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Barking on Vacation

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Taking your dog on vacation can be a pleasant and enjoyable experience but if your dog is prone to excessive barking, other vacationers may not have as good a time. In addition, your dog's barking could be the main cause of a vacation spot requesting that you do not visit again.

Excessive barking is a common canine behavior problem that can lead to sleepless nights for the dog's owners, frustration, angry neighbors and even eviction from your vacation area.

There are many reasons why dogs bark excessively. Some of these include:

  • Separation anxiety. Dogs that become anxious when separated from their owners often vocalize excessively. They may also become destructive or eliminate in the hotel room. The barking usually begins at or shortly after the owner's departure, and may be continuous or intermittent for several hours. This type of barking only occurs in the owner's absence, and is usually predictable (i.e. it occurs consistently when owner leaves).

  • Reaction to specific stimuli. Some dogs bark in response to certain exciting stimuli, such as passing tourists, loose dogs or cats, squirrels, or unfamiliar noises. This type of barking may be merely an arousal response or a combination of alerting, protective, or fearful behaviors. Unlike dogs with separation anxiety, these dogs will often bark regardless of owner's presence, and the barking stops when the stimulus is removed.

  • Attention seeking. Many dogs bark because they have been inadvertently rewarded for barking by being given attention or praise (i.e. telling them "it's okay") by their owners. Dogs may bark at their owners to get what they want or when they are being ignored. This type of barking is sometimes associated with other annoying behaviors such as pawing or jumping up.

  • Play behavior. Barking can be a normal component of play, and can be directed towards people, other animals, or toys. It can also occur as a learned behavior. For example, the dog drops a ball in the owner's lap and barks. The owner throws the ball to stop the barking. The dog has learned to bark to get the owner to throw the ball.

  • Medical problems. Older dogs that suffer from deafness, or canine cognitive dysfunction or other brain disease may bark excessively. Dogs that are in pain will also bark.

    Treatment

    Vacation is not the time to begin treatment for excessive barking. This behavior problem should be resolved before even considering taking your dog with you. If your dog develops a barking behavior problem during your vacation, you may not be able to leave your dog alone or else you'll have to find a quiet, secluded area to continue your vacation. This way, other travelers won't have their holiday ruined.

    As with any training program, be consistent and clear about just what you want your dog to do. If you tell him to be quiet, you must then enforce what you've instructed. It doesn't work to yell "quiet" from three rooms away and then continue to talk on the telephone as your dog rants and raves at the window.

    Instead, consider keeping your dog on an indoor leash and having him by your side at potentially problematic times. When you see he's about to bark, pick up on the lead and tell him to sit. Better yet, pair the lead with a head halter – which gently pulls the dog's head up, closing his mouth. When he stops barking, release the tension on the lead and praise him. An extra reward e.g. a "shush cookie" - will emphasize your appreciation.

    If your dog constantly demands your undivided attention, consider ignoring his demands - consistently - for a week. Try standing up and walking away whenever he starts to bark. This form of training, resulting in gradual "extinction of barking" - is very effective because it removes all rewards that, until now, were reinforcing the behavior. Keep in mind that scolding or brief eye contact can be interpreted by your dog as a reward; try to show no response at all. You can take this training a step further by giving your dog attention, such as petting, only when he is quiet. With patience, you can change many kinds of learned behavior through the process of extinction.

    More Ways to Abate a Bark

    Sometimes you can cut down on the noise of barking with an anti-bark collar. These collars are most useful for dogs that bark when their owners are away and can't correct them with voice commands. However, don't use one with a dog that shows signs of anxiety; it will only make the problem worse. When left on their own, for example, some dogs become extremely stressed, and act out that behavior by barking non-stop. In that case, the dog should be treated for the underlying cause of the problem – separation anxiety – not just his barking.

    Anti-bark collars utilize ultrasound, electric shock, and vibrating devices – most work by punishing him when he barks. Electric shock may be effective, but are viewed by many as inhumane; other types of collars that do not rely on inflicting pain are more acceptable. Recently, an anti-bark collar containing citronella oil, its spray triggered by barking, has become available and can be an effective tool for distracting the dog (available from Animal Behavior Systems, Inc., Tampa, Fla.). Remember that some anti-bark collars can be triggered by dogs other than the ones wearing them resulting in inappropriate punishment. These collars are not appropriate in multi-dog homes in which other barking dogs dwell.

    Luckily, most dogs will respond to one or other intervention to curtail their barking. Whether you simply bring an outdoor dog inside (which should calm the neighbors) or take the time to apply behavior-modification techniques, you can cause a dog to be less of a nuisance and to be more socially acceptable.

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