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Some causes and remedies for your dog's excessive barking

According to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, veterinary behaviorist at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, and author and consultant for Animal Planet, barking is a form of communication that can be directed at humans, dogs or other animals, and serves many purposes.

Victoria Stillwell, trainer on Animal Planet's "It's Me or the Dog" and author of "Training Your Dog Positively," presents several reasons why dogs bark. These include expressing emotions, alerting housemates that someone or something is approaching, responding to barking produced by other dogs, establishing social contact with or demanding something from humans or other dogs, and warning a perceived threat to leave.

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Stillwell recommends owners observe the pitch and intensity of their dog's barks to help determine the cause for their vocalizations, as such cues could reveal the canine's emotional state and intention. For example, while more stressed dogs might have high-pitched, increasingly frequent barks and stand in a tense position, bored dogs tend to bark in a monotone for long periods of time.

Breeds like Shetland sheepdogs, toy breeds — particularly papillons and chihuahuas — scent hounds like beagles and coonhounds, and terriers tend to be more vocal.

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Limited contact with humans can cause increased barking. This can be the case for dogs who are isolated outdoors while tethered, left alone in the home while their owners are away, or kept in fenced-in areas. Because dogs are social animals, they crave contact with the human members of their "pack."

Aging dogs can develop a condition similar to Alzheimer's disease called cognitive dysfunction syndrome, a symptom of which can be increased vocalization.

Undetected health issues might also trigger barking and/or howling.

One of the most common dog behavior disorders that contributes to excessive vocalization is separation anxiety. A dog with separation anxiety will become significantly stressed when anticipating being separated from owners and their stress behaviors escalate whey're left alone. These behaviors include increased vocalization — barking or howling — destruction, house soiling — even in housetrained dogs — drooling, panting, and pacing.

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Unless neighbors complain, dog owners might not be aware that their dog's barking is causing a disturbance, especially if they reside in an apartment, townhouse or single family home.

Citizens can report barking dog complaints to the Humane Society of Carroll County by calling 410-848-4810 and providing the address of the dog owner. For the first offense, the owner will receive a letter that presents the issues regarding barking dogs. If the matter has not been rectified, and the HSCC continues to receive complaints, owners will be fined and will be required to show proof of their dog's current Carroll County dog license, on the second offense. If complaints continue, the dog will be declared a public nuisance under the Carroll County Code of Ordinances.

Strategies to reduce excessive barking:

• Owners might not realize that they are encouraging their dogs to bark. Attention-seeking dogs who expect to receive their owners' attention to the slightest yip have "trained" their humans to reward them with food from the table, having a ball tossed to them, or being picked up and placed in a lap to keep them quiet. Dodman recommends using "attention withdrawal" to correct this type of barking by having the owner not give any form of attention. This means no direct eye contact, speaking to or touching the dog when barking begins.

• If the onset of barking is sudden or if the dog is elderly — older than 7 years old — an evaluation by a veterinarian is warranted to rule out possible medical issues.

• Consult with your veterinarian if your dog exhibits symptoms of anxiety. Medication might be prescribed to alleviate the symptoms. Other methods to reduce anxiety include using Dog Appeasing Pheromones — DAP — that can be sprayed on bedding or diffused, or having the dog wear a "Thunder Shirt" or "Anxiety Wrap." Owners should consult with their vet before taking any of these steps.

• If you suspect your dog has separation anxiety, consult with a certified animal behaviorist for a correct diagnosis so that a treatment plan can be developed. Owners should understand that there is no "quick fix" for this disorder. They must be patient with their canine partner and work together under the guidance of a behaviorist, using positive training techniques.

• High-energy dogs require more exercise than quick walks around the block once or twice a day, so owners might want to increase their dog's physical activity with retrieving and searching games. Doggy day care might be an option, but not all dogs are good candidates for this setting — particularly dogs that are fearful, aggressive, reactive or elderly. Increased physical activity helps burn up excess energy and might reduce excessive barking.

• For anxious dogs, create a quiet refuge in a room away from the front door and provide goody-stuffed Kongs, treat-dispensing puzzle toys, crate, cushion, water, and soft music — preferably classical, which has been scientifically proven to calm animals. Put your dog in this haven before visitors arrive to help prevent barking episodes.

• Provide enriching experiences involving direct interaction like enrolling your dog in an obedience class from which you both could eventually branch out into other canine sports and activities like rally obedience, traditional obedience, agility, canine scent work, or even therapy work.

• Hire a professional dog walker or responsible neighbor to walk your dog daily and play with him while you are at work, which will help break up the monotony of his day.

• Close curtains to prevent dogs from barking at people or animals they see outdoors.

• Teach your dog Stillwell's "controlled barking" technique. Start by encouraging the dog to bark by using a barking "trigger" like knocking on a door or ringing a doorbell. Reward the dog for barking with a treat or favorite toy. While the dog is munching on the treat or holding the toy, say the word "quiet" paired with a hand signal. If the dog is still quiet, reward him with another treat. Repeat this procedure several times and reward both barking and being quiet. Then encourage the dog to bark with a verbal cue like "speak," but do not give him a reward. Say "quiet" and give him the treat or toy only if he complies. The dog will eventually figure out that being quiet is more rewarding than barking.

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