by Jenny Turner
Barking is part of our dogs’ natural communication method, but sometimes it can get out of hand and be annoying to us humans. Dogs bark for a large number of reasons: as part of their watchdog or herding duties, to defend their territory, to seek attention or play, as a response to boredom, or from being startled, excited, lonely, anxious or teased.
The best method to ensure your dog is not an annoying barker is to start training when the dog is still a puppy. Teach your dog “quiet”. When you dog is being quiet and behaving, reward intermittently and say the word “quiet”, or say “good quiet” to the dog, and it will realise that being quiet gets rewarded too. It’s also very important to expose your puppy to a huge variety of people, situations, sounds environments; this will dramatically reduce the occurrence of your dog becoming scared of new things when it’s older.
If your dog is barking frequently in your presence, ask the dog to drop or down. Dogs are less likely to bark when lying down. Then reward them when they’re quiet. This will work when dogs are barking to get attention or are very excited.
Again, you can teach the word “quiet” or “enough”, by saying the word when the dog is quiet, and rewarding good behaviour. It’s not unusual for dogs, especially puppies, to get really excited in obedience classes and start whining and barking. If they know the word “quiet” you can give that command to stop them barking.
Try to distract or remove the dog from whatever is making it bark so much. That may mean that during obedience classes you may have to stand further away from the rest of the class and slowly increase your dog’s threshold, by decreasing the distance each week. This same approach applies when building confidence in a dog that barks out of fear. You’ll need to set up a scenario where strangers approach from far off and while the dog remains relaxed, give treats. Then slowly, over days and weeks, decrease the distance that people can approach to. Be sure that the dog always remains calm. If he gets upset then go back one step. This way the dog will associate strangers with good things happening.
Control the Situation
This means that you may have to set up scenarios to train your dog. For example, if your dog is an alert/warning barker, have someone come to the house. After the dog gives a couple of warning barks, give the “quiet” or “enough” command, then reward when the dog is quiet. We want the dog to know that it has been good for warning us, but now we can take control of the situation.
This is probably the hardest kind of barking to modify because it often happens when the owner is away. The reason the dog barks is because it is bored. Its usually just doing something to occupy itself. The solution is to give the dog other things to do while you’re out. Give him a more stimulating environment and a lot more exercise.
This is always a bigger problem than just barking. If you dog truly has separation anxiety, it is often accompanied by other behaviours such as destructive chewing or desperation to escape, leading to injury to the dog. A couple of small steps you can start with are to act like you are leaving, to the point just before the dog begins to get anxious, then don’t actually leave. This means grab your wallet and keys and walk towards the door, then go back and sit down on the lounge and reward your dog for being calm. Hopefully your dog will come to realise that just because you go through the motions, it doesn’t mean that you’re about to leave. Only when your dog is consistently calm during the first step, should you try the next step. This would be to go through the same motions as before then step out the door for only a few seconds, then come straight back in. Again reward your dog if he is calm. If he is not calm, then you’re moving too fast and you have to go back to the first step again. Do not make a fuss of the dog when you’re about to leave or when you return. The only downfall with this kind of therapy is that it’s nearly impossible to not leave your dog alone during the therapy, so it makes it a long hard process. (Unless you can find a way to take the dog with you every time you have to leave the house to do the shopping or go to work.) It is highly recommended to seek the advice of an animal behaviourist for this kind of problem.
The next two methods may be suggested to you at some stage, but we believe both methods are cruel and do not recommend their use:
Collars that emit an electric shock, an irritating ultrasonic sound, or an offensive smell are all available on the market. These methods do not always produce the desired effects because the punishment for barking is not sufficient to get the dog to stop. They’d rather bark and be punished than not bark at all. For dogs that bark when they are anxious, the collar is likely to make them even more anxious and upset, therefore they’re more likely to bark. It’s a vicious cycle.
This is a surgical procedure that removes the vocal cords. Debarking will NOT result in a silent dog. The dog will still attempt to bark and will make a hoarse sound, which is sometimes more irritating than the original bark. It also does not identify or cure the reason why the dog was barking in the first place.
Points to Remember
Don’t say “no” or shout back at the dog; the dog will probably think you’re barking along with him.
Be patient with your dog and yourself. Changing behaviour takes a lot of time and you need to take it slowly one step at a time.
Reward the dog for good behaviour.
If these methods are not working, or you can’t figure out the reason why your dog is barking, then take your problem to a behaviourist.