Problem Solving For Excessive Barking
An important part of pet ownership is teaching your puppy or dog proper pet manners and how to be a good neighbor. It is your responsibility to have control over your dog and to correct bad behavior, like excessive barking. Your pet should never be left outside unattended and you should always obey leash laws. Obedience training is an important factor in this process. Knowing a simple command, such as to come when called, could save your pet’s life. Some corrections should begin when your dog is a puppy, even before he is leash trained, while other corrections require a leash and collar. Remember, your puppy or dog is like a small child. He might misbehave due to curiosity or boredom, not because he knows what he’s doing is unacceptable. Remember, with any unacceptable canine behavior, prevention is easier than treatment.
To correct common behavior problems, follow these basic steps:
- Get your puppy or dog’s attention using a low-pitched, stern voice saying “No!” or “Ahh!” to stop the behavior.
- Provide an acceptable alternative behavior or distraction.
- Praise correct behavior in a happy voice (“Good dog!”) and pet him or give treats.
Barking is a normal, natural behavior for dogs. It is the way dogs communicate, it relieves tension and boredom, and drives strangers away. It is a “self-reinforcing” activity for the dog, which means that the act of barking is its own reward in many instances. Because of this, barking is one of the most difficult canine behaviors to modify. Barking should stop when the dog is commanded to do so. For this reason, we need to control the behavior when possible and teach the dog when it is and is not acceptable to bark. In most cases, excessive barking can be corrected with a stern “No…Quiet!” Praise your puppy or dog when he is quiet. Be consistent every time your dog is barking inappropriately. Give the quiet command and only reward when the dog is still and quiet. If your dog is being quiet when he would normally bark, make sure you give lots of praise with a pat or treat to reward his good behavior. The younger the dog, the less time he has had to develop the barking habit, and the more quickly he will learn the quiet command.
Barking is a normal, natural behavior for dogs. It relieves tension, it drives strangers away, and it is the way dogs communicate. It is also a "self-reinforcing" activity for the dog, which means that the act of barking is its own reward in many instances. Because of this, barking is one of the most difficult canine behaviors to modify. Barking should stop when the dog is commanded to do so. For this reason, we need to control the behavior when possible and teach the dog when it is and is not acceptable to bark.
Socializing puppies to a variety of new people, animals, environments, and noises can reduce anxieties as the dog grows up. Owner control, training, and leadership are also essential. While young, the dog should learn to spend time playing or relaxing alone so that it's not too distressed when it must be left alone. Many dogs will bark excessively when their owners are absent. Other dogs are very stressed by being left alone outside all day. In their mind they are being cast out of the pack's den. These dogs exhibit stress by barking, digging, chewing and general destructiveness. By making your dog more a part of the family, your dog will become happier and less prone to these stress behaviors, including unwanted barking.
Many dogs are kept outside in fenced yards or runs, especially during the day while their family is at work or school. This is when most of the excessive barking problems occur, since dogs can become over-stimulated by noises and the presence of people and animals nearby. In this case, you need to remove the visual stimulus by tarping the fence and covering any holes. Then there is the bored dog with nothing better to do who engages in recreational barking to pass the time. Owners sometimes inadvertently reinforce the barking by giving the dog attention, positive or negative, when it barks excessively. It is best not to yell, scold, go to, play with, touch or pet, or bring indoors a dog that is barking, since all of the above attempted solutions may be seen as rewarding to the dog. When a behavior results in the dog getting what it wants, it will be more likely to repeat the behavior. Reward your dog by touching or petting, or give a treat or toy once he has stopped barking and is quiet. You want the dog to associate that being quiet is what gets him the reward, not barking.
Punishment is generally ineffective in the control and correction of barking problems. Never hit, slap, or hold your dog's mouth shut to stop the barking. This only teaches your dog to fear you, which can increase anxiety and further aggravate the problem. For punishment to be effective, barking must be disrupted at the instant it begins using a technique or device that effectively interrupts the barking. When you are not present and barking begins, the only solution might be to use bark-activated products. But unless the dog is also trained to be quiet in the presence of the stimulus, devices will only disrupt, not eliminate barking habits.
Some dogs will bark excessively indoors. They may be reacting to something they see from a door or window. Try restricting access to the dog's outside view (close the drapes, put him in a back room, etc.) to help control this behavior. Placing a blanket over the dog's crate to create a small, dark area can help keep your dog calm. If your dog overreacts to the arrival of visitors, simple obedience commands can be used. Teach your dog to come to you and sit or lie down when greeting people, rather than to run, bark and jump up on visitors. Or send your dog to his crate, placing a blanket over the crate to create a small, dark area to help keep him calm. This unacceptable behavior is often inadvertently reinforced when the dog is a puppy, and then carries over into the dog's adulthood much to the owner's dismay.
Since it is acceptable and desirable for our dogs to bark to alert us to people at the door or to warn us of intruders, we don't want to completely stop our dogs from barking, but just get it under control. The best approach to barking control is to train the dog when to bark on command and stop on command. To do this, it is important to teach the dog the "Speak" command first, and then "Quiet." Following are the steps to teaching both the Speak and Quiet commands.
Teaching the "Speak" Command
I believe it is important to teach your dog a "Quiet" command. To do this, you must teach a "Speak" command first.
Find something your dog wants (treats, food, toy). Entice the dog with the object, increasing the dog's desire for it. Hold it above the dog's head and ask the dog to "Speak." In the beginning, an exasperated exhale, squeak, grumble or noise should be considered good behavior. Reward that exhale or other vocalization with treats, petting and praise. Repeat until the dog shows enthusiasm and barks. When the dog barks, give a big reward (treats or play session).
If there are occasions where your dog barks regularly, use these situations in your training by asking the dog to speak. For example, if your dog barks when the doorbell rings, say "Speak" and then ring the doorbell. When the dog barks, reward by giving praise and a treat. Repeat until you can phase out the doorbell or other stimuli. Behaviors like "Speak" are easier to train because it's something your dog already does naturally.
Teaching The "Quiet" Command
- Put the dog on leash.
- Ask the dog to "Speak," and when he does, give a treat.
- Do this 4-6 times in a row.
- Then ask to the dog to be "Quiet." When your dog barks, quickly tug the leash and say "No!" "Quiet, good!" Very quickly give 3 treats in a row. The dog learns quiet has a high value reward.
- Repeat steps 2-4 until the dog doesn't need a leash correction. Do this 4-6 times in a row. Take a play break.
As the dog progresses, don't give any treats for "Speak", but give 1 treat for "Quiet".
Reasons Dogs Bark
- Breed - Some breeds of dogs seem to enjoy being more vocal than others, such as Bassets, Hounds, Collies, Shelties, Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, and nearly all Terriers. However, getting a dog of another breed is no guarantee again a barking problem. Almost all breeds have some tendency to engage in alarm barking, although there is a great variation amongst individual dogs.
- Loneliness - Don't leave your dog in the backyard 24 hours a day. Dogs are highly social animals and have an intense need to be with their "pack." Dogs left outdoors are very prone to developing barking problems. In fact, that might be why the dog barks so much in the first place; he or she is very unhappy at being left outside. Bring your dog inside while you are gone if that is the only time he or she barks. The dog will feel more secure inside and less apt to bark. If your dog is destructive, crate train the dog so he or she can stay inside without destroying the house. At a minimum, your dog should be kept in your house whenever you are home.
- Fear - Your dog might be barking in response to something he is afraid of, such as loud noises, thunderstorms, firecrackers or construction equipment. These types of sounds can cause stress and fear, and even long-term phobias. Identify what is causing the fear and desensitize him to it. You may need professional help in the desensitization process. Keep your dog inside in a crate or let him "hide out" in his favorite place, and try masking the noise with "white noise" (from an air conditioner or loud fan), or with other familiar sounds, such as the radio or television. Do not stroke, pet, hug or otherwise comfort your dog if he is afraid, even though it's a natural reaction to do so. This will praise him for his nervous behavior and he will likely be more frightened the next time a loud noise occurs.
- Territorial Barking - Dogs often bark at people, other dogs, cats, or passing traffic while patrolling the house or the borders of the yard. Every dog has watchdog instincts, which he inherited from his ancestors who had to defend their food and territory from predators. Some breeds, those bred to guard, herd or retrieve, are particularly prone to territorial barking. The main targets are often delivery people because they drop things off and then leave; dogs think their barking scares these intruders off, which reinforces the behavior.
- Physical need - The dog is hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, or needs to eliminate. Barking is the dog's way of asking for your attention to one of these needs.
- Emotional need - The dog might be bored, anxious or excited. Barking can be a request for attention or a compulsive behavior resulting from a lack of social or mental stimulation. Increase play and exercise so your dog will be less bored and sleep more. Teach your dog to fetch a ball or Frisbee and practice with him as often as possible. Enroll in a class to build your dog's confidence and emotional control, and spend five to ten minutes practicing the commands you've learned. Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise. If you must leave your dog for extended periods of time, consider taking him to a "doggie day care" or have a friend or neighbor walk and/or play with him.
- Medical problem - Medical problems can contribute to vocalization. In some cases where barking becomes intense, repetitive, and difficult to interrupt, it may be deemed compulsive. Pets with medical, geriatric, and compulsive disorders may benefit from drug therapy along with behavioral retraining techniques.
- Barking during crate training - Do not reinforce anxiety-induced barking or whining by comforting the dog or talking to him in a soothing voice. Talk to him, take him out of his crate, pet him, and play with him only after he is quiet for at least a few seconds. If you have been "giving in" to your dog by letting him out of his crate when you can't stand the barking any longer, be aware that you have strongly reinforced him to bark to be released from his crate. This behavior will get worse before it gets better, as the dog now thinks he must simply try harder to get what he wants. If you hold out, eventually the dog will give up. Wait for the barking to stop and praise him quickly before opening the crate.
Problem Solving For Barking
- Time buffers - Studies have shown that most dogs are at their destructive and vocal worst 20 minutes after you leave for work (the dog is stressed that it has to spend the day alone) and 20 minutes before you come home in the evening (the dog is excitedly anticipating your homecoming). Time buffers teach the dog to settle down for the day and to remain unemotional when you first return home. Fifteen minutes before you need to leave the house in the morning, put your dog in his crate, dog run or room (wherever he is to spend the day) and ignore him. By all means, correct any barking or destructive behavior, but do not play with him or talk to him other than to correct inappropriate behaviors. When it is time for you to leave, just leave. Do not make a big deal out of it. A "good bye, have a nice day" is enough. You are trying to teach your dog to settle in for the day, and not get so emotional when you say goodbye. Then do it in reverse when you come home. Leave your dog in his day confinement. If he or she is loose in the house, do not touch, make direct eye contact, or talk to the dog for fifteen minutes before greeting him or her. Correct any barking behavior but do nothing more. This will teach your dog that even though you have come home, there is a cooling off period before he can be greeted.
- Provide activities - If your dog is busy chewing, it's more unlikely that he or she will be barking at the same time. Good chewing toys are Kong toys stuffed with cheese, biscuits or peanut butter. Stuffing sterilized beef bones also works great. Put the special chew toy down just before you leave for the day and pick it up when you return home. Another good item to keep your dog busy is the Buster Cube. You fill it with your dog's ration of kibbles and he has to work on it to receive his meal.
- Try setting your dog up - Do everything you would normally do if you were leaving for the day, such as putting the dog in his crate or room, get out your keys, put on your coat and walk out the door. Only don't leave; instead wait just outside the door listening to see what your dog will do. If your dog starts barking or howling, you can quickly go back into your house and correct with the "Quiet" command. Then immediately leave again, standing just outside the front door. If you have a difficult case, you would wait for five full minutes of continual silence before returning inside. Wait inside for another ten minutes, then leave again to your spot just outside the door. Gradually you would build up to leaving your dog for 30 minutes with no barking or whining, again with you waiting just outside the door. Once you have built up to 30 to 60 minutes with no vocalizations, most dogs can usually be left safely for several hours without a problem.
There are numerous collars on the market that produce an electrical stimulation, an irritating ultrasonic sound, or a smell (offensive to dogs) when the dog barks. Collars alone will not cure the problem, but may be used in addition to behavior modification. Unfortunately, these collars do not always produce the desired effect. For some hard-core barkers, the punishment for barking is not sufficient to get them to stop. They would rather bark and be punished than not bark at all. For dogs that bark due to separation anxiety, fears or phobias, these collars should not be used as the collar's correction may increase their fear and anxiety, thus making things worse. Bark activated products are the most practical means of deterring excessive barking, and may be a better choice than owner-activated devices since they ensure immediate and accurate timing.
Citronella Collars - The collar contains a reservoir of citronella solution that sprays into your dog's face every time he barks. One drawback is that the collar contains a microphone, so the spray is delivered in response to the sound of the bark. However, other noises may set off the collar, causing your dog to be sprayed even if he hasn't barked. Also, some dogs can tell when the reservoir is empty and will resume barking. It has about a 50% success rate.
Audible and Ultrasonic Collars - These collars emits a high-frequency sound when the dog barks. Some are activated by the noise of the bark, while others are owner-activated. The rate of success for this type of collar is reportedly rather low.
Electric Shock Collar - This collar should only be used as a final option since they have the potential for injury and abuse. The electric shock is painful to the dog and many dogs will endure the pain and continue barking. It has about a 90% success rate. You should discuss this option with your veterinarian.