Dogs bark to communicate, just as humans talk. It is unreasonable to expect a dog to never bark, but there must be limits to preserve the peace of mind of the owner and neighbors. Here are things to know about dog barking and what you can do to quiet your dog and keep the neighborhood peaceful.
Reasons for barking
When taking steps to control their dogs’ barking, dog owners must first understand why their dog is barking. There are several reasons for excessive barking, including:
- Protection – A dog will bark to alert the owner of something the dog sees on his property or in the surrounding area. This could be an unknown person, stray animal or other dog.
- Boredom – Dogs, being pack animals, do not enjoy being left alone for long periods of time. They may resort to barking to express their loneliness while you are away.
- Need for attention – Dogs often bark to get their owners’ attention, such as when they want to go outside, go to the bathroom or get a treat.
- Playfulness – Some dogs bark while playing with children or other animals. This type of barking is typically not excessive.
- Response to other dogs – A dog may hear another dog barking down the street and respond by joining in on the barking. This is because of a dog’s pack mentality. They constantly seek leaders to follow.
Preventing barking: do’s and don’ts
Once the source of the barking is identified, it is important to take steps to remedy the behavior by removing anything that can cause barking. For example, if the dog is bored, keeping him entertained with toys and treats is necessary. Here are some other tips to keep in mind:
- Allow your dog to release any excess energy. Not getting enough exercise can cause your dog to bark constantly. Take him for a walk or engage in a game of fetch. A tired dog is quieter than a dog with too much energy.
- Redirect the barking to another behavior or activity. Get the dog’s attention with a whistle or clap of the hands and then distract your dog with a treat or toy.
- Nip the problem in the bud early on. In some instances, excessive barking can lead to aggression.
- Be consistent. Do not encourage barking in any instances. This will only confuse your dog.
- Teach your dog commands. When his barking becomes excessive, teach him a one-word command such as “Quiet!” or “Hush!”
- Use shock collars or muzzles. They are not only inhumane, but some dogs eventually learn to outsmart them.
- Yell at your dog. This often makes stimulates dogs and makes barking worse.
- Enable the barking by hugging or petting your dog while she is barking. This will teach the dog that he will be rewarded for barking.
- Ignore the problem and allow your dog to bark for long periods of time. This could aggravate the problem in addition to causing problems with neighbors. However, when addressing the problem, never give your dog the impression that barking is a way to get what he wants.
- Go to extremes and put your dog through debarking surgery. This elective procedure removes a dog’s vocal cords. The dog does not lose his ability to bark; it just sounds different. Not only is this surgery risky, but it is ineffective for some dogs, as they regain the ability to bark again. In addition, debarking does not solve the underlying behavioral problem.
Specific ways to prevent barking
There are specific things dog owners can do to lessen barking in certain situations. For example, if a dog is barking because it is being territorial, you can limit your dog’s view of the outdoors. If the dog is indoors, cover windows or make them inaccessible. For outdoor dogs, keep them enclosed in a solid wood fence. In other words, remove the motivation your dog has for barking.
If a dog is barking because of boredom, keep him occupied with toys if you must leave him alone for a long period of time. Indestructible toys and rawhide bones will keep your dog’s mouth busy with chewing instead of barking. If the dog is outside, keeping him indoors may lessen the barking and make him feel more secure. If you must leave your dog alone all day, hiring someone to check on your dog and play with him may be a good idea.
Do not allow your dog to bark to get what he wants. If he is barking because he is hungry and you give him food, you are enabling the behavior. Instead, teach your dog to get your attention without barking. For example, some dog owners train their dogs to use bells to alert them when they want to go outside.
Another way to stop barking is to invest in a head halter. Although most commonly used to prevent dogs from pulling their owners when they go on walks, head halters are also great for closing your dog’s mouth while he is barking so you can divert his attention elsewhere.
If you have retrievers or other dogs that enjoy fetching, you could try throwing a ball, stick or other favorite toy to prevent the barking from starting. A busy mouth will be unable to bark. However, timing is very important in order for this trick to work. You must throw the object before the dog barks. If you do it while the barking is in progress, the dog will have more incentive to bark, as he will associate barking with a reward.
You can also fight fire with fire. When the dog barks, you interrupt him with a louder sound. Something high-pitched, such as a power tool, is ideal, although a beanbag or a can with pebbles will also work well. The goal is to startle/distract to make him stop but not to scare. Eventually, your dog will come to associate unwanted barking with these events.
Dogs that have separation anxiety or that are compulsive barkers often need extensive help from an animal behaviorist. These people are specially trained to help rid your dog of unwanted behaviors and learn new ones. Sometimes even medications are needed. Most dogs do not fall into this category. Shelter dogs and dogs that have been abused often need specialized training.
Contact your vet if you have tried unsuccessfully to get your dog to stop barking. Sometimes excessive barking may be due to a medical condition, such as brain damage or senility.