Have you received complaints from the neighbours because your dog shares his ‘opinions’ with everyone? Do you wish you could hear yourself speak while on the telephone? Are you fed up with not being able to hear yourself think? You’re not alone! Barking comes naturally, but many owners find it one of the most difficult problems to treat.
Although barking is useful and normal as a means of communication, in excess it can be a nuisance for the humans who live in the dog’s family, and for their neighbours.
It’s a very good idea to try to work out *why* your dog is barking before trying to stop it. Once the problem has been addressed, very often the barking will stop automatically because the reason has been removed.
Another thing to remember is that to reduce a behaviour like barking it usually needs to be replaced with something else. I.e., your dog needs to be taught an acceptable behaviour to do instead.
Barking to deter people from entering the owner’s property is fine if there’s an occasional intrusion up the garden path, but if there’s a succession of people passing the property and your dog barks at them all, it can become an annoyance – and it’s also stressful for your dog to be on constant guard duty.
Unfortunately, owners often attempt to silence their dog by shouting at him, but as their dog’s communication skills don’t extend to understanding English, he simply assumes his owners are barking too, and continues undeterred, or even redoubles his effort.
However, the main reason why dogs learn to bark excessively at every person who passes their territory is the simple fact that most of those people go away again. The dog doesn’t realise they didn’t want to come in – he thinks he’s has successfully chased them off.
A quick fix for this type of barking is to prevent your dog having access to windows or vantage points where he can see passing foot traffic. A very simple fix for window barking is privacy window film. It’s easy to apply and stops your dog being able to see details – but still allows light into the room. You can buy it in most hardware stores and it’s inexpensive. If you’re not sure if the idea will work for your dog and situation, you can easily do a ‘test drive’ by taping baking paper or tissue paper over the window. That’s not pretty and can be easily torn by a determined dog, but it’ll tell you whether it’s worth the small investment in time and money to use the window film – which is far more attractive!
If the problem is outdoors, covering fences in weed-mat can make a huge difference. I did this when our previous dog took a dislike to the neighbours using their garden path to leave their property. He could clearly see them from our deck; the weed-mat stopped the problem instantly!
If it’s noises that set him off, playing a radio or TV will often help by making neighbourhood noises less obvious.
Home alone woes
Dog owners often fall foul of the local council because their dog barks incessantly when left alone. Such dogs are attempting to call their owners back home again, but because they do eventually come back, the dog thinks that barking was effective – so barks with even more determination next time.
No quick fixes here
The cause of this problem behaviour normally lies in the dog’s overly close relationship with its owners when they are at home. This causes anxiety when they leave, because he cannot cope without them. To fix this type of barking employ the services of a good trainer or, in severe cases, a veterinary behaviourist.
Other dogs discover barking makes their owner give them attention, if only to shout ‘Shut up!’ Eventually the dog may seem to develop an imagination, and bark at nothing at all, just to get a response from its owner.
If your dog tends to bark for attention, instead of just ignoring the barking or leaving the room, teach your dog an alternative way to ask for attention. Teaching your dog behaviours such as a chin rest on your knee, or to carry a toy to you, often work well in this scenario. I teach my dogs to either chin rest on my knee if I’m seated, or nudge my hand if I’m standing up. It reduces frustration and gives my dogs a clear way to initiate interactions with me when I’ve forgotten they exist – or at least they think I have!
Only when this has been achieved is it time to think of ways to stop the habitual barking that remains. If you praise and reward the behaviour you want you can effectively reduce the barking you don’t by leaving the room or turning your back. It works because your dog now has a working strategy to get his needs met in an acceptable way.
Change the pattern
If there are certain scenarios that predictably set your dog off in a barking frenzy (talking on the phone, cuddling a spouse etc) teach your dog a different response; lie calmly on a mat or dog bed is a great alternative. Make this a great place to be with praise, attention and treats whenever he is using it. Ask him to settle on his place every-time the trigger situation occurs and remember to reward him for staying there. A favourite chew toy or stuffed Kong can be useful at such times.
As the barking reduces remember to continue to praise and reward the appropriate alternative behaviour, such as remaining settled.
Good luck, and go in peace!
~ Sarah and the Gang