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Help, My Dog Barks Too Much! <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office">
By Anne Havey, Certified Dog Trainer
Stoney Creek Veterinary Hospital
Spring is here, the windows are open and now our neighbors know that we own a barking dog!
This week I have been taking phone calls from distressed pet owners who cannot stop their dog from barking. Did you just notice that Fido barks a lot? Or, are the neighbors making remarks? Whatever the case, the question remains: How do I stop the barking?
First, we need to explore the main question as to WHY your dog is barking. Although to you, all barks sound alike - there are actually a number of reasons why your dog is barking.
The main reason your dog barks is to create an "ALARM "bark. He is telling you that someone or something is in his territory. It could be the mailman, or kids walking down the street. There are loads of things happening right outside our doors and windows. Most of the time, we want our dog to use an alarm bark to alert us - however, we also want our dog to stop barking when we say so!
Does your dog have access to open screen doors, or can he jump up and gaze out the window all day? If he does, keep your dog away from these areas, by blocking off the couch or closing the front door. One client told me a trick that she uses - she puts empty cardboard boxes on the seats, to keep her dog from jumping up and watching out the window for something to bark at.
If your dog gets to practice this excited barking over and over again, it will become a habit. When you tell your dog "quiet", it should be in your "command voice". You need to get your dog to make eye contact with you. When your dog stops barking, even for a second, congratulate him with your voice and a little food reward to help build his memory. Eventually, he will develop enough "brain muscle memory" to realize that when you say "quiet" it means to stop barking immediately, because he will be rewarded.
"ATTENTION SEEKING" is another type of barking. It is the bark that happens when your dog is trying to get your attention to play, or to feed, or to open the refrigerator, etc... Remember, if you do as your dog wishes when they are attention barking - he is training YOU - and the pattern will be starting. Soon, he will have you perfectly trained to respond the way he wants to his every bark.
My solution for this annoying behavior is to redirect attention. Make the dog work. I like to call this kind of work "Puppy Push-Ups." Use your "sit" and "down" commands at a rapid pace, to keep your dog focused on the training that he knows. This will help redirect an unwanted behavior to a positive behavior that he knows how to do. However, be honest with yourself. Is your dog attention barking because he hasn't been walked all day? Dogs need tons of exercise to release pent-up energy. If they do not get a good 30mins to 1 hour of sustained exercise a day, the only way for them to drain their frustrations is to bark in your face to get you to interact with them.
Don't forget, a tired dog is a good dog! I cannot say that enough!
The last common type of barking is "SEPERATION ANXIETY BARKING". This barking happens when you leave your dog alone. It is usually followed by destruction of property, pica (eating of foreign or inedible objects), urination and defecation. When you leave your dog alone, his doggie-brain cannot process that you will be back. The only thing that he knows is that his resource, YOU, has left. This can be very distressing for some pets. Having a crate, or "personal space", as well as a set routine, can help a lot. Dogs in the wild will "den" - or find some small, safe place where they go to feel comfortable. We can mimic this natural behavior by getting our dogs used to crates at a very young age. This is where they go to sleep, rest, chill-out, and behave when company comes. When you start crating, everyone in the house should be told to leave the dog alone and let them have their "own personal space". This is doggie-down time. With a regular use of a crate, separation anxiety shouldn't become an issue because your dog will not associate the routine of the crate with the fear that you are leaving. Don't forget to be fair to your dog and make sure that your dog gets lots of exercise and toilet time before you put him in the crate.
All of these problem barks have simple solutions, especially successful if you learn to reverse the behavior quickly. With a young puppy, most of these issues can be prevented with consistent love, training and exercise. Of course, if you have more complex issues that have been allowed to fester for months or years, your dog may take more intense behavioral modification. That is where I fit in - together, we can work to make your dog the best behaved in the family!