For those of you who aren’t completely informed when you’re thinking about buying ir adopting a dog, I have a small newsflash for you. Dogs bark! The reason I am exaggerating this well-known fact is because in my time doing animal rescue, to my own ears, and the ears of my fellow rescuers, the question “Does he bark?” has come up more than once.
And frankly, once is one too many times.
Yes, dogs bark, it is a natural instinctual communication for them, though body language is their primary form of communication. I will concede that some dogs can bark too much, for inappropriate lengths of time, at inopportune times, and at ear shattering pitches. So in this article, we will address that ‘excessive barking.’
What is barking for?
Barking serves these 4 purposes to your dog:
Alerting You – to danger, to a stranger, to something different that doesn’t belong as far as your dog knows.
Warning – other dogs, animals, or people they don’t trust to stay away.
Invitation – to invite to play. Barking while playing is normal, they often express excitement and joy that way.
Various other purposes – out of enjoyment, to demand something (if you allow that to continue you will regret it), to communicate long distance with another dog, to signal in the case of sporting dogs. Dogs will bark in frustration, also to soothe themselves when bored, anxious, or scared.
Why does my dog bark so much?
If a dog is barking excessively, there are plenty of triggers that can be found. Often, depending on how you have reacted to barking during their formative weeks, you (or previous guardians) may have inadvertently trained them to bark at inappropriate times. Also, barking excessively while you’re not home can be related to separation anxiety or hyper vigilance (especially if they believe they are the protectors of the home).
Some dogs obsess over the smallest things, and barking is usually involved. If a high anxiety or bored dog finds solace and comfort in barking at every person that passes the bay window and watching their startled reaction, then that is what they will continue to do.
To inject a note of comedy – some dogs are inexplicably afraid of certain objects, such as a person wearing a hat. Until the person takes the hat off, this dog will bark at that person hysterically. How he became afraid or obsessed with people in hats can only be an educated guess. We affirm insecure and harmful behaviors accidentally without even understanding or knowing we are doing so with small gestures, tones, body language. Dogs are hyper aware of these things at all times, whereas we are not. Again, learn dog language if you want to learn to communicate better with your pooch.
There are often underlying issues to excessive barking, some I’ve mentioned. Separation anxiety, boredom, hyper vigilance, insecurity, or reacting to the sound of another dog is a few. Often, in order to begin working on a barking problem, like most behavioral issues, you will need to ascertain the root of the problem before you begin any type of treatment.
What steps can I take to help stop or reduce the barking?
Here are some suggestions:
Squirt bottle – used to break the focus or state of mind your dog can become wrapped up in while barking their face off. It’s best done without letting her know it’s you or what you’re using. For more skittish or snappy dogs, or dogs afraid of water or squirt bottles, this might not be the best tool.
Action – Never stand there and allow them to continue barking if you are present. Saying their name repeatedly, raising your voice an octave each time is futile. If they are in a hyper state, super focused, or obsessing, your voice will not be enough to snap them out of it. You need to go over to them, remove them from the stimulant, take them to a quiet place, put them in a sit or down, and distract them with something else, like a favorite toy, or something to chew on. When they take the bait for distraction, praise them.
Or use the squirt bottle if applicable, and draw them to another activity, again praising them if they move on to that distraction.
For super obsessed or willful dogs, it may take a plan of action consisting of exercises set up, and practiced daily, in order to train them, or reprogram that behavior.
Are bark collars recommended?
As a last resort, there are a few different types of bark collars. There are ones that spray air in their face, ones that spray water, or citronella (a lemony spray that dogs hate), and of course the ‘E-collar’. I am personally against actual shock collars that deliver electrical volts. Shock collars are cruel and unnecessary, period, no “ifs” “ands” or “buts!”
An E-collar is an electric collar that, upon a bark, signals with a small electric current (NOT an actual dangerous electrical shock) which can sting but is no more dangerous than the vibration setting on your cell phone. It’s meant to ‘startle’ or ‘break’ them from the barking. It’s also a natural consequence in that it does startle or unsettle them in to quiet.
There are actual training methods for using E-collars, but in general, you need to leave them on for 8 to 10 hours a day for a period of weeks, until the natural consequence of the vibration becomes ingrained. I would find a training book that has a section of E-collars, or a book devoted to training with E-collars. Most vets do not recommend them as they can be dangerous if your dog manages to get them wet.
So how do I start training my dog not to bark?
Get started today! The sooner you begin to weave proper reactions to inappropriate barking in to your dog’s life, the sooner you will get a grip on the problem.
NEVER reward inappropriate barking. Pay attention to what you are doing when they are barking. Do not punish! Even a punishment will re-enforce the behavior, as your dog will have succeeded in their goal – to get your attention.
Besides which, there is no place for punishment in dog training. Work a harmless natural consequence in to the equation, or simply distract them with another activity, even a treat if needed. ALWAYS reward calm, quiet, collected behavior, even if it’s just verbal or a brief touch of affection.
Please, always seek professional help if you are out of your depth. If it’s got to the point where neighbors are complaining, you could be looking at court action, a ‘barking’ fine of many hundred dollars, or even animal services being sent in to investigate the conditions your dog is being kept in.
Tip: Always look for animal behaviorists or dog trainers who believe in distraction and discipline rather than punishment (the difference is punishment is negative, whereas teaching discipline is positive routine, much like we would with ourselves concerning a morning exercise routine). Consistency and positive reinforcement is the only way to break a barking habit. Good luck!
Cat & Dog Behaviorist
Rescuer and Foster Home