Are you nervous about walking your dog because of his or her excessive barking? Are you afraid that this might be affecting your relationships in the neighborhood? You are not alone. This is a more common problem than you might suspect and there are solutions that do not require barking dog collars.
Why Dogs Bark
Dogs communicate by barking. Barking is a natural and healthy activity for a dog to engage in, but can become a problem when your dog barks too much or at inappropriate times. When is it appropriate for your dog to bark?
- Dogs send messages to other dogs. They may be warning of territorial boundaries, sending an invitation to play, announcing their arrival, or even sending more complex messages that we don’t completely understand.
- Dogs may bark to alert their owners of intruders and to warn them that their presence will be met with resistance.
- Dogs bark when they are excited about something i.e. a ride in the car, your return from work, anticipation of playing ball etc.
Why Dogs Bark Too Much
When a dog barks excessively he or she is also sending a message. They may be in distress of some kind. It could be pain, but more often than not it is fear, anxiety, or stress of some kind. Barking may be a complaint about something that they are uncomfortable with, something they dislike, someone they dislike, or something that is missing in their life.
Dogs are highly intelligent creatures and are compelled to communicate with their human companions. As their means of communication is somewhat limited due to our language barrier, we should be especially observant and receptive to their cues. When we miss their cues or ignore them they may bark in frustration telling us to “hey look – pay attention here. I have to go out and pee!” for example.
When Theo, our miniature pinscher, has to go to the bathroom (so to speak) he will first walk to the front door, wait patiently and stare, with an inquisitive look at the first person who comes into his field of vision, as if to ask “will you take me out?” After waiting patiently for a surprising amount of time, and if no one catches this cue, or ignores him, he will, for a period of time, begin to make low throaty growl type noises. If this doesn’t work, he will resort to barking. Anyone Who is familiar with min pins knows that this is a loud piercing bark that commands attention. Who could blame him?
Theo, as most dogs will, exhausts his communication options before he resorts to barking. Watch for your dogs cues. Theo’s are generally locational i.e. if he wants food and his bowl is empty he will sit by his bowl and stare at someone. If he wants under a blanket he will sit on the blanket and stare at someone. Be observant and responsive to your dog.
Steps to Take for Excessive Barking
Don’t think of these steps as trouble shooting, but rather helping your dog and building a better bond with them. Address the basics. I know this may seem to go without saying, but often the simplest solution is the correct one.
- Food and water: Is your dog getting enough food? Is it the right food? (nutritionally and…does he like it?), Does he or she always has access to water? Barking for scraps and the dinner table may be bad behavior (and it is usually), or it may indicate something more about your dogs diet. Consult your veterinarian or do some online research with regard to your dogs diet according to their size, breed and exercise regimen.
- Exercise: Is your dog getting enough exercise? An inadequate exercise regimen can cause a build up of nervous energy that manifests in a number of inappropriate behaviors including barking too much. Again the amount of exercise your dog requires is somewhat breed and age specific so a little research goes a long way.
- Injuries or health issues: Some injuries and health issues are readily apparent and obvious. You will know if your dog has wound that is open and bleeding by mere visual inspection. Others are not so apparent. Theo’s vision is not 100% anymore and he will often bark at neighbors that he knows, until he is close enough to recognize them. This is not an inappropriate behavior, it is a health issue. It took us a while to realize that this was happening. You can’t train away a health issue. Sometimes excessive barking can be an indicator of some injury or health concern. As I have said, be patient and observant. If a dog growls or barks when they are picked up a certain way or even petted in a particular spot, that could indicate a recent or even a past injury.
Training for Mr. or Mrs. Barker
Once you have eliminated Food/water, injury/health and exercise as potential sources of excessive barking, it’s time to consider the training solution. Of course dogs vary in temperament, personality and abilities in much the same way that humans do. Your training methods may vary according to your dogs nature. Again careful observation will be helpful when tweaking your specific training method. Watch carefully how your dog responds to your voice, your body language and your commands.
I did a bit of research and determined that the word “quiet” could be taught as a command. I remembered a visit to our local dog park when a particularly experienced owner had helped me out. Theo was exhibiting some negative behavior towards the other dogs (growling, snapping etc.) The man told me not to chastise him, or raise my voice. Just turn and ignore him. When he stopped and began to nuzzle my leg, I was to turn and praise him. My chastising just raised the tension in the situation and created more bad behavior. It took quite a long time and a lot of patience, but the results were undeniable. His behavior towards the other dogs improved dramatically.
I decided to see if the technique might be applied to barking. I began one day when preparing for his walk. As usual, Theo became very excited. He began to bark incessantly. I stopped, turned away from him and stood quietly. He continued to bark. Every 5 or 10 seconds I said softly “quiet”. It seemed a long time, but eventually he stopped and as soon as he did I turned, petted him, said “good….quiet dog” (giving a small nutritious treat might help). I resumed preparation to go outside and Theo resumed barking. I repeated the process. Eventually he was quiet for long enough to get outside and we had a nice walk in the neighborhood. I was encouraged by our small success and decided to keep trying.
Now we’re standing on the front stoop and Theo is announcing his entrance to the neighborhood with loud sharp barks. This is not a popular maneuver at 7 am. Once again I turned my back, ignored him, except for the occasional “quiet”. Theo was pulling at the leash. He wanted to get going on his rounds. I stood firm. When he stopped barking, I turned, petted him and said “good…quiet dog.” We then proceeded with our walk. One week of this technique began to yield some results. Before leaving the house I would command “quiet” and Theo would step out of the house and merely look around before beginning his walk. For the next several weeks Theo would occasionally revert to his old behavior, but progress has been forthcoming every day.
Dogs bark. Some is good, too much is not good. Figure out when barking is allowed for your dog based on your needs and your dogs nature. Keep these two elements in balance and be consistent with your requests to your dog regarding his or her barking. Be patient when training, there is no good way to rush the process and successfully modify your dogs behavior. Good luck and woof!