If you’re a dog owner and have a “world class” barker in the house, you may already know the stress of shattered quiet or dealing with unhappy neighbors.
Dogs always bark for a reason. Studies have even shown that different barks express different emotions (though a few breeds, like the poodle and the American Staffordshire Terrier, appear limited in their vocal repertory). The more high-pitched, atonal and repetitive the bark, the more indicative it is of a dog under stress.
A recent study of 84 dogs from nine breeds, including Poodles, Weimaraners, American Staffordshire Terriers, German Shepherds, Alaskan Malamutes, Bull Terriers and Muensterlaenders, recorded as many as a dozen variations doghint of some types of barking among the dogs. Subtle variations even corresponded to “dialects” which were used by the dogs in identical situations at different times.
Although there is no difference in the percentage of excessive barkers between males and females, males tend to bark less once neutered because they’re less territorial. There’s also a breed difference in barkers; Many Beagles, Terriers, and some herding breeds tend to bark more – not surprising, since this is one of the characteristics for which they were bred.
Virtually all canine behavioral experts agree that the key to solving the problem of excessive barking is to understand what’s causing it. To solve problem barking, you’ll need some patience and understanding, but teaching your barker a couple of very basic obedience commands will help a lot, too.
Oddly enough, teaching your dog to bark on command is a good way to teach them also how to stop. By learning when barking is desirable, they also learn what your word is for when to stop.
What doesn’t work:
– Shouting “No” louder than the dog only makes things worse since the dog perceives this as YOU barking, too. It’s not a long term solution;
– Hugging or talking soothingly to the dog when barking is a “no no” because the dog comes to believe that there IS something of which to be concerned. Coddling simply reinforces barking.
– Striking the dog doesn’t address the cause of your dog’s barking. If your dog is barking out of anxiety, hitting her only adds betrayal to the list of what worries her since she looks to you for guidance, not pain.
– Throwing items AT the dog. This is a good way to ruin a show dog and also introduces another reason for the dog to bark. Throwing can-filled pennies is a method of distraction, but it needs to be done correctly. Keep reading.
– Crating or confining the dog to a small space for hours and hours. This alone can cause barking.
The leading causes of barking?
Startled or Fear Barking
Attention-Seeking or boredom
Loneliness or Separation Anxiety
Let’s explore the cause and remedies for barking a bit more fully.
Separation or Loneliness Anxiety: This is probably the leading cause of excessive barking; It can also be the most difficult to determine since it typically occurs when a dog’s owner is gone. Unless the owner receives a complaint, they many never know they have a problem barker. Complicating the matter is trying to determine when barking IS excessive. Some neighbors have a hair trigger when it comes to barking and even a few normal “woofs” is enough to generate a complaint. Be suspicious of your dog if s/he displays behaviors that reflect a strong attachment to you, such as following you from room to room, greeting you frantically, or overreacting anxiously whenever you prepare to leave.
Anxiety barking becomes self-reinforcing as a dog becomes more stimulated and anxious. The more anxious the dog, the higher in pitch the bark. These barks are especially audible to neighbors.
Separation anxiety barking can be remedied with counter-conditioning, desensitization and teaching the dog how to relax. Commanding the dog to “lie down,” for instance, is handy because reclining dogs don’t bark as vigorously when lying down.
The best way to desensitize a dog to your leaving is to run frequent “drills.” Start out by pretending to leave the house by changing your habits. Most of us have predictable patterns of behavior before leaving the house and this contributes to the dog becoming anxious. If, for example, the last thing you do before leaving the house is to pick up car keys, DON’T pick up the car keys last, put your shoes on last instead – and then don’t leave. Go to the couch and read a book; Pick up the phone and pretend to talk. If you play music but only on weekends when you are home, turn it on during your workdays. As hard as it may be, set your alarm on weekends, get up, but stay home. Continue changes in routine until your dog pays no attention to your cues anymore. It is also very important to not give your dog a lot of attention when you leave.
Work your way up to actually leaving the dog for a very short time, say, a minute or two. Before the dog starts getting nervous and barking, come back into the house. You’re not rewarding barking, you’re rewarding relaxation and silence. Gradually extend the time you’re gone, and return before the dog gets anxious. If your dog is anxious even if you leave the room, then you will need to start by just taking several steps away from her while she remains relaxed. You cannot go too slowly during this process – but you can go too fast.