Bark! Bark! Bark!
Excessive barking can result in neighbourhood disputes and violations of animal control ordinances
If your dog’s barking has created neighbourhood tension, it might be a good idea to discuss the problem with your neighbours. It’s perfectly normal and reasonable for dogs to bark from time to time, just as children make noise when they play outside. However, continual barking for long periods of time is a sign that your dog has a problem that needs to be addressed.
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 dog’s barking.
- 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 three years old) and doesn’t have other outlets for his energy.
- He’s a particularly active type of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs a “job” to be happy.
Expand your dog’s world and increase his “people time” in the following ways:
- Walk your dog daily – it’s good exercise, both mental and physical.
- Teach your dog to fetch a ball or Frisbee and practice with him as often as possible.
- Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks and practice them every day for five to ten minutes.
- Take an obedience class with your dog.
- 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’re 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.
You can also increase mental stimulation in the following ways:
- Use treat-dispensing toys like rolling balls and Buster Cubes.Provide interesting toys to keep your dog busy when you’re not home (Kong-type toys filled with treats or busy-box toys). Rotating the toys makes them seem new and interesting (see: “Dog Toys and How to Use Them”).
- Hide treats throughout the house and let the dogs hunt for them.
- Provide safe chews, but be sure to monitor this activity for safety.
- Make your walks engaging by taking sniff walks, allow the dogs to sniff the trees, grass, flowers, etc.
- The barking occurs in the presence of “intruders,” which may include the mail carrier, children walking to school and other dogs or neighbours in adjacent yards.
- Your dog’s posture while he’s barking appears threatening – tail held high and ears up and forward.
- You’ve encouraged your dog to be responsive to people and noises outside.
- Teach your dog a “quiet” command. Start by teaching your dog to bark on cue. When you can cue him to bark, you can teach him a “quiet” cue. When you anticipate that your dog is going to bark, cue “speak” and reward him for his bark. Repeat several times, rewarding with a treat each time he barks. This will probably take a few sessions. When he readily barks when you cue “speak”, he probably understands the cue. When he is responding to the “speak” cue, teach quiet. Cue “speak”, do not reward this time. After your dog barks, say “quiet” and reward him for not barking.
- Desensitize your dog to the stimulus that triggers the barking. Teach him 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, then toss a treat to the dog. Over time, the dog will learn that people approaching predicts a treat and will welcome the presence of strangers.
- Use a very special food reward such as little pieces of cheese or meat. As the person gradually comes closer, continue to reward his quiet behaviour. It may take several sessions before the person can come close without your dog barking. When the person can come very close without your dog barking, have them feed him a treat or throw a toy for him.
- If your dog barks while inside the house when you’re home, call him to you, have him obey a command, such as “sit” or “down,” and reward him with praise and a treat. Don’t inadvertently encourage this type of barking by enticing your dog to bark at things he hears or sees outside.
- Have your dog neutered or spayed to decrease territorial behaviour.
Fears and phobias
- The barking occurs when he’s exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms firecrackers or construction equipment.
- Your dog’s posture indicates fear – ears back, tail held low.
- Identify what’s frightening your dog and desensitize him to it. You may need professional help with the desensitization process. Check with your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication while you work on behaviour modification.
- Mute noise from outside by leaving your dog in a basement or windowless bathroom and leave on a television, radio or loud fan.
- Block off your dog’s access to outdoor views that might be causing a fear response, by closing curtains or doors to certain rooms.
- The barking occurs only when you’re gone and starts as soon as, or shortly after, you leave.
- Your dog displays other behaviours that reflect a strong attachment to you, such as following you from room to room, frantic greetings or reacting anxiously to your preparations to leave.
- Your dog has recently experienced: a change in the family’s schedule that results in his being left alone more often; a move to a new house; the death or loss of a family member or another family pet; or a period at an animal shelter or boarding kennel.
- Separation anxiety can be resolved using counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques.
You can also learn more about Separation Anxiety here.
We don’t condone the use of Bark collars and other aversive techniques.