Dogs bark for many reasons, but if your own pooch seems too “talkative”, it’s important to discover why, and find positive ways to curb her barking behaviour.
Dogs bark as a way to communicate information.
We often discuss canine body language and what a dog is saying through his posture or actions, but barking is also a way for him to express himself. Since barking can seem so in your face, however, it’s often seen as an annoying behaviour that overrides the important message your dog is trying to convey. Barking is the “symptom” of a behaviour versus the actual problem. It’s not about teaching a dog not to bark; it’s about addressing the reasons behind his barking. Let’s look at the top three explanations:
1. Separation Anxiety or Loneliness
Dogs are pack animals and seek companionship. When a dog is left alone for extended periods of time, she can become lonely or even suffer from extreme panic if she has separation anxiety. The barking may even turn to howling. It’s a way to call in the family: “I’m here. I’m alone. Come home.”
What to do
To help your dog feel more secure when you leave him, start teaching him that it’s okay to be alone for short periods.
1. Purchase a few new and safe dog chews, toys you can fill with food, and a nice calming CD. You can also try pheromone products such as collars or diffusers to help naturally reduce stress.
2. Fill a toy with something extra special, turn the CD and diffuser on, and give your dog his new treat-filled toy.
3. Tell him, “I’ll be back in a minute.” Then step into another room for a few moments.
4. It might take a few trials for your dog to feel comfortable with this new routine. Once he does, extend the time you are in the other room.
5. Start changing the room you pop into. During some sessions, step outside. What you are doing is slowly building up the time you are away from your dog, while allowing him to feel safe and secure.
6. If your dog has true separation anxiety, please seek the help of your veterinarian and a qualified dog behaviour counsellor. They will coach you in how to help your dog when your time away is too much for him to bear.
Someone’s here! Something’s not right! Keep in mind that dogs are pack animals, and one of the things they do is alert the pack when there is trouble. A lot of people want to keep this behaviour in their dogs. I agree to a point. I feel that a dog can alert us when something is amiss, but then we need to check it out and tell the dog, “It’s fine. No need to worry.”
What to do
1. The next time your dog alarm barks, casually go up to him, look at what he’s barking at and tell him your phrase of choice — e.g. “It’s okay,” “Everything’s all right,” etc.
2. Then ask him to come inside with you or into another room. You will likely need to use a tasty treat or new chew toy as a lure.
3. He may rush back to the barking area, but just repeat the process. If needed, snap on a leash to keep him with you. Don’t worry — you aren’t rewarding him for barking; you are rewarding him for coming with you.
WHAT IF IT’S YOUR NEIGHBOUR’S DOG THAT’S BARKING?
Few things are more irritating than being barked at by a neighbour’s dog as soon as you step out your door. Instead of getting angry, go next door with a tray of cookies. Politely let the neighbour know that their dog is doing a lot of barking and you just want them to be aware. Ask if there is anything you can do to help with the situation. Maybe the dog is barking at you because he’s fearful of people or your lawnmower. Working together is always the neighbourly thing to do.
Fearful barking is a way for your dog to tell the stimulus (person, dog, scary thing) to back off. It’s also a way for him to tell you he needs backup. If you have a fearful dog, it’s important that you manage his environment to ensure he feels safe and secure. In order to teach your dog that the scary thing is not really scary, you need to introduce the stimulus below his fear threshold. In other words, in a way your dog does not see it as a threat.
What to do
The following training process can be used for pretty much any scary stimulus. The key is maintaining the correct distance and providing incredibly valuable rewards. If your dog is still exhibiting fear, it’s time to seek the help of a professional.
1. If your dog is afraid of men ten feet away, but has no reaction from 20 feet away, then 20 feet is below his threshold and is the distance you will want to maintain between your dog and men.
2. When your dog sees a man 20 feet away, pair the sighting with something good, like a meaty treat. In other words, “man at 20 feet = meaty treat.” This process will desensitize your dog and counter-condition him that men at 20 feet predict good things.
3. Continue this process until your dog starts to anticipate that men at 20 feet means a reward. When he reaches this point, your next goal is men at 19 feet, 18 feet, and so on. Slow and steady!
If your dog barks, just remember he is not trying to be annoying — he’s simply doing his best to convey a message. Don’t try to stop him from communicating. Instead, listen to him, determine why he’s barking, and tackle the problem with positive training techniques.
Tonya Wilhelm is a dog training and cat care specialist who has traveled the US promoting positive ways of preventing and managing behavior issues with a holistic approach. Named one of the top ten dog trainers in the US, she has helped thousands build happy relationships with their dogs using humane, positive training methods. She wrote Proactive Puppy Care and other books. Tonya offers group and private dog training classes, provides training and behavior services via phone and online, and does workshops at pet expos. raisingyourpetsnaturally.com