened by the noise or squirt bottle, find an alternative method of interrupting his barking (throw a toy or ball toward him).
- Desensitize and counter-condition your dog to the stimulus that triggers the barking. Teach him that the people he views as intruders are actually friends and that good things happen to him when these people are around. Ask a friend to walk near your house, starting far enough away so that your dog is not barking, then reward him for quiet behavior while he is sitting or lying down. Use a very special food reward, something he loves, but does not usually get. As the person gradually comes closer, continue to reward silence. If your dog begins to bark, have the person return to the previous distance that did not cause barking. Stick with this distance for a while longer. Close the distance slowly, going too much too fast a a sure way to fail. It may take several sessions before the person can come close without your dog barking. When the person can come very close without your dog barking, have them feed him a treat or throw a toy for him. This is a self rewarding type of behavior. Every time your dog barks at someone and they “go away” he feels good about himself. Avoiding the scenarios that cause territorial/protective barking is paramount in treating this type of barking.
- If your dog barks while inside the house when you’re home, call him to you, redirect his behavior by giving him something else to do, like sit, and reward him with praise and a treat.
- Do not inadvertently encourage this type of barking by enticing your dog to bark at things he hears or sees outside.
- Have your dog neutered (or spayed if your dog is a female) to decrease territorial behavior.
- Limit yourdog’s access to windows that allow for a view of the street.
Fears And Phobias
Fear and phobic barking can occur when your dog gets exposed to a sight or sound the he is afraid of. Examples include, but are not limited to, fireworks, thunderstorms, and traffic.
- Identify the cause of the fear and desensitize your dog to it.
- During desensitization you can lessen the impact that noises have on your dog by placing your dog in a basement or windowless bathroom and leave on a television, radio or loud fan.
- Block off your dog’s access to outdoor views that might be causing a fear response, by closing curtains or doors to certain rooms. Using a crate may aslo facilitate this.
Your dog may be barking due to separation anxiety if the barking occurs only when you are not home and starts as soon as, or shortly after, you leave. Other symptoms of separation anxiety include following you where ever you go, pacing and panting as you prepare to leave, always having to be right next to/touching you while sitting, not eating or drinking while you are away, and destructive behavior while you are away (especially around exits points).
A recent change in the family’s schedule that results in his being left alone more often, such as a move to a new house, the death or loss of a family member or another family pet, or a sudden change in your work schedule (teachers home for the Summer returning to work).
- Separation anxiety may be resolved using counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques.
Bark collars used alone without behavior modification may work for a short period of time, but eventually they will fail. These collars are specially designed to deliver an aversive stimulus whenever your dog barks. There are several kinds of bark collars:
• Citronella Collar: This collar contains a reservoir of citronella solution that sprays upwards toward your dog’s face every time he barks. These are considered humane and they do work with dogs that find the citronella smell and spray sound aversive. One possible drawback is that these collars are sound activated and can be set off by sounds other than barking. They can also be set off by sounds that do not come from your dog. Also, some dogs can tell when the collar is empty and will resume barking when they make that realization. You can also purchase a citronella collar that is activated by a handler, but I do not recommend this because your timing will be off or even non-existent if you are not present constantly.
• Aversive Sound Collar: These collars emits a high-frequency sound when your dog barks that only your dog can hear. Some are activated by the noise of the bark, while others are handler activated. These have a poor rate of success.
• Electric Shock Collar: I DO NOT RECOMMEND an electric shock collar to control your dog’s barking. Many dogs will choose to endure the pain that these collars cause and continue barking. These collars are expensive and their success rate is very low. Also, these collars can lead to redirected aggression toward people or pets that are around the dog at the time the shock is delivered.
The biggest downfall of any type of bark collar is that it does not address the underlying cause of the barking. You may be able to eliminate the barking, but if the underlying cause is not addressed, your dog may begin to manifest his anxiety in other ways such as digging, escaping or become destructive or even aggressive. The use of a bark collar must be in conjunction with behavior modification. You should never use a bark collar on your dog if his barking is due to separation anxiety, fears, or phobias because punishment always makes fear and anxiety behaviors worse.
How do you handle your dogs barking? I’d love to hear some of your creative ideas!
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