All dogs bark - it's natural. It's the way they communicate with us and other animals.
It is normal for a dog to bark when there is a noise at the boundary of their territory, like a knock at the front door. But it is not normal for a dog to bark for 2 hours after a single knock, or to bark at every noise that occurs. A normal dog would learn they only have to bark a few times when the noise occurs and they quickly learn to ignore commonly occurring noises.
Irrespective of why the dog is barking and whether or not it is normal, it is the second most common complaint made to councils.
Understanding why dogs bark
The situation the dog is in when it barks will reveal the motivation behind the barking.
Dogs commonly bark when they are excited or aroused, for example when they are playing, see prey, or come into contact with other dogs in their social group.
Dogs also commonly bark when they are distressed, such as being put in a new situation, left alone in an unfamiliar environment, in physical discomfort or pain or when they hear other dogs barking or howling.
They will also bark when they are startled or alarmed, like when they hear a new noise or are approached by another dog or unknown person.
Boredom or frustration can also be triggers for barking. And when a dog barks in a certain situation it may learn that barking is a worthwhile behaviour. If a dog decides that a behaviour is worth doing, it will repeat the behaviour in the same situation in the future, but if they dog believes the behaviour is not worthwhile it will not waste its time or energy doing it again.
How do behavioural problems affect barking?
One explanation for extreme barking is that the dog is anxious. Being anxious is normal in certain situations but an anxiety disorder is more than this. It is when the default behaviour of the dog is to anticipate threats in any new situation or in a situation that it does not know how to act to remain safe.
A dog suffering from this type of anxiety disorder will bark in many more situations than a normal dog. It will perceive any noise or movement as threats and will be more likely to learn that barking is worthwhile in more situations.
Treatment of barking dogs
The first step is to consult your veterinarian and determine if there are underlying conditions that are causing the barking, such as arthritis, liver disease and canine cognitive dysfunction. These conditions must be dealt with before or in conjunction with a behavioural management plan.
Developing a behavioural management plan requires an understanding of when and why a dog is barking.
If you can work out the reasons why your dog is barking, it will be easier to find a way to solve the
problem. You may not even be aware that your dog is barking too much, especially if you are away from home a lot of the time. Your neighbour may approach you regarding the noise your dog is making.
Think about ways to identify why your dog may be barking.
These could include:
keeping barking dog records when you are at home
asking your neighbour to keep barking dog records for you
asking other neighbours if they have noticed excessive barking
trying a 'set up' by pretending you are leaving home. Follow your normal routine when leaving
home, park your vehicle down the street and quietly walk home. Listen from outside your property to see if your dog starts barking
A behavioural management plan includes the following components:
Making sure there are no medical or behavioural abnormalities contributing to the barking
Determining why the dog believes that barking is worthwhile
Working with a professional dog trainer to teach the dog to be quiet when requested (we can recommend a trainer for you)
Learning how to use distraction techniques to give the dog something better to do.
Teaching the dog how to relax using reward-based training techniques.
Ensuring the dog's physical and mental needs are being fully met, for example a nutritional diet and plenty of exercise, see below.
Exercise your dog
Daily walking, especially before you leave in the morning can reduce problem barking. A tired dog will
not bark when it is resting or sleeping.
Train your dog
Obedience training can help prevent barking. Regular training will exercise your dog's
mind, increase obedience and further tire your dog.
Activity Toys - Toys that store and dispense food keep your dog occupied and provide it with mental
stimulation while you are away. A well prepared KONG is recommended. Visit the Kong website for ideas.
Treasure Hunt - Feed your dog its breakfast by scattering dry food all over the yard, or feed your dog using multiple puzzle balls or Kongs. This becomes a doggie treasure hunt and provides mental stimulation and hours of activity for your dog
Remove your dog's direct line of site
If your dog is protective of its territory then it may bark at passers by. Confine your dog to the backyard so it cannot see passers by at the front fence.
Consider erecting a sightscreen. This is as simple as attaching opaque material (black plastic) to your fence to block the dog's vision.
Provide company or attention
Dogs are pack animals, they need social interaction, love and care from their owners. Ongoing socialisation with family, friends and other dogs is vital to ensuring your dog remains balanced and well-behaved.Careful consideration needs to be given before purchasing another furry mate for your dog, as dogs mimic each other's behaviours. You don't want two noisy dogs! A radio left on may help a lonely dog.
Dogs are quick to learn that barking is an effective way to get your attention. When you react to your dog's barking, regardless of the tone in your voice, you are interacting with your dog and therefore re-enforcing the barking behaviour. Reward silence rather than punish noise. Hitting or yelling at your barking dog may cause other behavioural problems.