Thousands of years ago, humans began the process of domesticating the dog and shaping what “being a dog” really means. Barking is a natural behavior that is encouraged as a guarding behavior, but can become a problem. A recent health insurance investigation revealed that a continually barking dog was cited as a disruptive and stress inducing noise for humans.
When I adopted Abby she didn’t bark for the first 6 weeks and then one morning found a reason to make noise. It brought me joy to hear her being a dog. As time has gone by she has made her presence known by barking at the neighbors coming home, the doorbell ringing and even at invited guests. I’ve started having Abby and I greet visitors outside and welcome them into my home. It has helped her see our friends and family are not a threat.
A Dog’s Bark; A Natural Trait
Barking, in addition to whining, howling and growling, is a dog’s natural means of communication. Barking is a series of short, sharp sounds, that tend to vary little in tone or pitch. A dog’s bark can signify territorial protection, exertion of dominance, or expression of some need. Barking is “a means of communication triggered by a state of excitement.” It is not a behavioral problem until it is produced in excess.
Causes of Problem Barking
Problem barking has a variety of origins. Genetics does influence a dog’s tendency to bark. Certain breeds belonging to the terrier family are prone to more frequent barking than breeds such as Greyhounds or Basenjis. Generally, excess barking can exist in any breed of dog. The key to solving the problem of inappropriate barking is to determine what stimulus is triggering the behavior. Improper confinement can be a major cause of problem barkers.
Improper confinement can include leaving a dog alone in a locked room, or in a dog crate (a tool used for housebreaking and other behavioral modifications). Other improper confinements can include restricted tethering outdoors, or even an enclosed yard without proper shelter from the elements. Such confinement can cause frustration and cause your dog to bark excessively. Lack of exercise is also a cause of excess barking. When a dog is not provided with adequate exercise they release their pent-up energy by barking.
Environmental sounds can also be a trigger. These sounds include other dogs barking, the sound of passing cars, strange voices, thunder, and mechanical noises such as the ringing of the phone. Noises can initiate barking at different times of the day. A dog may not bark during the day, but at night bark at the slightest of noises. Other causes of problem barking can include separation anxiety, or the temperament of the dog: an overly-aggressive animal may bark at the smallest provocation. A strongly territorial dog may bark at any stranger, invited or uninvited, entering your property.
Solutions to Excess Barking
Excess barking can be a serious behavioral problem and can damage the relationship you have with your dog if left untreated. The following text includes information on how to solve your dog’s problem barking as recommended by veterinary professionals.
First determine if your dog is barking in response to inadequate shelter or improper confinement. If that is the case, you must provide your dog with a comfortable amount of space or supply a doghouse if outdoor shelter is inadequate. Increasing the amount of exercise given to your dog may also help.
If your dog is barking in response to environmental noises, or the barking is simply due to its temperament, behavioral modification methods should be used. These methods can include reconditioning using a verbal reprimand such as “No!”, and leash correction. You should never yell at your dog, as loud noises may encourage your pet to bark more. Punishment should be applied while the barking is occurring for your dog to associate the unwanted behavior with the punishment. Also remember to reward your dog when it stops barking.
One indirect intervention techniques is spraying your dog with water while it is barking. There are also noise producing devices such as “Dog Stop” or “Barker Breaker,” which emit loud or high frequency sounds that interrupt and deter barking. You control the device or it is triggered by the dog’s bark. In the event your dog is resistant to these behavioral modifications, more drastic action can be taken in the form of bark activated shock collars. This device is particularly effective when barking occurs in the owner’s absence. Shock collars should only be used after other measures have failed.
The key to solving the problem of excess barking in your dog begins with an understanding of what is causing this behavior. Once you have determined a cause, you have a greater chance of choosing the most effective solution or behavioral modification. Modifying such an instinctive and natural behavior as barking can be difficult, however, solutions are possible and worth the effort.