Barking dogs probably tops the list of reasons complaints are filed with local Councils. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons and when you bring a dog in to your home you will encounter some barking, this is normal. However, excessive day time barking or any barking at night or early in the morning, is usually what causes the most stress for neighbours and owners. Depending on the situation, there are a number of techniques you can use to decrease excessive barking.
For the best psychological outcome for your dog it is always better to address the underlying cause of the barking, rather than using techniques or tools that focus only on the barking. These may stop the barking, but your dog will still be feeling aroused, and this arousal will rear its head in other behaviours over time.
Barking is a responsive behaviour, it occurs when your dog has an internal need and in reaction to external events. When addressing barking behaviour the first step is to look at what triggers the barking.
Boredom barking is characterised by barking that increases in frequency over the course of the day and night. It tends to be a monotone kind of barking that occurs with the same number of barking in a row, over, and over again. This kind of barking is best addressed with environment enrichment , off lead running, and interaction with other dogs each day. I would also recommend that if you have a dog that is a boredom barker that you look at feeding their daily ration of food through training and interactive food dispensing toys.
Similar in sound to boredom barking is something called stereotypical barking. Although it does not increase over time as boredom barking tends to, it does stay the same pitch and volume all day long. In this case, the barking tends to be something that is a habit and needs to be broken. Your best option is to simply reinforce any good behaviour that is not barking. In doing so you will be breaking the old habit of barking and creating new behaviours that you are happy to live with. You can also try some of the general tips towards the end of this article to help with this kind of barking.
Play barking is usually the most enjoyable kind of barking to witness. It will generally be high pitched, and may be accompanied with some growling. Your dogs’ body language will be a dead give away about the bark being a playful one, and you will often see play bows during the barking. This kind of barking is an invitation to play, and can be presented to you or another animal- Ben barks at my cat, Spencer, all the time, and often is reinforced by Spencer with a game of bat the puppy. Redirecting attention is often the best way to stop this kind barking, as is giving an all done signal, indicating that you don’t want to play at this point.
Learned barking is a barking behaviour that a dog engages in if they have been reinforced for it somehow in the past. Sometimes learned barking can be a good thing, for instance, when your dog needs to go outside, they may bark and you can let them out. On the other hand, it can also include barking for attention, barking for their dinner, fence line barking, and barking for a walk. When addressing the problem of learned barking the most effective means of stopping it is removal of the reward attached to the barking. Think about what factor is maintaining your dogs’ barking, and do not continue to reinforce them for barking, this will require preparation. For fence line barkers it may mean limiting access to the perimeter where your dog barks and/or socialising your dog with the neighbours’ dog and people.
Separation barking usually starts as soon as you leave the house, or are about to leave, and generally decreases over the course of the day, until you are due back home, then another increase is likely. It is typically paired with howling and crying. Remedies for separation anxiety (this would be a whole new article on its own) would be the best course of action for this kind of barking. However, research suggests that dogs that are good at ‘stay’ tend to assist in helping with separation anxiety. I also believe that crate training helps too.
Reactive barking occurs when your dog barks in response to either seeing another dog, object or person. This kind of barking, along with separation anxiety could have a whole article of its own. However, heeling past or through these situations would be a great place to start to break this behaviour.
Dogs often bark at night time when all of the nocturnal animals are out and about. There is not too much you can do about it, as it is unrealistic to expect anyone to stay awake, and participate in behaviour modification at 3am. You also cannot stop the wildlife from buzzing around your house at night.
The best fix for night barking is to keep your dog inside or locked up over night. Ben sleeps in the laundry with no access to outside overnight, and I let him out at dawn. This also gives your dog a good overnight rest which is vital for their psychological and physical development.
There are also some general things you can do to minimise the disruption barking can bring. Teaching ‘quiet’ and ‘speak’ is probably the best trick for stopping excessive barking. First reinforce your dog for being quiet and pair the reinforcement with the word ‘quiet’.
Once your dog pays attention to you, and is quiet reliably, you can teach them to ‘speak’. Find something that will make your dog bark, and when they do, say ‘speak’, and reinforce this with a treat. Once this is reliable and happening on signal, you can then alternate between ‘speak’ and ‘quiet’. Use ‘quiet’ when you need your dog to stop barking. You will need to continue to reinforce the quiet skill every now and again to maintain the behaviour.
Another easy way to stop a lot of barking is a daily off lead walk. Ideally, any off lead walk for your dog should also include play with other dogs, and even play with you. If your dog is tired, they are much more unlikely to engage in barking, especially learned barking and boredom barking.
If you have a problem with your dog barking you will find that simply allowing them to be inside with you will really help. Dogs are social animals and enjoy the company of their family. You can also install a dog door to allow your dog to come inside and outside as they wish. This means that even when you are not at home your dog can still be inside. Initially, you will need to restrict the areas your dog has access to to ensure no ‘accidents’ happen. Leave the radio on to drown out any outside noise, this will also help the problem barker.
Remember that barking is a responsive behaviour, so in order to stop it, you need to pre empt the barking and replace it with a different behaviour. Teaching your dog to focus on you will also help in that it cuts off a behaviour and redirects attention to you, then you can remove your dog from the situation.
Barking is a normal canine communication tool and will happen, probably on a daily basis with your dog. It’s excessive barking that can often be a problem, a good bench mark as to weather barking is excessive is if you are getting complaints from neighbours, or it is causing disharmony in your home. Dogs have a right to communicate, if you understand why your dog is barking you will be in a great position to meet their needs. You will have a happier dog.
Photo courtesy of pawsforaminute.businesscatalyst.com