All dogs bark, but if you're finding that your dog is barking all day and night, it's time to take action.
According to animal behaviourist Dr Jo Righetti, "barking is the most commonly reported problem to local councils and if you have ever lived with, or next door to, a barking dog you will understand just how annoying and how loud it can be.
I like to think of dog barking as a symptom and to treat that symptom, we need to understand the cause. Common causes of excessive or inappropriate barking are: excitement; boredom; anxiety; disturbances and attention-seeking behaviour. Address the reason for the unwanted barking and you will reduce it. Always remember to reward your dog's quiet behaviour." Read on to find out more.
Dogs bark to communicate with each other and us, and no owner should expect to have a completely silent dog. It's unreasonable to expect dogs to be quiet if there is a knock at the door, for example – it's their duty to tell us someone's there! However, problems can arise when a dog barks excessively.
Why is your dog barking?
If your dog barks more than is usual, the first step is to consider why he's barking. Also, make a note of when your dog barks and the type of sound it is, so you can address the underlying emotional causes of dog barking better.
- Is he uncomfortable, or in pain? Take him to the vet for a check-up.
- Is he bored? Make sure you set more quality time aside for training, playing stimulating games such as 'find the treat' and general exercise. Ask a trainer for help and advice.
- Is he barking because he's been left alone and is trying to call you back? Are you in fact leaving him alone for too long? If so, your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety. You may need to find a dog-sitter or walker who can provide company while you're away. Or, if your dog is only left for short periods, is he or she becoming over-dependent on you? You may need the help of a behaviourist, on referral from your vet, to teach your dog to feel secure with his own company.
Barking up the wrong tree
Think of barking as a symptom – simply stopping your dog barking doesn't resolve the real problem. That's why anti-bark collars of any sort, but especially electric or unpleasant-scent-firing ones, should not be used. You may simply turn the barking into even more disruptive behaviour.
Some dogs get into a 'bark loop' and find it difficult to stop barking once they start. Again, look at the situation from your dog's point of view. What do you do when your dog barks? Most owners start shouting at their pets to quieten down, which invariably will not be interpreted by your dog as a sign of agitation, but as you joining in with the barking! Your dog then thinks he's justified in his actions and will bark all the more.
Instead, try to be patient. Call the dog to you in a calm, controlled way, diverting attention with some basic dog training exercises and rewarding him for stopping. This may be all that's needed.
If the dog barking problem is more deep-rooted, however, seek help from either a trainer for noisy puppies and young dogs, or a behaviourist who can help with persistent barking or howling problems in older dogs. Your vet will be able to provide you with some reliable names.
About Dr Joanne Righetti
Dr Joanne Righetti is an animal behaviourist, educating the public and professionals in all aspects of the human–animal relationship. Her background is in zoology, with a PhD in animal behaviour and a counselling diploma – qualifications which enable her to work with all sorts of animals – including the human variety! Joanne likes to help pet owners understand their pet's behaviour and solve any pet behaviour problems. She also consults to a variety of organisations including non-profit organisations, commercial companies and councils and is involved in a variety of media including regular spots on radio. Joanne is an honorary associate of the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney. Find out more about Joanne at www.petproblemsolved.com.au