Excessive barking

So how do I make Blackie stop barking up a storm?

You don’t. Barking is a dog’s natural reaction to changes in his environment; he should be allowed to indulge himself as long as he’s reasonable.

However, if your dog annoys you or the neighbors with his noise-making, there are some steps you can take to minimize the nuisance. The solution could be as simple as a change of scene for the dog or as complex as the development and implementation of a behavior modification program.

Some dogs bark at everything they see and hear, a characteristic that flops like a lead balloon in an apartment or attached condominium development. Some dogs will stop barking if they cannot hear or see the interlopers. So, if Sassy is an in-the-house noisemaker, put her in the kitchen or laundry room with a crate or bed, away from windows, common walls, and hallways, and turn on a radio before leaving the house. Classical music stations may work best; they have fewer disruptions by commercials with doorbells and other noises that could trigger barking. Confine Sassy in the room with baby gates in the doorways, not by closing doors, so she doesn’t panic.

If Ranger barks while you’re gone because he is outside and wants inside or if he’s an outside dog and a habitual barker, change of scene could work as well. You could bring him inside the house or build a run in the basement to keep him in an area without so many distractions to bark at. The radio will help mask the sounds and confinement to a small area may help him settle down.

If your outdoor dog has been banished from the house because he is destructive, you may find that he has outgrown his destructive stage. If not, or if you are afraid to find out, a crate or a basement kennel may be the answer.

Behaviorist William Campbell outlines the “sneak and peak” program for curing excessive barking in his book Owner’s Guide to Better Behavior in Dogs. The method has the owner leaving home as usual, then sneaking back and watching the dog from a hidden vantage point. When the dog starts barking, the owner makes a brief distracting sound to catch the dog’s attention. The dog is not praised for stopping his noise, but the distraction is repeated if he starts barking again. When the dog settles down, the owner goes about his daily routine.

Carol Lea Benjamin uses a variation of this method in Dog Problems : A Professional Trainer's Guide to Preventing and Correcting Aggression, Destructiveness, Housebreaking Problems, Excessive Barking, Dogfights, Tugging, Jumping, Shyness, Stealing, Begging, Car Chasing, Fear Biting, Object Guarding, and much,much more, but instead of making a distracting noise, she recommends that owners correct the dog when he starts barking by re-entering the house or yard, shaking the dog by the scruff, and repeating “NO, NO, NO” in a commanding tone. After the correction, the owner should calmly leave again, wait out of the dog’s sight, and repeat if necessary.

Owner must judge the applicability of these methods for himself. Some will find them useful, others will not have the patience or the fortitude to carry them out, and still others will find that their dogs bark more, not less, because the noise brings attention.

When you’re home

If your dog is bossy or suspicious, he may bark ad nauseum when you have a visitor, when joggers go by, when the kids get off the school bus on the corner, or when the next door neighbor gets a UPS package or has the landscapers in the yard for three or four days – even when you are home.

A bossy dog is often easier to cure than a suspicious one because he may simply need to be reminded that he’s not in charge. It takes longer to get the message across if you have ceded your authority in any fashion, but it can be done by making the dog work for every treat and cuddle and love tap he gets. He should sit or lie down or do a trick on command before getting anything he wants.

Teaching a suspicious dog to bark on command so you can then teach him to stop on command works as well. Carol Lea Benjamin calls this the “serendipitous” method of dog training by which the owner names a behavior in order to control it. The trick here is to know what triggers the barking so you can get it started yourself , then, just before initiating the noise, saying the name of the command.

Here’s how it works. If Ranger barks when someone knocks at the door, repeat “speak, speak” just before you knock on a wall or other hard surface. Tell him he’s good and give him a treat. Repeat several times a day until he understands that “speak” means bark. This process focuses his attention on you and gets ready for the next step – teaching him to quit barking.

When you tell Ranger to speak and give him his reward for doing so, follow it with “Enough” or some other word that means “knock-it-off!” Once he gets the idea that he must stop barking after the treat, you can begin to use “enough!” when he barks at real interruptions. Be sure, however, to allow to alert you to the presence of whatever and praise him before you tell him he’s done enough.

Other methods

Training is the best way to correct unacceptable behavior, but other methods are available. Faced with seemingly unsolvable problems and threats of lawsuits or court action, owners have used no-bark collars and vocal cord surgery to stop their pets from making excess noise.

The anti-bark collars come in two types, radio and herbal spray. The radio collars deliver a mild shock when the dog starts to bark. The collar has prongs that must touch the front of the dog’s neck so the vibrations of the barking trigger the shock. The herbal spray collars work the same way, only the vibrations trigger a mist of pungent citrus-scented fog into the dog’s face. The mist startles the dog and interrupts the barking.

Debarking must be done by a veterinarian. The procedure is misnamed – it muffles barking but doesn’t eliminate it – but it is a humane alternative to the options of giving away a beloved pet, suffering the wrath of neighbors, or facing legal action.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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