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How to stop excessive barking

Posted in 'behavioural issues' on April 7, 2015, 9:00 am
Brisbane Dog Training

Barking is one of the most common behavioural issues people contact me about. Here are some things you can do on your own to minimise barking.

 

Firstly, know that barking is natural doggy behaviour. Dogs bark because it's part of their genetic make-up. Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to watch and guard property, and this instinct can't be trained away. Barking is fun, it feels good, and it usually gets dogs what they want - which can be either attention or for people to leave them or their property alone.

Some dog breeds are more prone to barking than others, but individual dogs can also be barkers even if their breed isn't supposed to be very vocal. Dogs who aren't barkers can learn to bark for attention or out of fear, if they are allowed to repeatedly do this and learn that it works and is fun.

Because barking can be part of who the dog is, partly learned, and is part of doggy genetics, barking can be a complex issue to fix.

It's easier to prevent your dog from becoming a barker than it is to fix barking later on.

So what can you do to prevent or minimise barking?

1. Prevent your dog from forming or practising the habit. Outside dogs bark a lot more than inside dogs, so if you have a new puppy or a dog who you know will bark when you are at work, keep them inside while you are at work. There's a lot more to bark at outside than there is inside, so keeping them inside is an easy way to break the habit. Even if they do bark, the neighbours are less likely to complain because they can't hear your dog.

2. Make sure your dog is getting enough physical exercise every day. A tired dog is less likely to bark. Physical exercise can be playing with you, playing with other dogs, off leash play time, walking or running on the beach, etc. Most dogs need at least 30 minutes per day, but the more active breeds need at least 1 hour per day.

3. Make sure your dog is getting enough mental stimulation every day. Physical exercise isn't enough for most dogs, they also need to use their brains. This can be in the form of puzzle toys, scent work (e.g. where you scatter your dog's dry food in the grass for him to sniff out), chew toys, being allowed to sniff on walks, or training time with you. Training time with you has the added advantage that it will improve your bond with your dog, make your dog better behaved, and more responsive to you in general.

4. Leave your dog with something constructive to do when you're not home. If your dog is busy doing something he enjoys, he is less likely to try to find something to bark at. This also provides mental stimulation. Things to do for your dog can be kongs, chew toys, bones, a sand pit to dig in, a clam shell pool to splash in, or similar. Leaving toys out for your dog isn't usually enough, as most dogs won't play with their toys on their own. Use toys that you can put treats in, and rotate toys every day to keep them interesting.

5. Train your dog to focus on you when someone walks past your house. Start training this when there is no one around. Make a kissy sound or say your dog's name, reward when your dog looks at you. Repeat many times, and increase the distance between you and your dog, so your dog has to come over to you for the treat. When your dog is really good at this, try it when someone is walking past your house. If your dog looks at you, reward and praise profusely. If your dog fails, don't get angry at your dog, this is just a sign that your dog wasn't ready for that level of distraction.

Step 5 won't work for all dogs. Some dogs will bark when left alone no matter how much you train them to focus on you when you're around. Steps 1-4 will still help to minimise and prevent barking in these dogs though.

What about bark collars?

Bark collars are an option for when you need to stop a nuisance barker in a hurry, for instance if you've had complaints and the council is threatening to take your dog away.

Putting a bark collar on your dog is a form of punishment, and will only work if your dog hates the collar more than he loves barking. Citronella collars don't work for a lot of dogs, and you will need to get an electronic bark collar.

You should never get a bark collar if you have more than one dog who barks, as the collar will also activate when the other dogs barks, punishing the dog who didn't bark as well as the dog who barked.

Please note that a bark collar should never be the first option to fix barking, and should never be used on its own. It needs to be used in conjunction with a positive training program, such as the steps above, so your dog isn't just being punished for barking, but is also provided with positive energy outlets.

The majority of dogs don't need to be punished in order to fix barking. Take steps to prevent it as soon as you bring a puppy home, and most likely your dog will never have an issue with barking. If your dog is already barking, the steps above will minimise it as much as possible.


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