Obsessive Barking

Written by Caz Irving –

Dogs communicate by using ten different types of sound, ranging from whimpering to growling.
Barking is normal and a very useful means of communication, in excess it can be a nuisance for the humans who live in the dog’s pack, and for their neighbours.
When a dog barks, owners very often respond by shouting in order to silence the dog. The dog assumes the owners are barking too, so they continue undeterred and very often louder. Other dogs find their owners give them attention when they bark.

Here are some examples
1) A dog barks in a car due to being excited, the owner shouts at them to be quiet but the dogs hears them barking back so continues to bark, the owner shouts louder, the dog continues to bark but gets louder as there is now a barking game between the owner and dog.
2) A dog starts barking when the postman comes to the door, the postman delivers the letters and leaves. The dogs sees this as they have done a great job in chasing them away, not realising they didn‘t want to come in anyway! This is reconfirmed every day and also when people pass the front of the house.
3) A dog barks when it hears people passing by and the owner tells them to be quiet, the dog soon learns when they bark they get the owners attention. Their barking now becomes obsessive and they learn to exploit this to the point where the dog barks at nothing at all, just to get a response from the owner.

The golden rule when trying to modify any behaviour problems is Ignore the behaviour you don’t want to see and Praise the behaviour you do want.

One of the simplest ways of stopping your dog from barking is to teach them to bark on command. Start by finding a way of getting your dog to bark out of excitement in a controlled situation for example, have someone hold the end of your dogs lead and with a little friendly teasing with a toy or food try and get your dog to bark. When they do lots of praise and use the command ‘speak’ try to read your dog giving the command ‘speak’ just as they are about to bark. Once you have reached the point when they bark on command you want to teach the command ‘quiet’. This is done whilst the dog is barking, give the command ‘quiet’ and produce a toy or titbit. The dog will soon learn it is rewarding to stop barking on command.

What can I do to correct my dog’s barking problem?

1) Ensure that the dog is not being rewarded inadvertently. Some owners in an attempt to calm their dog down will actually encourage the barking by giving attention, play, food or affection.

2) Sometimes the home environment can be modified so that the dog is kept away from the stimuli (sounds and sights) that cause barking. Exposure might be minimised by confining the dog to a cage or room away from doors and windows, alternatively windows might be covered so that the dog cannot look outside. Solid private fencing may be helpful for dogs outdoors. Dogs that bark when left alone outdoors may have to be kept indoors except when the owner is available to supervise.

3) Once you have sufficient control and the dog responds to obedience commands and handling, it should be possible to train your dog to cease barking on command. Over time the behaviour should be shaped so that the dog is required to stay quiet for progressively longer times, before a reward is given.

4) It may then be possible to begin a retraining programme in the presence of the stimuli (people, other dogs) that lead to barking. The stimulus should first be presented in a mild form to the dog from a distance (e.g. children riding bicycles slowly on the street while the dog stands well back), and the dog given a quiet or sit-stay command. Training sessions are then repeated with progressively more intense stimuli. This type of training can be effective, but progress can be slow and time consuming.

5) Pets that are barking for other reasons e.g. fear, or separation distress will require treatment for the underlying problem.

How can barking problems be prevented?

Socialisation and habituation — get puppies used to as many new people, animals, situations and noises as possible. This will minimise the amount or intensity of alarm barking. Barking should only be allowed to alert owners and then be controlled and stopped before the dog becomes agitated and out of control. O

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