A dog that barks excessively is often unhappy, as is his owner, not to mention the annoyed neighbours. Excessive dog barking happens for a number of reasons, many of which we will discuss in this article.
Why do dogs bark excessively?
- territorial defence and
- fear and anxiety.
Therefore, the solutions to excessive dog barking problems will differ from one dog to the next. We need to keep in mind that most barking is normal and it is the dogs communicate.
Talk to your veterinarian to check for any potential health or mental issues that are causing excessive dog barking problem. They may refer you to an animal behaviourist (reward-based) who will help to determine the underlying cause of the barking. They will then develop a tailor-made humane treatment plan for your dog. In some rare cases, the use of veterinary medications in combination with behavioural modification may be required.
Dog behaviourists will ask owners a lot of questions. They may also do home visits to observe your dog in its own environment to identify barking ‘triggers’. Triggers may include seeing or hearing a person walking past or the neighbour’s dog.
Reward-based training uses positive reinforcement in excessive dog barking training. The dog gets a reward ‘good’ behaviour. When the dog is quiet give a tasty dog food treat. Avoid rewarding any ‘unwanted’ behaviour. So, if the dog barks he is ignored and learns attention barking doesn’t get the treat.
Training should not involve punishment which tends to exacerbate the barking problem.
How to reduce your dog’s excessive barking,
Barking is quite normal for most dogs and is an important means of communication. They will often bark when attracting the attention of other dogs. Most dogs will respond when they hear other dogs barking and will use barking as a way of communicating with their owners.
Some dogs have sensitive hearing and react to any noise however slight by barking. They will often respond by barking when they hear any movement or a knock on the front door or the ring of the bell.
Underlying issues causing the excessive barking
However, excessive dog barking usually indicates an underlying issue. Before managing a barking problem successfully will need to find the cause of the barking. Your neighbours (if they’re friendly and co-operative enough)may help by letting you know you how much your dog barks when you’re away. If a dog’s excessive barking is not tackled correctly then they become annoying to everyone concerned.
Dogs bark for a wide range of reasons and it is important to discover the reason your dog is an excessive barker. Once the underlying cause and ‘triggers’ for the barking are identified, training techniques can be used to treat the excessive barking in a gentle and loving way.
Are your dog’s needs being met
First, you must find out if your dog’s behavioural needs are being met. Often dogs that have excessive barking problems tend not to have their behavioural and emotional needs met and they include:
Does the dog get enough exercise? Where possible if the owner works all day they need to try and take their dog for a good walk prior to their leaving for work. This can help to tire the dog out and reduce anxiety levels thereby reducing excessive dog barking during the first part of the day.
The amount of exercise your dog needs will depend on his size, age, fitness and breed. If you’re unable to fit your dogs exercise into your schedule you’ll need to make other arrangements. To help keep your dog exercised its worth hiring a dog- walker or a reliable and trustworthy person you may know to help you out.
A dog requires Company
If your dog is left for long periods of time you will need to organise some form of company for your dog. Maybe arrange an extra amount of time with the dog-walker or get a doggies minder to pop in and sit with your dog. This provides the dog with physical and mental stimulation and is a good way of preventing barking. Owners should also investigate ‘doggy daycare’ services in their area. Dogs are social animals and generally do not like being on their own.
Stimulation to reduce barking
Excessive dog barking occurs when a dog is bored. A bored dog can quickly conjure up a lot of mischief by chewing things, trashing the house or peeing inappropriately. None of these things is the dogs’ fault, he’s bored and lonely. What he needs is the opportunities to be physically and mentally stimulated during the day. This means he needs some form of company and exercise if he has to be left alone.
To prevent your dog from chewing your new furniture or your favourite shoes while you’re away, he will need something to occupy him. Being occupied will also reduce the need for to bark excessively.
So, you must provide some food toys or other toys to preoccupy him? Providing chew toys and Kong toys with food treats stuffed inside them can help to keep a dog busy some time.
The basis of Barking issues
Take the time to characterise your dog’s barking habits – does he bark at people passing by? Ask your neighbours whether he barks while you are away from home – does he bark all day or only some of the time?
Talk to your veterinarian who can provide behaviour advice and it’s also a good idea to take your dog to the vet for a full health check to make sure there are no medical reasons for the excessive barking.
Being anxious when left alone
Dogs are social animals and although it is normal for them to be anxious when first left alone, canine separation anxiety can become a problem. Teach your dog to cope when left alone at an early age. Begin by trying small amounts of time apart. For example, you could put your dog outside in the yard for short periods of time while you are still at home. Make sure they have toys to play and safe things to chew on while they are outside so the experience is a positive one. Please see the feeding article linked below.
Eliminate Excessive Dog Barking
Gradually extend the length of time you are leaving your dog alone. When you do leave the house make sure that they have somewhere safe to retreat to such as a kennel. Make sure that they receive plenty of exercises and that they have a supply of toys and safe chew toys/items to keep them entertained while you are away. Do not fuss over your dog when you come home – make sure both your departure and return are quiet and unexcited. Most dogs will adjust to periods of time alone, however, some become severely stressed and may begin to bark incessantly and even self-mutilate/injure themselves. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety you will need to manage the condition in consultation with a veterinarian.
Dogs can also bark due to fear. They may be afraid of people coming near their territory or fearful of noises. particularly at night which may stimulate anxieties. Dogs can also be fearful of fireworks, thunderstorms, and lawnmowers etc.
It is natural for your dog to want to warn you about potential intruders. Your dog may not be able to distinguish between welcome visitors, people strolling past your home and intruders. Try and use predictable passers-by such as the postman to change your dog’s association from territory protection to a positive experience. Try and pre-empt the postman’s arrival and offer your dog a delicious treat or favourite toy. Only reward your dog when he/she is calm and not barking. With time your dog may begin to associate a person passing the house with something good rather than someone to protect you from.
If your dog barks at your neighbours when they are in their garden it is probably also because they are protecting your territory. Again, make sure you have some tasty treats at hand so that your dog associates your neighbours with the food (only give the treat when your dog is calm and not barking).
You may also consider asking your friendly neighbours to treat your dog and supply them with their own stockpile – this is preferable to having them yell at your dog in frustration – yelling at a barking dog will only tend to reinforce the barking and protective behaviour. Barking is also reinforced when owners yell or scold their own barking dog and should be avoided. Successfully treating excessive dog barking relies on positive reinforcement – that is, reward good ‘quiet’ behaviour and avoid reinforcing ‘unwanted’ behaviour.
Dogs will bark when attracting their owners’ attention. They are easily bored when left alone for long periods of time. Boredom is worse if the dog has nothing to do while its humans are at work/away from the home.
You can modify attention-seeking barking by ignoring unwanted behaviour and rewarding good behaviour. When your dog barks for attention he should be completely ignored – avoid eye contact, even leave the room. Praise and pet your dog when he is calm and quiet. This shows he realises that this is the behaviour required to secure your attention. You can also give your dog a food treat when he/she is calm and not barking. This rewards good behaviour and does not reinforce ‘unwanted’ behaviour.
The 8 Point Plan for Excessive Dog Barking training
Find a way of encouraging the dog to bark. A dog will bark out of excitement. Such as in response to the doorbell or if you hold its food bowl up in the air. Or you may only need to use a food reward or a toy.
- When, with a bit of friendly teasing, your dog barks, praise it and repeat the word ‘speak!’ during the vocalisation.
- Repeat the exercise until the dog associates the word ‘speak’ with the act of barking and vocalises for rewards.
- Reserve praise and rewards for times when the dog has barked only after having heard the command to speak. This places the bark under stimulus control (i.e. puts it on command).
- Introduce the word ‘quiet!’ or ‘stop!’ while your dog is barking on command and give it a toy or food treat as soon as it stops barking.
- Give praise and rewards only when the dog stops barking. And only after having heard the command to be ‘quiet!’ or ‘stop!’ This place the termination of barking under stimulus control.
- Repeat step 6 whenever the dog is barking without being told to speak. This links the signal to be quiet with the cessation of spontaneous barking. Reward liberally for all appropriate responses at this stage …. of course!
- Issue your friendly neighbours with a supply of rewards and instruct them to repeat step 6 whenever the dog is barking. Finally, please do consult with your vet for further advice.
Reference: Etiology of barking -Why Do Dogs Bark? Dr P McGreevy, Urban Animal Management Conference
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