“Chronic barking” can be a serious issue for dog owners! As a matter of fact, a couple lost $240,000 in a lawsuit, after paying the amount as compensation for their dog’s excessive barking. If your dog is a habitual barker and you are not ready to face the wrath of your neighbours then you must act now. In this post, I’ve put together great tips and useful information on how to stop a dog from barking excessively. Feel free to share or bookmark this article.
Barking is an important medium of communication for canines and no one will be surprised to see a dog bark! However, when it happens continuously, for unknown reasons, it becomes very disturbing and annoying . Although, your dog’s breed may be a reason, as it has been shown that some breeds bark more than others. However, it will be totally unfair to assume that, ALL dogs from the “quiet breeds” end up being quiet! Dogs have “personality issues” too, irrespective of their breed. Having said that, a good number of terrier breeds (Yorkshire terrier, Cairn terrier, West highland white terrier, among others) are very noisy.
Selective Breeding-Why some Breeds Bark more than Others
What exactly is selective breeding, and what’s its relationship with excessive barking?
The whole story has to do with the evolution of dogs from wolves. Thousands of years ago, wolves visited the home of early man, in search of decaying and leftover foods. Man gave free access to the less aggressive ones. After some time, these wolves became very free with man and they started bringing forth younger ones (pup) around the home of man. Some of the pups and “adult” wolves were domesticated in the process.
Apart from cleaning man’s environment by feeding on the decaying garbage, they also a played a key role in protecting man. Whenever strangers or wild animals moved close to man’s home, they would bark to alert him of the presence of the intruder. Over time, man needed them for protection (with their loud and continuous bark). This gave rise to the process of selective breeding, where dogs (evolved wolves) with desired traits are crossed with other dogs, so that particular traits can be passed on–Traits like physical appearance and behaviour (barking inclusive) are influenced by selective breeding.
For example, GoldenDoodle (cross breed of Golden Retriever and Poodle), has reduced shedding of coat while French Bulloxer (cross breed of French Bulldog and Boxer) has a unique appearance.
If your dog is a pro barker or getting close to becoming one, there are two important steps you need to take. First, you must TRY to know WHY your dog is making the noise. Two, learn how to deal with the exact cause(s). The first step is much more challenging that the second one.
The next section of this article discusses common causes of excessive barking. You may know them already but the article goes further to show you certain sign(s) that can help you identify each of them. Knowing these signs makes the second step very easy for you.
Common Reasons for Excessive Barking
Why does your dog put his jaws to action continuously?
1. To protect his territory (Territorial barking)
A dog will do its best to protect an area (which he considers his territory) from other dogs or human beings. Just like every man or woman will protect his or her properties, dogs consider such area as their own domain, and hence, no one should “trespass”. Dogs can also display territorial behaviour if other people get close to their owner, food, toys or anything they believe is theirs.
2. To seek attention
This is a smart trick they use in forcing you to notice them. Your dog can continue to bark if he wants you to play with him, go outside with him or even give him treats.
3. He is in pain (barking caused by ill health)
Pain due to injury, illness or any disease condition can make your dog bark continuously and yelp. This is not a behavioural problem at all! It’s just that Billy isn’t feeling very fine. For adult dogs, conditions such as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome and Loss of hearing may also cause excessive barking.
4. Separation Anxiety
This is one big subject you SHOULD read extensively on! This is because, not many people understand what it is. First, the belief that dogs suffer separation anxiety because they are hyper-attached to their owners may not be completely true.
Think about it this way, headache is a symptom of malaria but not everyone that feels headache has malaria. Hyper-attachment is a sign of separation anxiety but not every dog that is hyper-attached suffer from separation anxiety Research has shown it, at least two different times; THIS and THIS.)
An “inappropriate attachment pattern” has been identified as the potential cause. What does this mean? It simply means separation anxiety is as a result of abnormal attachment (not necessarily hyper-attachment) between a dog and the owner.
Interestingly, separation anxiety can be difficult to diagnose without a veterinary behaviourist. This is because, some of the signs associated with it are expressed by normal dogs.
5. He is bored! (Barking caused by boredom)
Boredom does not affect human beings alone, dogs also get bored. If an idle hand is the devil’s workshop, then idle paws are great tools for destructive behaviour. Take a cue from the ancestors (wolves), and you will realize that dogs love to be active (they don’t want to remain at the same spot all the time). They get bored when they have nothing to do or may be, when you have not given them enough to do (no physical or mental stimulation).
The difference between Barking caused by Boredom and Separation Anxiety
Signs of Separation Anxiety are USUALLY manifested SHORTLY after departure while boredom signs are manifested after some time. The most likely way to know this, is to set a camera and record your dog’s activities while you are away. If your dog remains calm after you leave, only to start digging or chewing your furniture after some time, it is more likely to be boredom. Again, Separation Anxiety is a serious problem compared to boredom. (Some dogs are placed medication to treat separation anxiety)
6. To alert you (Alert barking)
Some dogs barks at anything; any sound or whenever a “threat” is seen
7. To engage you or any other pet in play (Play barking)
Nothing serious about this! Just some utterance your dog makes while playing.
8. He is Stressed (Fear barking)
When your dog is afraid or anxious, he may decide to deal with the situation by barking. Fear barking often arise from poor socialization and can result to stress in the long run. This happens only when the fear trigger is present. The trigger could be the presence of other dogs, strangers, sounds or a new environment. You must be very sensitive to identify such triggers.
How to STOP a Dog from Barking Excessively(SOLUTIONS)
1. Take away the “triggers”
Can stop: Territorial barking
Here comes the perfect solution to stop your dog from barking after looking through the window or seeing people pass by. When you deny your dog access to triggers of territorial barking, you can successfully solve the problem
- When your dog barks continuously when he sees people passing, make sure he does not stay outside for long.
- If there is a particular sound that activates his vocal cord, try your best to prevent your dog from listening to it.
- If your dog barks while looking through the window, pull the curtain down or stop him from getting close to the window.
2. Ignore your dog:
Can stop: Attention barking
The only time you should feel free to ignore your pooch is when he barks for attention!
Why you should ignore your Dog
One of the ways by which dogs learn is “Operant conditioning”, a term coined by late American Physiologist and Behaviourist, Burrhus Frederic Skinner. According to Skinner, a behaviour will be repeated if it is reinforced (encouraged or strengthened). To be more direct, your dog will continue to bark to gain your attention if you ever fall for his tricks. Next time, he’ll say, “If I continue to bark, he will answer me”. However, you can use the same operant conditioning to your own advantage. How? By ignoring your dog and rewarding him when he keeps quiet, your dog will learn not to bark for attention. Now, he would say to himself “if I remain calm, I will get some treats”
3. Use the “Quiet Command”
If used properly, can control virtually all kinds of barking, but may not solve the problem totally
However, it is a good solution to: Territorial barking, Alert barking (When you are outside with your dog) and Play barking. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to train your dog to keep quiet if he isn’t barking. Think about it, would you say “quiet” when he is actually quiet? No way!
Follow the steps below to train your dog to keep quiet on command
The things you need
- A lot of treats
- Someone to knock the door from the outside
- Cue word/phrase (“quiet”, “enough”, “OK”)
Usually, your dog is expected to bark whenever there is a knock on your door. Tell the person to knock the door from outside while you hold your dog on a leash inside the house. Take your dog close to the door while knocking continues. As he continues to bark, say the cue word. You may say “quiet” or “OK”. To make this command effective, use your finger to demonstrate any sign you want your dog to associate with the “quiet” command. After he stops barking, reward him with some treat. What if he does not stop barking? Take him away (of course, no treat for him) and repeat the training some minutes after.
To make this training very EFFECTIVE:
- You must repeat the training over and over again, in a single day.
- Do not shout at your dog.
- If possible, try it when your dog is hungry. The treats will mean a lot to him at that moment and the command can be easily learnt.
- You must increase the delay time before he gets the treat. For instance, if you give him the treats after 5 seconds of obeying the “quiet” command (during the first training), you should give him the treats after 10 seconds of obeying the command during the second training. Why is this important? The delay lets the training to be more effective because with each session, your dog keeps quiet for a longer period.
- Use your finger(s) and a verbal cue.
- Avoid long training sessions (Maximum of 15 minutes!) Short and repetitive training sessions are more effective than long sessions.
4. Give your dog new experiences (Socialization)
Can stop: A dog from barking at strangers, people, sounds and other things.
The primary aim of socializing your dog is to make him comfortable whenever he meets new people or dogs, or when he encounters something he is not used to. Puppies tend to retain things learnt during their first 3-16 weeks. During this period, they are exposed to different sound, smell, people or even dogs, without fear. Such encounter can help them grow up to become calm and friendly dogs.
On the other hand, poorly socialized dogs are scared of new faces, environment or things. This may lead to aggression later. As a matter of fact, puppies that were not socialized were found to be 580 times more likely to develop aggressive behaviour when they grow up (Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University).
What if you have an adult dog or a dog older than 16 weeks, is there a chance of socialization? Yes, you can still socialize an adult dog
How to socialize your Dog
Take your dog to new places; shopping mall, train station, store, bookshop, and even inside the elevator.
Let your dog meet
- People of different skin colour
- Dogs of different breeds
- People in uniform
- Other animals around; your neighbour’s cat
- People with mobility/walking aids (clutches, walking sticks, walking frame, wheel chair, etc)
5. Behavioural modification
Can stop: Separation Anxiety and probably Attention barking
Changing or slightly altering your normal routine can modify the behaviour of your dog and hopefully put a end to separation anxiety-induced barking.
Take a look at this sequence of activities
- Your dog stays with you and follows you around the house
- He sees you & he’s aware you are going out
- He starts displaying signs of separation anxiety shortly after your departure
- You come back to see your house messed up
The solution is to change few things along the way. It goes thus
While at home:
Do not encourage any attention-seeking behaviour or clinginess. Henceforth, stop giving your dog too much attention if he follows you around the house. Whenever he stays calm and decides to play on his own, (especially while you are moving away from him) praise him lightly and give him some treats.
While leaving the house
Make your dog less sensitive to things you do on departure. You can do this by faking your departure (without leaving the house). At different times of the day, pick your bag, purse, door keys, change your cloth, comb your hair, without going out of the house. Ignore your dog while you do these things. If your dog becomes clingy, ignore! If there is no reaction, reward!
Another solution is to avoid last minute rush (some people will prefer to do this). 30 minutes before your departure, make your dog comfortable (leave him with treats and chews), put off the lights, pull down the curtains, do other departure rituals and finally, avoid any interaction with your dog.
Hint: You can also drop your dog at the nearest dog day care while going out.
When you come back
Greet your dog without any show of excitement. If you found out your dog has soiled the house or chewed some furniture, just take it easy and avoid the use of punishment.
In addition to changing your own routine and trying to modify your dog’s behaviour, you need to see a veterinary behaviourist (preferable, NOT a trainer). Although trainers have the knowledge of dog behaviour but veterinary behaviourists are animal psychologists, who know so much about animal behaviour. An animal behaviourist will correctly diagnose it and probably prescribe medications such as Clomipramine and Fluoxetine (approved by the US FDA)
Note: Do not use any medication without the consent of your Vet.
6. Increase his level of activity
Can stop: various kinds of barking but very effective when barking is caused by boredom
Dogs love to be active! Being idle is the last thing your dog would ever want. Can you remember the last time you took a walk with your dog, played games together or gave him some work to do? Do the following to help your dog kill boredom
- Take evening walk: Every evening or every other day, give your lovely pet the opportunity to see new things, interact with the environment, meet new people and move his muscles. It is also good for your own health.
- Play games with your dog: Throw a small ball and tell your dog to fetch it. You can also try common dog sports like agility—Jump over an obstacle and tell your dog to do the same.
- Give your dog simple tasks to do: Start involving your dog in simple, everyday routine that will exercise him physically and mentally. Train your dog to move light-weight objects from one place to another.
- Pay a dog walker: Is your schedule tight or you don’t have enough time to walk your dog? Hire a pet walker! Before you pay a dog walker, invite the individual to your home and ensure your dog is comfortable staying around such a person.
- Rotate his toys: When dogs play with the same set of toys every time, they get bored. According to Animal Cognition, toys get less attractive when dogs play with them too frequently. Does that mean you have to buy new toys often? Not at all! Rotate the toys and do not release all the toys at once. Divide all the toys into three (3) sets. Initially, you may need to add few toys to his collection. At first, give your dog the first set of toys. Next time, release the second set of toys. The third set of toys will follow. Go back to the first set of toys again! You can even re-arrange the toys in each set. Take some toys in the second and third sets and use them to form a new “first” set of toys. Soft and easily chewed toys are the best for your dog. Put some icing on the cake by selecting toys that make a sound.
- Training: Teach your dog a new command every week! There are loads of commands to learn. Have you trained your pooch to answer to commands like “sit”, “quiet”, “stand”, “leave it”, or even answer to his name? If you think your dog has learnt enough, then practise the commands every week.
- Let your dog “work” for his food and treats: If you have been serving treats and food to your dog, without any effort form him, it’s high time you stopped. Start using treats and food dispensers if you haven’t been using them! BUSTER Cube and Kong® toys are perfect examples .
How to Enhance Physical and Mental Stimulation In your Dog
7. Consult your Vet!
This is a good solution at any point in time, especially when you have tried other methods. However, you MUST consult your vet IMMEDIATELY you realize pain is the cause of your dog’s barking.
There may be need for proper examination and treatment. Common Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs used in treating pain in dogs include Meloxicam and Carprofen. However, DO NOT use any drugs (NSAIDS or any other drug) without the consent of your vet.
You need to know
- the correct dose to give to your dog
- the possible side effects (NSAIDS may cause lethargy)
- if your dog will not react to the drugs
- what your dog must stay away from, while on medication
There are other ways of controlling your dog’s excessive vocalization. However, for every method you use, ask yourself few questions. Am I correcting my dog in love? Will this method strengthen the bond between us? “controlling the behaviour” is one thing, “doing it in a way that does NOT cause further problems” is another thing, which is much more important.
Thank you for reading!
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