Barking is a very common—and annoying—behavior that can drive a pet owner crazy. The incessant barking—at the doorbell, at the mail carrier, at the bird flying by—can be maddening and seemingly impossible to control. But there is hope—dogs who bark excessively can be trained to control their urge to immediately respond with barking.
The first step in solving the barking problem is to identify the type of barking problem your dog has. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA) lists some common reasons that dogs bark.
Excessive barking in response to people or animals moving near their territory.
Repetitive barking often accompanied by a repetitive movement, such as pacing or running a pattern in your backyard. These dogs could be suffering from boredom or anxiety.
Barking in response to noises and sights. Alarm barking is not limited to defending territory; it can also be fearful behavior.
Used to gain attention or rewards, like food or playtime.
A bark to say “hello!” Greeting barking is accompanied by a relaxed body and a wagging tail in a neutral position.
Socially Facilitated Barking
Often called “responsive barking.” Your dog barks when he hears another dog bark or is trying to get another dog or you to engage in play.
Excessive barking in response to a frustrated situation, such as being confined or being separated from other dogs or people.
Most barking problems stem from lack of exercise and socialization, so know your breed and understand how much exercise your breed needs. For example, a Westie requires less exercise than a Sheltie, even though they’re both smaller breeds—they have very different needs. A Sheltie is a herding breed, highly intelligent and built to run … a lot! A Westie is a terrier, bred to go after rats and small ground creatures, more of a relentless digger then a runner. Providing enough exercise (and the right kind of mental stimulation) will help alleviate some barking problems—remember, a well exercised dog is a content dog. And a content dog is less likely to have attention-seeking, compulsive or frustrated barking issues.
You should also know how much socialization your dog needs. Breeds that were specifically bred for aggression will need more socialization than those that were not. A well socialized dog is less likely to have barking problems in social situations.
You can take various approaches to training your dog not to bark excessively. You can purchase tools to help, such as noisemakers, collars that spray citronella, and collars that vibrate or give a static correction. One of my favorite tools is a simple water bottle. When the barking gets out of control, a quick spray of water will get your dog’s attention and interrupt the barrage of barks. I recommend seeking advice from a professional trainer before choosing a method, because it’s important to get the training right so you don’t confuse your dog or make the problem worse. Let the professional suggest a method for correcting that he or she thinks will work best with your dog. Some pet owners use treats, or a reward system of some type, but that can sometimes lead to an even bigger barking problem if you reward incorrectly or at the wrong time.
The majority of barking problems can be solved fairly quickly, within a week or two; however, tougher cases may need to be worked on for months.
One important step when you’re working with your dog to curb his excessive barking is to talk to your neighbors. If you’re frustrated with the barking, you can be sure it’s frustrating your neighbors, too. By approaching the problem head-on with your neighbors, you may be able to enlist their help in training your dog. If you tell them the truth, express your own frustration, and relay what you’re doing to fix it, they may find some patience and be less likely to file formal complaints with the local authorities.
When you find or a trainer sets up a program for you to follow, success will only come if you make the effort to work consistently with your dog. Consistency is always the key to successful training.
Valerie Masi, owner of Best Paw Forward, can be reached at 760-885-9450 or visit www.bestpawforwarddogtraining.com.