31 Oct 2010
There are few things that are more annoying than a barking dog; especially one that barks incessantly, sometimes for no apparent reason. Stopping problem barking can be a real challenge but with the right approach it is possible to quiet your barking dog and in the process, your relationship with your dog will be made stronger. Many people seem to believe that the only good dog is a quiet dog. They think that barking is only excusable if there is an intruder breaking in the window or maybe if your house is burning. But the truth is that barking is part of being a dog. It is one of a his primary ways of communicating. A healthy, well adjusted dog will sometimes bark. It is our duty to figure out what they are saying and to set the limits on their “communication”.
So what might your dog be trying to tell you? There are many possible reasons for barking. Some breeds of dogs were bred to bark. Guard dogs like Rottweilers or German Shepherds, for instance. Hunting dogs like Beagles and Bloodhounds were bred to “bay” when they are following a trail. Smaller breeds, like Chihuahuas, seem to bark and put on a big show to make up for their diminutive stature.
Aside from the breed specific characteristics, there are some other reasons that any dog may bark a lot. Sometimes they are anxious or afraid because they sense that something is wrong. Or they may see someone or something near their “territory”. If your dog is barking for any of these reasons, it isn’t really realistic for you to try to stop him completely: he is, after all, a dog, and it’s the nature of dogs to bark at certain times and in certain situations. It may also be that he is just bored, lonely or needing attention.
But, of course, sometimes barking is excessive and unwarranted. Many dogs use their barking as a way of manipulating their owners! For example, suppose you are lying on the couch trying to read a book. Your dog awakes up from his nap and decides its play time. He picks up his favorite ball, walks over, and drops it in your face. You try to ignore him and keep reading. After a few seconds he nudges your hand with his wet nose and barks once, loudly. When you continue reading he barks again, now louder and, when you still don’t respond like he wants he barks repeatedly and won’t stop. Finally, you give up trying to relax, put down your book and take him outside to play ball. Now it is important that you spend quality time playing with your dog and giving him attention, but it should be on your terms. Your dog has just used barking to get you to do what he wanted. So you have reinforced the bad behavior. Dog ownership involves mutual respect between you and your pet, but it is not about equality. It is about you being the boss and the dog following your leadership. Dogs, in fact, are the happiest (and best behaved) when they know that you are in charge. For a dog to be calm and well adjusted they need to respect you. In the above scenario the dog was not respecting you. He wasn’t asking you to play; she was manipulating you into doing what he wanted. You taught him that if he barks long enough he get his way. So, how do you stop this manipulation? Simply ignore him. Easier said than done, I know? I don’t simply mean passively ignoring him, where you pay no attention and just go on with what you are doing. You must clearly communicate to him with your demeanor and body language that his behavior is unacceptable. When he starts barking, literally turn your back on him. Get up, turn away from him and avert your eyes. Don’t look at your dog or even speak to him. Initially this will confuse him because this barking dog routine always worked for him in the past. He may even start barking louder! The important thing here is consistency. Don’t give in after 15 minutes and give him what he wants. That will only teach him that he needs to be really persistent. “O.K.”, he’ll think, “it takes 15 minutes of continual barking to get my way. That’s alright, I’m a dog. I’ve got nothing better to do”. But if you stand your ground he will in time figure out that barking is not the way to get what he wants.
But how about in other situations where it isn’t simply a matter of the dog bullying you to get his way? If you want to communicate to them that they are to stop barking and be quiet, the most effective thing you can do is to use your hands. No, I’m not saying hit your dog! But I’m suggesting a perfectly humane and pain-free method of demonstrating to them that what you require right now is peace and quiet. When your dog is barking, first give him a few seconds to get it out of his system (it’s kinder, and a lot more effective, to give him a brief opportunity to express himself before asking him to be quiet). After a few seconds if he doesn’t calm down on his own, reach over and gently but firmly clasp his muzzle in your hand. He will try to pull away or shake you off, so grab his collar with your other hand to give you more control. This method works for two reasons: First, it effectively stops the barking and secondly, it establishes your authority. You are showing him through direct physical action that you’re a kind, but firm leader who won’t put up with his unwanted behavior. Continue holding his muzzle and collar until he has stopped trying to break free: only when he calms down and stops wriggling does it mean that he has accepted your authority. When he’s still, hold on for one or two more seconds and then let go and praise him for being quiet,
There are also several important things that you can to do to reduce your dog’s need to bark in the first place. The number-one reason for unnecessary barking (barking that is repetitive and is directed at nothing) is nervous, energy. That is usually because they just aren’t getting enough exercise. Most dogs function best with about one and a half hours of exercise every day. Admittedly, that can be a major time commitment for you. Of course it varies from dog to dog, depending on things like breed, age, and health. You may think that your dog is getting as plenty of exercise, or at least as much as you can afford to give them, but if his barking is accompanied by an agitated demeanor (acting aggressively, restlessness, destructive behavior) then he almost certainly needs more. The solution to this problem is simple if not always convenient: you have to exercise your dog more. Try getting up a half-hour earlier in the morning. It can make a huge difference. If that just isn’t possible, consider hiring someone to walk him in the mornings and/or evenings. If that also is impossible, then you may have to resign yourself to having a frustrated, agitated and noisy dog. The second most common cause of excessive barking is loneliness. Dogs are social animals and need a lot of attention, interaction, and communication if they are to be calm and happy. If your dog is spending a good part of his day barking at what seems to be nothing, he is probably bored and lonely and the best remedy is a healthy dose of attention and affection.
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