At first it’s endearing. Eventually it’s a minor annoyance. But by the time you’ve lived with an incessantly-barking dog for an extended period of time, you’re likely ready to pull your hair out.
Dealing with a canine that barks excessively can prove frustrating for even the most patient dog owner. The constant noise can induce a headache, make you self-conscious of the effect on your neighbors and – worst of all – make you question whether you’re even capable of being a suitable dog owner.
While barking is a natural form of vocalization for dogs, it should be done in moderation. Rather than accept a bark-filled existence, it’s time for you to take control. Your dog has many appealing qualities – why not highlight those while de-emphasizing barking?
Once you understand the root causes of dog barking, you’ll be better equipped to seek a proper solution. Just think how much happier you’ll be once your pooch’s barking diminishes. Silence, after all, is golden.
What Causes a Dog to Bark Excessively?
When a dog barks incessantly, it doesn’t happen by pure chance. Rather, there’s likely a specific causation that’s prompting your dog to make himself heard. The following represent reasons a dog may resort to barking:
- Separation Anxiety: Dogs that become anxious when separated from their owners often bark.
- Reaction to a Specific Stimuli: Some dogs bark in response to exciting stimuli, such as delivery people, loose dogs or cats, squirrels, or unfamiliar noises.
- Attention Seeking: Many dogs bark because they’ve been inadvertently rewarded for past barking with attention or praise.
- Play Behavior: Barking can be a normal component of play, and can be directed towards people, other animals, or toys.
- Medical Problems: Older dogs that suffer from deafness or cognitive problems and dogs that are in pain may also bark excessively.
Training a Dog When to Bark
Just as a dog can be trained to comply with commands, it can also be trained to know when barking is appropriate (such as when an unexpected visitor arrives at your house). Positive reinforcement often serves as the most effective means of improving behavior.
When trying to curtail a dog’s barking, as with any other training program, be consistent and clear about just what you want your dog to do. If you tell your dog to be quiet, you must enforce what you’ve instructed.
This can be accomplished by keeping your dog by your side on an indoor lead at problematic times. When you anticipate your dog preparing to bark, pick up the lead and tell your dog to sit. Should your canine comply, shower him with praise and a treat. Repeated positive reinforcement can curb your dog’s barking problem.
Additional Treatment for Excessive Barking
While there are few sure-fire ways to eliminate barking altogether, many strategies exist to curb dog barking to a tolerable level. These include:
- Avoidance of Stimuli That Trigger Barking: Sometimes it’s easier to prevent the catalyst of your dog’s barking than to alter your dog’s reaction to that stimuli. This might entail keeping your dog away from windows or supervising your dog when he goes outside.
- Extinction: This technique involves ignoring your dog when he’s barking. Eventually, your dog’s barking will lessen, as he no longer associates barking with getting what he wants.
- Punishment: This strategy takes many forms, including bark-activated collars, spray bottles, and loud noises (such as coin-filled “rattle” cans). Dog owners should be cautioned that use of punishment sometimes backfires, resulting in increased barking.
- Counter-conditioning: This method involves teaching your dog an alternative behavior in response to a stimulus that would normally induce barking. If your dog barks at other dogs while on walks, you can train him to instead focus on you in order to receive a treat.
Seeking Aid from a Veterinary Behaviorist
A veterinary behaviorist is a vet with specialized training and qualifications designed to address behavioral issues within animals. In the case of a behavioral problem like barking, a veterinary behaviorist could assess the issue and provide viable treatment options. For example, this type of specialist could establish whether separation anxiety is, in fact, the catalyst of your dog’s barking.
A veterinary behaviorist can also determine whether your dog’s barking originates from an underlying medical problem, as serious health issues can incite some dogs to bark excessively.
The Controversy Over Debarking Surgery
As frustrating as incessant barking can be, most veterinarians agree that debarking surgery is not the proper solution. With this method, a dog’s vocal cords are surgically removed in order to prevent barking.