Barking: What’s up with that?

posted in: General, General Problems | 0

Barking: What's up with that?Excessive Barking is a problem for many people. It must first be important to understand that barking is a necessary part of a dog’s communication strategy. Essentially, it is an information gathering behavior designed to answer some very pressing questions for the dog, like WHO are you and WHY are you here? These are exactly the questions we ask when we are in the same position. There is a point of reasonableness, if your dog barks when greeting strangers or strange circumstances, then quickly stops that could be considered as normal behaviour. However, if it goes on for a while, then we have a bigger issue.

The first thing you need to do is determine when and for how long your dog barks, and what’s causing him to bark. You may need to do some detective work to obtain this information, especially if the barking occurs when you’re not home. Ask your neighbours, 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. Hopefully, you’ll be able to discover which of the common problems discussed below is the cause of your dogs barking.

Social Isolation/Frustration/Attention-Seeking
Your dog may be barking because he is bored and seeks interaction from you, if at least one of the following is true:

  • He’s left alone for long periods of time without opportunities for interaction with you.
  • His environment is relatively barren, without playmates or toys.
  • He’s a puppy or adolescent (under 3 years old) and doesn’t have other outlets for his energy.
  • His barking is accompanied by pawing at your hands and/or lap and ceases when you pet him or talk to him.
  • He’s a particularly active type dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs a “job” to be happy.

Recommendations
Expand your dog’s world and increase his “people time” in the following ways:

  • Walk your dog daily it is good exercise, both mentally and physically. Make sure that your walks are long and brisk enough to expend a noticeable amount of your dog’s energy.
  • After reaching physical maturity (at about 18 months), your dog can go for a jog with you. Take your dog for short jogs at first, then slowly increase the distance you cover. Dogs historically meant to complete physically exhausting tasks, like Labrador retrievers, Border Collies, and Siberian Huskies, can really appreciate a good run. Don’t forget to get approval from your vet before taking part in more strenuous activities.
  • Teach your dog to play ball, Frisbee, or tug and practice with him as often as possible.
  • Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks and practice them multiple times every day for five to ten minute sessions.
  • Take an obedience class with your dog.
  • Provide interesting toys to keep your dog busy when you’re not home (Kong-type toys filled with peanut butter mixed with kibble).

If your dog is barking to get your attention, make sure he has sufficient time with you on a daily basis (petting, grooming, playing, exercising) so he doesn’t have to resort to misbehaving to get your attention.

  • Keep your dog inside when you are unable to supervise him.
  • Let your neighbours know that you’re actively working on the problem. Take your dog to work with you every now and then, if possible.
  • When you have to leave your dog for extended periods of time, take him to a “doggie day care” or have a friend or neighbour walk and/or play with him.

Don’t Reward Pushiness (Even by Accident)
Remember that dogs that bark for attention do so because they have been rewarded many times in the past for barking with your attention (yelling and pushing counts as attention to many dogs). In some cases, people inadvertently teach their dogs to demand-bark by telling their barking dogs to sit and giving them a treat, thinking that they are rewarding their dogs for sitting quietly.

In reality, they are teaching their dogs the following behavior chain:
I bark → Mom says, “Sit.” → I sit → Mom gives me liver treats.

What it really comes down to is this:
I bark → Mom gives me liver treats.

Never reward your dog by petting him, pushing him, shouting at him, talking to him, commanding him, or even making eye contact with him when he is barking for attention. Any of these responses will simple reward his barking. Instead, simply ignore him and make sure that the attention-seeking barking is not reinforced.

Prevention is Key
In addition to making sure that attention-seeking barking goes unrewarded, it is also imperative that you show your dog that there are acceptable ways to gain your attention. Any forms of attention should only take place when your dog is quiet. The more you reward your dog for quietly sitting or lying down, the more likely he is to perform these quiet, desirable behaviours.

You can also prevent bouts of barking before they begin by watching your dog for signs that he is about to start. By now, you are probably familiar with your dog’s unique pre-bark behavior. Maybe he paces, whines, looks at you expectantly, yawns, or pants? As soon as you see this pre-bark behavior, redirect him into a more appropriate activity, like chewing Kong stuffed with extra high value treats (Think peanut butter or spreadable cheese. Milkbones just don’t cut it for most dogs). If your dog is loud and pushy, keeping him from practicing demand barking and teaching him appropriate ways of earning your attention will no doubt go a long way towards making him a quieter pal.

Territorial/Protective Behavior
Your dog may be barking to guard his territory if:

  • The barking occurs in the presence of “intruders,” who may include the mail carrier, children walking to school and other dogs or neighbours in adjacent yards.
  • Your dog’s posture while he is barking appears threatening tail held high and ears up and forward.
  • You have encouraged your dog to be responsive to people and noises outside.

Recommendations:

  • Keep Rover from barking by removing his triggers: the sights and sounds of people/animals walking around your house. Draw the curtains, close the door, and/or put a baby gate up so that his access to outside stimuli is limited.
  • Teach your dog that the people he views as intruders are actually friends and that good things happen to him when these people are around. Ask someone to walk by your yard, starting far enough away so that your dog doesn’t bark. As the person comes into view, give your dog very special food rewards such as little pieces of cheese or meat. Continue to dole out the treats until the person is out of sight, then take the treats away. You will be teaching your dog “Stranger equals amazing treats. No stranger equals no treats.” When Rover has developed a positive association between strangers and treats, he will begin looking at you in anticipation of the treat when the stranger draws near. At this point, it is okay for the stranger to walk a little bit closer to the house. The difficulty level of this exercise must be raised very slowly to ensure that your dog never practices barking at strangers. It may take several sessions before the person can come close without your dog barking. Remember to change the stranger frequently, varying age, size, gender, dog/no dog, so that your dog is conditioned to accept different strangers and not just the original one!
  • Don’t inadvertently encourage this type of barking by talking excitedly to your dog, saying phrases such as “What’s that?! Who’s there?!” when there is movement outside.
  • Having your dog neutered (or spayed if it is a female) may also have a positive effect on territorial behaviour.

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