Ruff Stuff: Teaching your dog NOT to bark
Unwanted barking is one of the most common behavior problems in dogs. It is normal for dogs to vocalize and bark from time to time but many times this behavior escalates much to the frustration of many dog owners. There are many causes of unwanted barking. First you must determine why your dog is barking before you can begin a program of retraining. You may need help from your animal behaviorist or veterinarian to do this.
One cause of unwanted barking is attention seeking barking. You may have inadvertently reinforced this behavior if as a pup your dog barked a lot and you gave him attention to try and stop the behavior. As an older dog, he may be exhibiting this behavior because he is left alone for long periods of time, does not have appropriate stimulation or exercise, or is an active dog that needs to have a job to be happy. If you suspect this is the cause of your dog’s unwanted barking behavior, you can start to retrain him by making sure first and foremost that he is getting enough exercise. Make sure to take daily walks - this also allows him to explore the world around him which is good mental exercise as well. If you have a local dog park, take your dog there and let him socialize with other dogs and people. Take an obedience class - this is good for mental stimulation and will help you to better communicate with your dog. Provide many interesting toys to keep your dog busy while you are not around. Make sure to spend one on one time with your dog on a daily basis and make it fun so that your dog learns that he doesn’t need to bark to get your attention.
Another cause of excessive barking is as a response to something that your dog is afraid of. Many dogs bark during thunderstorms or around unfamiliar people. If your dog is barking as a response to thunderstorms or other loud noises, provide him with a safe place he can go in these situations such as a crate. Make his safe place fun by providing good treats such as a Kong filled with peanut butter to keep him occupied. Play a radio or the television at a low level to help mask the noise. If your dog is barking at unfamiliar people, help him get over this fear by enlisting the help of your friends and neighbors. Have them walk by and approach your dog. Have them ask him to sit, and when he does so without barking, have them give him a treat. Pretty soon, your dog will learn to associate unfamiliar people with treats and will learn new positive behaviors. If your dog barks at people and noises that are coming from outside the house, you may want to limit his access to rooms with windows. This will help cut down on the unwanted barking behavior.
If your dog is barking when you’re not home, it could be due to separation anxiety. If your dog is especially attached to you or has recently experienced a situation of change in his routine such as divorce, a move, or a death in the family, this could be the case. To remedy this kind of barking behavior, you will need to start a course of desensitization. You can begin to do this by taking very small trips such as just out to the mailbox and back, while leaving fun toys and yummy treats for your dog. As your dog learns to behave while you’re gone, slowly increase the length of time you are gone. To check and see if your dog is barking when you’re gone, you may need to use a tape recorder or enlist the help of your neighbors. Separation anxiety often needs to be treated with medication as well as desensitization. If you suspect your dog is barking due to separation anxiety, please consult your veterinarian or animal behaviorist.
Some people choose to treat their dog’s unwanted barking problems with bark collars. The most humane bark collar available today is the citronella collar. These bark collars work by spraying harmless citronella in your dog’s face whenever he barks. Studies show a very high rate of success with the use of these kinds of collars. Using a citronella collar for a period of time can help to reinforce more positive behaviors.
There are many training tips and tools available to help you replace unwanted barking with more positive behaviors. If you need more information, consult your veterinary staff or pet professional.