Bark Bark BarkSome canine behavior problems, such as house soiling, affect only a dog’s owners. However, problems such as escaping and excessive barking can result in neighborhood disputes and violations of animal control ordinances. Therefore, barking dogs can become people-problems. If your dog’s barking has created neighborhood tension, it might be a good idea to discuss the problem with your neighbors. 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 you have 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 them 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 neighbors, 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 causing your dog’s barking.
Bored and LonelyYour dog may be barking because they're bored and lonely if:
- They are left alone for long periods of time.
- Their environment is relatively barren, without playmates or toys.
- They are a puppy or adolescent (under three years old) and doesn’t have other things to do or to tire themselves out.
- They are a particularly active type of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs a job to be happy.
RecommendationsExpand your dog’s world and increase his people time in the following ways:
- Walk your dog daily for at least 30 minutes – it's good exercise, both mental and physical. Balancing exercise is an important part of dog ownership and not always easy to do. More is not always better. High-energy dogs can actually get too much exercise as easily as not enough. On-leash every day for 30 minutes together with off-leash or some other high excitement exercise 3-4 times a week is a good start to balancing your dog's exercise regime.
- Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks and practice them every day for five to ten minutes. Meal time is an excellent time to do this and helps to tire your dog mentally.
- Take a training class with your dog. Choose a class that is positive and fun – you never know what you will learn, it’s valuable bonding time for the two of you and gives you new training goals to work toward.
- Feed your dog his food from a Kong® or a puzzle toy. Provide interesting toys to keep your dog busy when you’re not home (Kong® toys or puzzle toys filled with the dog’s meal, or toys with treats in them hidden around the house).
- If your dog is barking to get your attention, make sure they have sufficient time with you on a daily basis (petting, grooming, playing, exercising) so they don't have to resort to misbehaving to get your attention. Teach your dog what to do instead of barking, when they want attention (get a toy or sit quietly). If you feel your dog is barking at you for attention, reward their first bark with a request for several behaviours then get up and walk away once he has complied (I.e. “bark” – sit, down, sit, spin, bow, sit, down – then leave – stand up, walk away and repeat). When your dog goes to find something else to do, like pick up a toy, reward them with a game of tug. Try really hard to make sure you’re asking and the dog is complying, not the other way around.
- Keep your dog inside when you’re unable to supervise them. Never ever leave a dog out in the yard when you are not home. People frequently come home to find their yard dogs, gone, injured, or dead. You cannot train when you are not there and your dog prefers to be inside, where they feel safe. This step alone eliminates most nuisance barking.
- Let your neighbors know that you’re actively working on the problem. Solicit their help and ask them to let you know when and if your dog has been barking during your absence.
- When you have to leave your dog for extended periods of time, take them to a “doggie day care” – hire a mid-day dog walker, or have a friend or neighbor walk and/or play with them.
Guarding TerritoryYour dog may be barking to guard their territory if:
- The barking occurs in the presence of “intruders” which may include squirrels, the mail carrier, children walking to school and other dogs or neighbors in adjacent yards.
- Your dog’s posture while he’s barking appears threatening i.e. 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. The easiest, fastest way to s do this is by teaching “speak” “hush” simultaneously. Ask us for help.
- Desensitize your dog to the stimulus that triggers the barking. Teach them that the people they view as intruders are actually friends and that good things happen to them when these people are around. Ask someone to walk by your yard, starting far enough away so that your dog isn’t barking when they spot the person, then reward them for more appropriate behavior as they obey a “sit” or “down” command. Use a very special food reward such as little pieces of cheese or meat in order to make paying attention to you, more worthwhile than barking is. As the person gradually comes closer, continue to reward their quiet behavior. 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 your dog a treat or throw a toy. There are many ways to change the barking behaviour of dogs who bark at passers-by, if this does not work after several sessions, ask us for help.
- If your dog barks while inside the house when you’re home, call them to you, have them obey a command, such as “sit” or “down”, and reward them with praise and a treat.
- Don’t inadvertently encourage this type of barking by enticing your dog to bark at things they hear or see outside.
- Have your dog neutered or spayed to decrease territorial behavior.
- It may be necessary to confine your dog when you cannot train them or block their access to windows/doors they are looking out of in order to restrict barking opportunities. Barking is a rewarding behaviour for dogs and if your dog has been practicing for a long time, it will require strict management to change.
ScaredYour dog’s barking may be a response to something they are afraid of if:
- The barking occurs when they are exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms firecrackers or construction equipment.
- Your dog’s posture indicates fear i.e. ears back, tail held low.
- Identify what’s frightening your dog and desensitize them to it – ask us for help.
- Mute noise from outside by leaving your dog in a closed room with a television, radio or loud fan on. Block off your dog’s access to outdoor views that might be causing a fear response, by closing curtains or doors to certain rooms.
- Take your dog to doggy daycare when you are not home and keep them on leash when you are. Help them feel safe.
Separation AnxietyYour dog may be barking due to separation anxiety if:
- The barking occurs only when you’re gone and starts as soon as, or shortly after, you leave.
- Your dog displays other behaviors 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 them 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.
RecommendationsSeparation anxiety can often be resolved using counter-conditioning and desensitization techniques – ask us for help.
Bark CollarsBark collars are designed to deliver an aversive/correction whenever your dog barks. There are several different kinds of bark collars.
Citronella CollarThis collar contains a reservoir of citronella solution that sprays into your dog’s face every time they bark. A citronella collar is considered relatively humane. One possible drawback is that the collar contains a microphone, so the aversive is delivered in response to the sound of the bark. Therefore, other noises are likely to set off the collar, causing your dog to be sprayed even if he hasn’t barked. Also, some dogs can tell when the citronella reservoir is empty and will resume barking, or will bark until the collar is empty to relieve stress and allow for barking. Dogs wearing citronella collars are just as likely to have increased barking due to increased stress, develop other behaviour problems, or shut down emotionally as they are to quit barking.
Aversive Sound CollarThis collar emits a high-frequency sound when your dog barks. Some are activated by the noise of the bark, while others are hand-held and activated by a handler. The rate of success for this type of collar is reportedly rather low although the collars are more humane than the other two collars mentioned here. Used properly, the sound interrupts the behaviour (barking) and allows you to tell your dog what to do instead i.e. come here. The collar is rarely effective all by itself as the dog learns to ignore the sound.
Electric Shock CollarWe don’t recommend an electric shock collar to control your dog’s barking. The electric shock is painful to your dog and many dogs will choose to endure the pain and continue barking. Dogs have been known to bark themselves into a pain-stimulated frenzy, to be shocked when other loud noises happen, and to have injuries including burnt skin, holes in the neck, and severe burns from wet weather. This does not happen with all collars or with all dogs however the possibility of these inhumane situations is much higher with this type of collar and is something we would not recommend under any circumstances. The success rate of this type of collar is less than 50%.
The main drawback of any bark collar is that it doesn’t address the underlying cause of the barking. The collar interrupts the barking but does not teach the dog what to do instead. You may be able to eliminate the barking, but symptom substitution may occur and your dog may begin digging, escaping, or become destructive or even aggressive. The use of a bark collar must be in conjunction with behavior modification based on the reason for the barking, as outlined above. You should never use a bark collar on your dog if their barking is due to separation anxiety, fears, or phobias because punishment always makes fear and anxiety behaviours worse. Always ask a trainer you trust, or two, before buying or using a bark collar on your dog.