Dogs will bark as an alert or warning that something is different or they will bark to have their needs met. Barking is a normal way for dogs to communicate however it may not always be a desirable behaviour. Working out why your dog is barking is the key to coming up with a humane and satisfactory solution.
Some of the more specific reasons for barking include:
- Response to a stimulus
- As a greeting
- As a warning
- Cognitive dysfunction/dementia
- Physical or mental boredom
How to treat & manage your dog’s barking:
- See your vet. It is important the medical issues above are ruled out before you consider the non-medical issues and your vet may be able to help you determine why your dog is barking. If the issue is medical your vet will give you recommendations on how to proceed.
- Do not reward the barking. For example, if your dog is barking to be let inside, don’t let them in whilst they are barking. Work on rewarding calm, quiet behaviour instead. This is particularly important if they are barking for attention.
- If you dog is barking due to separation anxiety, we recommend a behavioural management plan with veterinary assistance. Here are some tips to get you started.
- If they are barking because of a stimulus (e.g. the doorbell), work on rewarding calm behaviour such as sitting quietly at the door before it is opened. Start by teaching the calmness then gradually introduce a small stimulus escalating/working towards the ultimate stimulus.
- Avoid the trigger. This may only be a temporary solution but will reduce the barking if they are responding to a stimulus. For example, blocking vision through a front window may stop them barking at people on the street.
- Tackle boredom. Increasing your dog’s exercise and giving them more environment enrichment may reduce their boredom and settle their barking.
- Distraction techniques may work for some causes of barking. Make sure the reward comes after the distraction, so they aren’t inadvertently rewarded for the barking. For example, a loud “QUIET” cue followed by a treat if they respond will enhance the appropriate behaviour.
- Avoid punishment. Dogs that bark for attention will consider this a reward and fearful or anxious dogs will become more anxious because of punishment and may even develop more inappropriate behaviours. For dogs that are aroused (e.g. barking at another dog) punishment will likely heighten their arousal and worsen the barking.
- Avoid anti-bark collars. Training collars have been developed to produce an electric shock (illegal in NSW), loud beep or release a noxious but harmless spray (citronella) when a dog barks. These do not resolve the underlying reason the dog is barking and will very likely contribute to worsening inappropriate behaviour. Studies indicate these collars increase anxiety and increase fear responses. Whilst Citronella bark collars are less harmful than the alternatives, many dogs also learn to bark at a lower frequency so as not to trigger the collar.
- Consider enlisting a dog trainer. These professionals will have tools and tricks to help you reduce your dogs barking. Make sure they have been recommended by a vet and use positive reinforcement techniques. This is crucial.