Tips for Minimizing Excessive Barking
A recent health insurance investigation revealed that the sound of a continually barking dog was cited as the number-one disruptive and stress-inducing noise for humans. While barking is simply canine communication and a little vocalization is acceptable, barking can become undesirable when expressed too frequently. A constantly barking dog can create stress within your household, put you on negative terms with your neighbors and even get you a visit from local law enforcement for disturbing the peace. These tips from the Mobile Pet Vet will help you create an environment where your pet can communicate a little more appropriately and make sure you steer clear of the stress of unwanted barking.
Dogs bark for many reasons, so it’s easy for barking to become an excessive habit. An under-exercised dog may bark excessively because barking provides physical activity that is otherwise lacking in his daily routine. A healthy young dog needs at least one hour of vigorous running and playing every day. Without sufficient exercise, a dog may become antsy and start barking at everything that moves—literally—just for something to do. If barking is becoming a problem and your dog gets less than an hour of vigorous exercise daily, try increasing his activity level. Take him for long walks or hikes, preferably up and down hills. Teach him to fetch, take him swimming, or train him in agility or another energetic sport.
If you don’t have time to exercise your dog for at least an hour each day, find someone who can. You can take your dog to doggy day care, which offers energetic playtime for dog-friendly dogs, or you can hire a pet sitter or dog walker to exercise your dog. If hiring a professional isn’t feasible, find a neighbor or friend who is willing to exercise your dog.
Even a well-exercised dog might bark excessively when home alone because barking provides entertainment. One way to decrease boredom barking is to provide something more interesting for the dog to do with his mouth. Food-dispensing toys work great for this. These toys come in all different shapes, textures, and sizes, but all have a hollow space inside for hiding food. The food comes out bit by bit as the dog chews and manipulates the toy, keeping him focused and quiet for quite some time. If your barker spends more than a few hours alone,
consider leaving two or more food-dispensing toys stuffed with different flavors. All that chewing will satisfy your dog’s need for activity, and he will spend most of his time occupied with the toys. After he empties the food puzzles, your dog will probably take a nice nap to recover from all that work.
TAKE AWAY THE VIEW
If your dog is indoors and barking at what he sees outdoors, obscure his view of the excitement. If he stands on a chair or couch to bark at outdoor happenings, rearrange the furniture so this isn’t possible. If when outdoors your dog barks at neighbors or passersby, try confining him to a more secluded area of the yard. A section of opaque fencing or strategically planted foliage can be useful for limiting a dog’s view without creating an unsightly barrier. If appearances are unimportant, a plastic tarp stretched between two fence posts or trees may serve well.
DON’T AUTOMATICALLY GET A COMPANION
Adopting a second dog as a companion for your barker with the hope he will stop barking seldom works. Usually it just increases the noise. Two dogs together often bark more than twice as much as one.
A number of products on the market promise a quick fix for excessive barking. The most popular of these are electronic sensor collars that deliver an aversive consequence when the dog barks. There are also bark-activated noisemakers you can place where the dog habitually barks to discourage him. The sudden sound startles the dog, interrupting his focus on what he’s barking at. When the dog stops barking after hearing the sound from the collar, give him praise for being quiet.
Although these collars and other devices may temporarily reduce barking, they often become less effective as the dog gets accustomed to the “punishment.”
Antibark collars that release a burst of harmless but strong-smelling citronella when triggered by barking are useful for some dogs. The sudden release of scent startles and distracts the dog, similar to the way the sound-type antibark collars work. Some dogs, however, figure out that if they bark nonstop for a while they can empty the citronella reservoir on the collar. Then they can bark all they want the rest of the day without triggering any more bursts of citronella.
SURGERY—ONLY AS A LAST RESORT
It’s possible to debark a dog surgically, but this is a drastic measure that should not be considered unless all other possibilities have been exhausted. On each side of a dog’s larynx is a fold of tissue that tightens and vibrates when the dog barks. Debarking surgery removes this tissue so the bark doesn’t resonate normally.
Dogs who have been debarked do not actually stop barking; their voice is just muted to a raspy whisper. In many cases, the dog’s voice gradually returns, necessitating successive surgeries to retain the effect. A debarked dog is also at greater risk for choking on food.
What Is Your Dog Trying to Tell You?
“There are many, many different tones of bark,” says veterinarian Nicholas Dodman, director of the Behavior Clinic at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Dodman, who was born in England, insists you can learn “bark-speak” just as he learned to recognize a variety of American accents.
If your dog is whining between barks, for example, he may be telling you he’s frightened or he doesn’t want you to leave the house, says Dr. Dodman. A dog that barks for a long period of time, with brief pauses between identical-sounding woofs, is probably bored. An exuberant bark, however, means that your pooch is probably eager to play. “Eventually, you could get to know what your dog needs just by listening to him,” he says. Who says a dog isn’t man’s best friend?
Take some time to understand what your dog is trying to tell you and help your dog be the best he can be.