Why do dogs bark?
Barking is one of the most common complaints of dog owners and their neighbors!
Up to a third of noise complaints to the Environmental Health Department of
some areas concern disturbances by dogs. But barking is natural. It serves as
a warning signal and alarm to others. Dogs may also vocalize when separated
from their pack or family members, as well as at times of indecision, anxiety,
or frustration. Medical problems can also contribute to vocalization, especially
senility in the older dog.
How can barking problems be prevented?
Socialization and habituation
Get puppies used to as many new people, animals, situations and noises as
possible. This will minimize the amount or intensity of alarm barking. Barking
should only be allowed to alert owners and then be controlled and stopped before
the dog becomes agitated and out of control. Owner control, training and leadership
How can I prevent my dog from barking when I leave?
Effective cage training techniques when your dog is first obtained, should
decrease the dog's anxiety when it is left alone in its cage. Your dog should
be taught gradually to spend longer periods of time away from you. Two dogs
can sometimes help to provide company for each other and reduce distress vocalization
and departure problems but this is not always the case.
My dog constantly barks. What does it want?
Attention seeking barking can be problematic and is often reinforced
by owners giving in to their dog's demands. Allowing a barking dog indoors,
or feeding, patting, praising, playing with, giving a toy, or even just going
to a barking dog to try and quieten it down, are just a few examples of how
an owner may unknowingly reinforce barking. Never reward this sort of barking
with any type of attention.
How can I train my dog to be 'quiet'?
Training the dog to a "quiet" command is an invaluable aid for controlling
undesirable barking. You need to find an effective means of quieting the dog,
which should be preceded with a command such as "quiet". Just loudly
telling your pet to "be quiet", will not be understood and is likely to excite
the dog further.
One of the most practical techniques for teaching a dog to cease barking on
command, is first, to be able to command the dog to begin barking on cue. Use
a stimulus that will cause the dog to bark and pair it with a "bark" command.
Numerous repetitions allow the dog to associate the word "bark", "speak" or
defend with the action. Dogs that bark on command can then be taught to turn
off the barking by removing the cue or stimulus, and giving a "hush" or "quiet"
command just before the barking subsides. As soon as your dog is quiet, give
a favored treat or reward. In some cases it may be necessary to show the dog
the treat whilst giving the command and while it is barking. The treat is then
withdrawn and when the dog is quiet, the command repeated quietly and the treat
It can be difficult or impractical to teach a dog to be "quiet"
on command if the barking cannot be predicted or "turned on" or if it is too
Another method to teach a "quiet" command is to wait until
your dog is barking, say to a doorbell and while he is barking place a very
tasty food treat by his nose. Most dogs will stop barking to sniff the treat.
At the same time you must say the word you will use for quiet, such as "silent",
"hush" etc. When the dog quietens because it cannot sniff and bark
at the same time, you can praise him, say "good, quiet" and give the
treat. Again, as with all new tasks, numerous repetitions are necessary to enforce
Alternatively, distraction or remote punishment devices (see below) can be
used to disrupt the barking. One of the most effective means of interrupting
barking and ensuring quiet is a remote lead and head collar. A tug on the lead
disrupts the dog and closes the mouth. Releasing the pressure can then reinforce
quiet behavior and then a reinforcer such as gentle, quiet praise or food given
if the dog remains quiet.
What are my chances of correcting my dog's barking problem?
The outlook is usually good for most barking problems. But the household situation
in which the dog resides may make it extremely difficult to correct completely.
Even a small amount of barking could disturb a sleeping baby, or upset neighbors,
(particularly in flats or townhouses). When trying to resolve barking problems,
identification of motivating factors is important. Some stimuli are so strong
that it will be difficult to stop the barking behavior directly and a form of
desensitization will be required.
What can I do to correct my dog's barking problem?
The treatment program must be based on the type of problem, your household,
the urgency of the situation, and the type and level of control that you require.
A good behavioral history is important to determine cause, motivation and potential
reinforcing stimuli for the barking behavior Treatment plans need to consider
1) Ensure that the dog is not being rewarded inadvertently.
Some owners in an attempt to calm their dog down, will actually encourage
the barking by giving attention, play, food or affection.
2) Sometimes the home environment can be modified so that the dog is kept
away from the stimuli (sounds and sights) that cause barking. Exposure might
be minimized by confining the dog to a cage or room away from doors and windows,
alternatively windows might be covered so that the dog cannot look outside.
Solid private fencing may be helpful for dogs outdoors. Dogs that bark when
left alone outdoors may have to be kept indoors except when the owner is available
to supervise. Trigger sounds such as doorbells or telephones that might have
become conditioned stimuli for barking should be altered to change their sound.
3) Until effective control is established, training programs are unlikely
to be successful. Increasing interactive play periods and exercise, cage and
confinement training, head collar training and obedience classes may need
to be implemented before bark control training can really begin in earnest.
4) Once you have sufficient control and the dog responds to obedience commands
and handling, it should be possible to train your dog to cease barking on
command. Training the dog to cease barking on command can be accomplished
with lure reward techniques, distraction techniques, or halter and lead training.
Regardless of the technique, rewards should be given as soon as the barking
stops, so that the dog learns that quiet behavior earns rewards. It is most
important to associate silence with the command used. Over time the behavior
should be shaped so that the dog is required to stay quiet for progressively
longer times, before a reward is given.
5) Once the owner has sufficient control with training and the quiet command,
it may then be possible to begin a retraining program in the presence of the
stimuli (people, other dogs) that lead to barking. Training with a head collar
and lead often provides a tool for implementing the techniques safely and
effectively especially indoors or when the owner is nearby. The stimulus should
first be presented in a mild form to the dog from a distance (e.g. children
riding bicycles slowly on the street while the dog stands well back), and
the dog given a quiet or sit-stay command. Although the head collar and lead
is generally all that is required to control the dog and achieve the appropriate
response, the dog could also be disrupted using a remote distraction. Training
sessions are then repeated with progressively more intense stimuli. This type
of training can be effective, but progress can be slow and time consuming.
6) Pets that are barking for other reasons e.g. fear, or
separation distress will require treatment for the underlying problem.
Should I punish my dog when it keeps barking?
Punishment is seldom effective in the control and correction of barking problems.
Excessive levels of punishment can increase anxiety and further aggravate many
forms of barking, while mild punishment merely rewards the behavior by providing
What are anti-barking collars? Are they effective? Are they cruel?
Bark-activated collars can be useful in specific circumstances.
They are not a quick fix though. The collars themselves are not cruel, but
the way in which they are used can cause serious welfare concerns. Audible
and ultrasonic training collars are occasionally effective but they are neither
sufficiently aversive nor consistent enough to be a reliable deterrent. The
type collar which emits a spray of citronella each time the dog barks should
not be used in anxiety or fear-related barking and is not an alternative to
effective training. The citronella interrupts the behavior and provides the
owner with an opportunity to reinforce appropriate behavior As soon as the
barking ceases, the owner should redirect and encourage the dog to perform
an enjoyable alternative behavior (play, tummy rub) as long as the dog remains
quiet. Electric shock collars can be extremely dangerous in unskilled hands
and are not generally recommended for use by the general public. Even an electric
shock will not deter a dog that is highly motivated to bark and there is then
the potential for both physical and psychological damage. In severe cases
an experienced professional should be consulted.
Bark collars only work when they are on the dog. Most dogs will learn to
distinguish when the collar is on and when it is off. When they are not wearing
the collar, most dogs will continue to bark.
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