The Sound of Silence... Or Not!
If you’ve had the opportunity to be around a lot of different dogs (either in training or through friends and relatives owning them), you will notice that there really is a breed/type out there for everyone. Higher energy, lower energy, known to be more people-friendly, known to be aloof, etc. One thing that many people also have a preference for is in terms of noise. I, for one, love dogs who make noise, hence one of the things that drew me to Finnish Spitz, also known as the Barking Bird Dog. But even when you want to own a more “quiet” breed or breed type, sometimes things do not quite work out that way. So, what can you do about endless barking?
The first step is to identify the reason for the barking. Barking is a behavior that is caused by certain stimuli,or lack there of - aka boredom. As an Animal Control Officer, I deal with this type of complaint on a regular basis. Most of the time these types of complaints, are due to owners not offering their dogs enough mental and physical stimulation, and are instead left outside to just bark and bark. The cure for this is first, be vigilant about your dog’s barking so as not to disturb neighbors, and then to address the root of the problem by making sure that they are given enough structured exercise (whatever "exercise" may look like to you and your dog) and training (mental stimulation) so your dog is not bored, but instead calm and relaxed.
In a similar light, many dogs will bark at other stimuli presented to them whether they are inside or outside, such as birds, squirrels, other dogs and people passing by the house, and sometimes cars, trucks, bikes… The list goes on! The easiest solution to this management. This means blocking views to whatever the dogs can see that elicits the barking, and even leaving a TV or radio on for some background noise if your dog reacts to what they can hear. While I am out of the house, I personally restrict access to our back room which has huge windows overlooking our yard, because I know that my dogs like to bark at squirrels, birds, and rabbits, and I would rather not have them practicing something I do not like. Practice makes permanent!
Doorbells and door knocks are another thing that will cause most dogs to bark and make some noise. Management can be useful, in having your guests let you know when they are close so you can put your dogs away in another room or let them out back, where they won't react as excitedly. In addition, there are always delivery people who could come knock or surprise neighbors to stop by unannounced. For those reasons, sometimes management is easier said than done. Finally, some people really just want their dogs to be trained to not bark.
Redirecting their attention on something else is one way to help if it’s a pure excitement issue. If it seems like it’s a fear reaction, then some desensitization might be your first go-to. Counter conditioning a new behavior is the next step, so you can give the dog a potential alternative to barking. In cases such as barking at passersby or barking at other animals (dogs on walks, wildlife, etc), you can practice calm behaviors in the presence of such triggers, and also work on bringing attention back to you. Training a recall to ensure that if your dog is causing a ruckus, you can at least get them to orient back easily, is helpful as well. These skills are also ideal for addressing and preventing fence fighting. My own dogs have two other doggy neighbors who like to run their parts of our shared fence line. I have worked with my dogs to build not only a strong recall in the face of this, but also to desensitize them to the other dogs running up to the fence and jumping on it while barking at my dogs. For general happy excitement barking (wanting to say hi to a favorite person or dog or being too excited in training), practicing impulse control exercises to help your dog work towards being calm in the face of potentially fun distractions would be the best way to help work on that.
There is one more reason for barking. Barking can be an expression of frustration caused by the stress of separation. When it goes on long enough, its repetitive nature can become calming to the dog, which is what is known as a stereotypic behavior. For a dog suffering from separation anxiety, a visit to a veterinary behaviorist and a visit from a certified behavior consultant or certified dog trainer with the appropriate experience might be the way to go, and medication in conjunction with a solid behavior modification plan would help you reach the best outcome. Check out this blog article for more information about combating SA.
There are also more reasons for barking (aggression, reactivity, guarding, etc.) and vocalizations that either go along with barking, or happen for other reasons. But overall, it’s easy to see that there are numerous causes for barking and just as many ways that we as owners and trainers can help stop it if it is unnecessary, incessant, or detrimental. It is important to remember, however, that just as we should use common sense while determining the reason for the excess noise (no matter how it makes us feel (it’s probably my fault for not being proactive enough in training if my dogs bark at a rabbit while we are on a walk), we should take care while working to correct the issue. So whether you enjoy having dogs who bark and “talk” (like I do!) or not, take care to make sure that you are not infringing upon the happiness of others (I’m looking at you, people who let their dogs boredom bark outside all day!), and make sure that you remain consistent with your expectations for your own crew.
What does your Couch Wolf like to bark at? How have you been addressing any nuisance barking? Tell us your story in our Forum and Facebook Community!