Many people live with and around dogs that bark too much. If you have a high drive dog, then barking could be particularly challenging. Barking can be a nuisance. And if a neighbor complains it can also become a legal issue. But before your dog’s – or your neighbor’s dog’s – barking issues can be addressed, it helps to understand why he or she is barking. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons. Following is a list of possible triggers, and how they might be handled:
Barking for attention
A bored dog may not have anything more interesting to do than to bark. Yelling at him to be quiet will typically only make matters worse, as he’ll consider this attention, and thus rewarding. Just like children, bad attention is better than no attention at all. If your dog is bored, he needs an outlet for his energy. Consider getting up earlier to walk or play ball with him, and give him more mental exercise. Additionally, giving him toys or chew treats may keep him occupied while you’re away.
Barking at prey animals
If a dog is prey driven – as so many are – he may not be able to resist chasing critters that run by. In this case, teaching the dog to re-direct attention to a toy or game is helpful when you are around to reinforce the new behavior. When you are away, keep the dog separated from areas where squirrels play. As an alternative, a motion detector sprinkler can be a great way to keep small animals away from the yard.
Barking at perceived intruders
Known as alarm barking, most people want their dogs to bark at intruders this way. It’s their job! However, excessive barking can be a problem. Here again, yelling at the dog to be quiet seldom works. Instead, first acknowledge the “intruder” by looking directly at him/her/it and then praising the dog. (“Good watch dog.”) Next, tell the dog “quiet now” and lure him away with a treat. Tell him to sit, down or some other trick and give him the treat. If he attempts to go back to barking at the “intruder”, call him away with an “ah-ah” and ask for additional tricks in exchange for treats. Over time, the long process won’t be necessary and a simple “Good watch dog, quiet now” will suffice to quiet him down. If your dog is a persistent barker, you may add a “time out” – 30 seconds to 2 minutes of isolation – whenever he goes back to bark at something after you have praised him and called him away the first time.
Barking when left alone
Some dogs bark when left alone for extended periods of time. If your dog does this, it could be due to boredom or it could potentially be separation anxiety. If your dog is bored, then increasing his mental stimulation, as described under “attention barking” above, could help to alleviate this. However, if your dog has separation anxiety, then it is important to treat this very challenging condition with the help of a professional behavior counselor and/or veterinary behaviorist. Some helpful management tactics include doggy day care, or getting a sitter to spend time with your dog during the day. Please note that separation anxiety is also best diagnosed by a professional, so when in doubt, consider calling one.
If you have a serious barking dog challenge, contact your local dog trainer. He or she can help you to teach your dog to be more polite. Telling your neighbors that you are working with the trainer for the barking can also go a long way to build rapport and keep them from taking legal action against you.