Dog Behavior: Barking
Most dogs bark, and while barking can sometimes be a behavioral concern it is a natural part of a dog’s daily life. This is not to say that you shouldn’t worry about problem barking, or that nothing can be done to solve it. While there are some dogs that just bark now and then, barking can become a problem when the dog barks too much, too loudly, or when the barking is accompanied by other undesirable behaviors. Solving or troubleshooting your dog’s barking problem depends heavily on understanding just what type of barking your dog is doing. This can be done by observing the cause and characteristics of your dog’s barking.
Why Dogs Bark
Barking is one type of vocal communication that dogs use, and it can mean different things depending on the situation. Here are some reasons why dogs bark:
When a person or an animal comes into an area your dog considers his territory, that often triggers excessive barking. As the threat gets closer, the barking often gets louder. Your dog will look alert and even aggressive during this type of barking.
Some dogs bark at any noise or object that catches their attention or startles them. This can happen anywhere, not just in their home territory.
Dogs are pack animals. Dogs left alone for long periods, whether in the house or in the yard, can become bored or sad and often will bark because they are unhappy.
Dogs often bark when greeting people or other animals. It’s usually a happy bark, accompanied with tail wags and sometimes jumping.
Dogs often bark when they want something, such as going outside, playing, or getting a treat.
Separation Anxiety/Compulsive Barking
Dogs with separation anxiety often bark excessively when left alone. They also usually exhibit other symptoms as well, such as pacing, destructiveness, depression, and inappropriate elimination. Compulsive barkers seem to bark just to hear the sound of their voices. They also often make repetitive movements as well, such as running in circles or along a fence.
Problem Solving Methods & Devices
A number of training options can provide help in the barking arena. You can work on “Quiet,” and “Speak” and even work on certain calming signals.
Here are two methods:
When your dog is barking, say “quiet” in a calm, firm voice. Wait until he stops barking, even if it’s just to take a breath, then praise him and give him a treat. Just be careful to never reward him while he’s barking. Eventually, he will figure out that if he stops barking at the word “quiet” he gets a treat (and make it a delicious treat, such as cheese or chicken, to make it worth more than the barking.)
Alternatively, you can teach your dog to “speak.” Once he’s doing that reliably, signal him to stop barking with a different command, such as “quiet”, while holding your finger to your lips (dogs often pick up body signals faster than voice commands.) Practice these commands when he’s calm, and in time he should learn to stop barking at your command, even when he wants to bark at something.
Your dog might not have as much barking energy if she gets to run it off at the beach! Mental exercise is as effective as physical, so if you can’t get outside try some nosework or indoor games.
Pharmaceutical intervention can be a powerful tool for helping dogs who are anxious or fearful barkers. In those cases, the barking is a symptom of something bigger, and when the bigger issue is addressed, the barking often decreases quite dramatically. If your regular vet isn’t trained in problem barking solutions, consult with a veterinary behaviorist. Look for someone who is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists; they have the training and experience to find the best solution for the issues that are causing the barking in the first place.
Don’t be fooled by language that says the dog receives a “harmless electronic stimulus” from the collar. Shock collars hurt, and the likelihood that it will end up reinforcing other, more dangerous behaviors is pretty high. If your dog receives a shock every time he barks at someone walking into the house, he will quickly learn to associate pain with visitors, which can result in aggression towards humans. There is no guarantee that pain is going to be a deterrent, either; some dogs have a higher pain tolerance than others, and their need to bark may override the pain inflicted by the collar. In some cases, the constant shocks may make the barking worse.
Other off-collar devices can work well if your dog barks in a set area. Bark-activated water sprayers or noisemakers switch on when they pick up barking, shooting water at your pet or emitting an irritating sound. These can sometimes break a dog of barking in a given area, but they work best if you are home to reward your pet when he stops barking. That helps reinforce what you want your dog to do.
To stop a dog from going into a barking frenzy every time you come home or the doorbell rings, you’ll need to teach him other behaviors. One way is to train your dog to go to a spot and stay there when the door opens. It’s best if they can see the door, but not be too close to it. Pick a spot and practice getting your dog to go there and stay, but don’t touch the door yet. Use lots of treats and praise, making it a game. Once your pet is doing this reliably, start opening the door while he’s in his spot. Once you can open the door and your dog will stay in his spot, have someone actually come in the door. Of course, your dog will break from the spot at first, but with time and practice, he’ll learn to stay in his spot when the door opens and guests come in. Never reward your dog for barking at you when you come home. Do not pet him or even make eye contact until your dog stops barking and sits quietly. Then acknowledge him and praise him.
Bringing an outdoor dog inside will lessen the noise impact on neighbors, and provide extra security for your home. It’s also safer, because dogs left alone outside can face theft, escapes, poisoning, harassment, and other dangers. Dogs that bark all night should be brought indoors. But dogs can still bark inside if bored. So if your dog barks while you’re at work all day, get someone to walk your dog or play with her for at least an hour a day Providing something for your dog to do during the day also can help. Try leaving out a couple of food-dispensing toys, which come in different shapes and sizes. These can keep him busy for several hours, then he’ll probably take a nap. Dogs quickly learn to sleep quietly inside, and are added protection for your family. You also can drop your pet off at doggie daycare two or three days a week, or take up agility, obedience, or another active form of dog training.
Separation Anxiety/Compulsive Barking
Separation anxiety and compulsive barking are both difficult to treat and should be handled with the help of a veterinary behaviorist or a certified applied animal behaviorist. Dogs with these problems often need drug therapy to help them cope while learning new, more acceptable behaviors.
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