How should we react to the problem of excessive barking? How can we avoid complaints from neighbours? And how can we understand this behavior and prevent it?
The number one complaint from
neighbours of all dog owners is excessive barking. Some dogs spend
their lives vocalizing, others are rather silent. We all want to
stop our dogs from barking and breaking our ears!
How do we
avoid, prevent and help change this behaviour that is so natural for
The most common advice you will receive might
include dropping a can full of pennies, spraying the dog with water,
or using a gadget like a collar with a jet of citronnella, one that
produces a particular sound or even electric shocks. The results
will vary, most of the time it will have some effect but not for
long, it may not work at all (Ha! You may discover that some dogs
love to be sprayed with water!), or it may cause other problems .
Using such methods is like shooting in the dark as they try to
modify a result regardless of the cause.
occasionally help to temporarily reduce complaints while you are
working through the real problem. However, you must work on this
problem if you want reliable results in the long term. To do this,
we need to understand why a dog barks.
There are several reasons that cause barking. Some people will
say that their dog ''barks at nothing''. This is absolutely false. A
dog always vocalizes for a reason. We may not understand this reason
or we may not find it worthy of all that noise, but it exists and
finding it is the first step towards treatment and prevention.
Some breeds are more likely to express themselves by vocalizing
than others. but even dogs of those breeds need a reason to
vocalize! The dog may bark because he is bored. He would like
something to happens and each stimulus, however small it is, drives
him to bark in the hope of producing some reaction. It can happen
that a dog accused of barking 'for nothing' is actually barking
because he saw a bird through the window or because a leaf fell from
a tree... he barks because he is bored and has absolutely nothing
else to do. This is not only true for the poor dogs tied outside all
day but also for spoiled lapdogs within our homes. It may be that
this dog has all the care, love and walks, but he has a potential
and intelligence far beyond his role as a stuffed doggie.
could deter the bored dog from barking by putting an electric shock
collar on him. If this doesn’t traumatize him too much, he may
simply find another activity like destroying stuff, chasing shadows
or digging to relieve his boredom. It would be more effective to
keep this puppy busy instead of trying to silence him. Some
stimulating activities that are physically and mentally interesting
will satisfy him. A tired dog is a good dog!
Linked to boredom, is barking to get
attention. Again, the dog has little else to do to amuse himself
other than to make us react. He quickly learns that when he makes
noises, we jump, shout at him (we bark too!), or even chase him—in
short, we leave whatever we are doing and our attention ois 100% on
him! It's a super game!
If you start to throw him cans or
spray him with water when he vocalizes, unless he is very frightened
he may well love this change in the rules of the game. He'll find
you very inventive and interesting as you try every trick imaginable
to make him silent. Unless you really scare or hurt him (which will
have unfortunate consequences on your relationship with him), these
approaches will rarely silence him. The best solution is to take
proper care of the dog and ignore his vocalizations so as to not
reward him with your attention.
A very common and serious cause of excessive barking is
distrust. In this case, a dog vocalizes to sound the alarm when he
is afraid. He wants to warn his family of the great danger he thinks
is approaching. The easiest way to prevent this problem is by
exposing the puppy to many people, other dogs, cats, horses, trucks,
elevators, roller skates and buses at a young age. The period
between 2 and 5 months is the best period for socialization.
Without traumatizing the puppy, we want to expose him to all kinds
of new people, animals, objects and sounds so he can get used to
them. This will help him become a dog with not too much fear who
loves everyone. He will not need to bark at everyone who passes by
the window and each bag of trash that moves in the wind because it
will not make him suspicious, just curious.
Many small breeds
of dogs bark for this reason, and it’s easy to see why. Many of them
spend too much time at home, always see the same things and are too
overprotected in your arms. While prevention at a young age is the
best solution, it is possible with some effort and patience to
reduce the fear of older timid dogs by gradually getting him use to
One thing to keep in mind is that a dog that
barks at things he thinks are suspicious may also be more likely to
decide to defend the territory. Some distrustful dogs bark but are
fairly easy to stop. Some others vocalize ardently at the window and
it is impossible to silence them—you may even be bitten in the
process! The dog who is impossible to stop is a dog who thinks he is
responsible for the territory, home, garden, and his people. In
vocalizing in view of a suspected intruder, he is not only trying to
sound the alert but also to intimidate “the enemy”, hoping that they
will go away (as the mailman does each day).
This dog really
believes he's responsible for us and our safety and if we try to
silence him he may even bite, thinking "Come on, don't bother me,
I'm trying to protect you!!" This dog will need to be ‘de-responsibilitalized’
with a global approach and coaching that will make him understand
that it is humans that protects dogs and not the opposite. It is not
his job to be on guard if we are present. By removing this big job
from him, he will only warn us if he see something suspicious and
will then let us take care of it. This is what is expected of a
companion dog: to warn us by two-three barks and stop when
But what if we’re not home? For a suspicious or
territorial dog that causes complaints when you're absent, you may
start with restricting his view by blocking the outside window, or
by keeping the dog in a cage and letting the radio play to disguise
the noise outside during our absence. This type of barking often
happens for the first time between 6 months and 2 years, and if we
do not work to solve the problem immediately it will grow.
A final cause of barking is
quite frequent and not always easy to resolve, it is frustration. A
dog that barks at a game may just be excited, but often there is
some element of frustration in the situation. This happens commonly
to older dogs who begin to bark a lot while playing or going for a
walk to the park because they do not see as well or cannot run like
before. It is also possible that your dog sees two other dogs play
and would love to get involved but the other dogs ignore him or he
does not dare let himself get in the game. The best thing to do in
these situations is to redirect his attention, perhaps with a stick
or other toy that he can hold in his mouth (he can't bark with his
mouth full!) You can also initiate games he can easily manage and
that will let off steam and tire him out.
frustration is much more global and advanced. Many dogs suffer from
a lack of direction, supervision, clear rules and interesting
stimuli. This is the trouble for today’s modern dog. Though he has
the potential, intelligence and need to work for long hours of
working dogs, we ask him to be at home, to be caressed and be
content with his two walks per day. Compare this life to that of a
shepherd dog for example, who, under the clear direction of his
human can do a job that will keep him busy all day. The frustration
of not knowing what to do with himself can be manifested in
different ways, including excessive vocalization.
can silence these dogs with gadgets, this will likely only worsen
the problem. The dog could start running in circles all day, chasing
his tail, licking his paws and legs to excess, destroying things,
digging ... in such a context, taking care of the dog and coaching
him is the only real solution. Training is not the only answer
either here—consider also getting involved with activities like
agility, freestyle, Skijoring, tracking etc. This will certainly
help to entertain both the dog and his human!
Prevention is the Best Medicine
So, there you have
it: the main reasons why a dog barks, no matter what the breed.
Prevention is the easiest way to deal with barking. It starts with
choosing a puppy from a stable background, socializing it well and
coaching him from the beginning. If you have an older dog who barks,
start by figuring out why he is barking and remember that he may be
barking for a mixture of the reasons above. The reasons why he barks
determine your next steps, because we certainly can’t proceed the
same way with a dog barking to alert the neighbourhood as with a dog
barking because it occupies him.
And remember: be silent when
you are working with barking issues. Too many people start to scream
to silence the dog which causes the opposite effect because the dog
is encouraged by his human who now vocalizes as much as him!