By Kim Silver, Building Bonds
Have you ever come home to a note on your front door from an unhappy neighbor? “Your dog barks all day. Please make him stop, or I am calling animal control!” Whether you are aware of your dog’s barking or not, this kind of note is a wake-up call that something needs to change for your dog. Dogs bark, but excessive barking is a symptom of something missing in your dog’s life, or a stressful event, such as a thunderstorm. What might your dog be trying to say with all of that vocalizing? Although the following are common reasons for excessive barking, the list is not all-inclusive. To successfully resolve your dog’s barking, you may wish to consult with a certified professional dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist.
Some dogs get bored or anxious when left alone or when excessively confined. Confinement may mean never leaving the house or yard. Social isolation is also a form of confinement. An excessively barking dog may crave the stimulation that companionship, movement, enrichment, and training activities provide. If a dog’s daily life lacks physical and mental exercise, they may bark to tell anyone who will listen. Increasing sniff walks, ball chasing, food puzzles, physical activities such as massage and training games may help reduce or stop the barking. Training activities go a long way in keeping your dog engaged with you and the outside world. Enrolling your dog in a group class that uses positive reinforcement and ones that your dog enjoys, such as agility or tricks, may help. Classes that teach manners and life skills are not only enjoyable for dogs, but dog moms and dads are happier with better-behaved dogs. Nosework classes involve very little training and use your dog’s natural ability to sniff things out and are excellent at stimulating your dog mentally. Whichever activity you choose, make sure both your dog and you enjoy it.
Knowing when your dog is excessively barking is helpful information for determining the cause. Does your dog bark when they see or hear other dogs or animals, or people, cars, and other environmental noises? If so, they are trying to alert you that something is there. The barking may function as a way to make the thing go away. If your dog is in the yard, secure them indoors so they will hear and see fewer bark triggers. Play calming music or white noise in the house when you are away and home. If they have access to windows facing the front yard, close the blinds or curtains. If you want daylight inside, window film is inexpensive and highly effective for blurring what is on the other side and allowing light in the home. If you have a dog door, know that your dog may be running in and out barking all day. If they must have access to the dog door, blocking sound and visual stimuli indoors may help reduce the amount of running out the dog door to bark. You may also consider blocking any fencing in the yard with a tarp to reduce visual triggers to bark. If your dog barks when you are home, he or she may find it reassuring to have you check on the potential threat to let them know everything is OK. Simply looking out the window or opening the door to peek outside and saying something reassuring in a cheerful tone helps dogs calm down.
Does the excessive barking only occur when you leave your dog home alone? In addition to barking, does your dog whine or howl when you are not home? Does the vocalizing continue for the duration you are away? Dogs with separation anxiety often display other behaviors with vocalization. These behaviors may include chewing on him/herself or scratch to the point of losing hair or bleeding, urinating or defecating in the house, or being destructive to the home or objects within the home. Chewing, scratching or destroying points of exit such as door jams, window frames, and window coverings may indicate your dog is trying to escape the home. If your dog does escape the house or yard, you will need to secure them in the house safely until you can get professional help. Separation anxiety treatment often has excellent success when pet parents work with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT). You can find a veterinary behaviorist by visiting the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists at https://www.dacvb.org/. CSATs are trainers specially certified in separation anxiety and often work successfully and remotely with clients. You can learn more and choose one by visiting https://malenademartini.com/.
If you have a neighbor with a dog that barks excessively, take some time to talk with them in person about the issue. Your neighbor may not be aware of how often the barking occurs when they are not home. Your observations of their dog may provide them with the information they need to find a resolution for their dog. Maintain good neighbor relations by speaking calmly and focusing on a solution. If you must communicate your concerns in writing, be mindful of the tone and language. To add a special touch, wrap the note with a bow and dog bone to indicate your compassion and concern for their dog.
Kim Silver is a certified professional force-free dog and parrot trainer in Tucson, Arizona.