Updated November 29, 2020
Here’s some bad news for people with barking problems. Humans may have deliberately selected dogs for their ability to bark. It’s one of the big differences between wolves and dogs.
Barking until recently has been seen as a good thing. Many people (myself included) quite like their dogs to bark at people entering their property. I haven’t seen the statistics but I’m willing to bet houses like mine get broken into a lot less often.
Dogs also get rewarded for barking. We all have dogs that bark at mealtimes, or until someone pays attention or opens the door. Barking in guarding and herding breeds has traditionally been encouraged too.
So hooray for barking, right? Clearly not. Urban living has pushed dogs into unnaturally high densities so if a dog is going to bark a lot, people will suffer. We all know a dog in our area who’s a ‘problem barker’ and it can drive you mad.
Let’s not forget that most ‘problem barkers’ are probably suffering as well.
Why Do Dogs Bark Excessively?
A dog with a barking problem fits into one of four groups:
- An overstimulated normal dog
- A dog with behavioural problems
- A dog managed inappropriately
- A combination of the three
An overstimulated normal dog is barking the way dogs are supposed to bark. The problem is the presence of things to bark at. These could be:
- Another dog to play with
- Other animals like cats, possums, rats
- Passers by on the street
- Loud noises or activity next door
- Other dogs
Younger dogs are generally worse and certain breeds are more inclined to bark than others (I would guess terrier, herding, guarding & toy breeds)
A dog’s behavioural problems may include:
A dog managed inappropriately may include:
- Confinement or tying up
- Pain, hunger or thirst
- Poor socialisation
- Insufficient exercise or stimulation
- Boredom (frustration of a dog’s desire for stimulation or interaction)
An example of a combination is the dog in the picture at the start (yes, that’s the same dog twice). She:
- Hasn’t been socialised and is probably now anxious and fear aggressive
- Lives on a busy corner and has access to the fence
- Is rarely inside, never exercised or given any amusements
We all know poor dogs like this, doomed from the start to be problem barkers.
How To Stop Dogs Barking
The best way is to never let them start. Preventing dogs barking is so, so much easier than stopping them once the habit develops. The longer it goes on generally the worse it gets.
How you prevent barking uses many of the same techniques as how you treat it. It’s just earlier and requires less effort. Here’s what we recommend for dogs barking excessively.
(Prevention only!). If you live in high density housing, by a school or on a busy corner, you might choose breeds known to be less noisy. Many hunting breeds, for example, were selected to be quiet and still are.
See The Vet
Pain and disease can cause dogs to bark from frustration. Plus vets can assess your dog’s behaviour, give some starting tips, and recommend a local behaviour consultant we trust and work with. Some dogs may need anxiety medications.
The critical time is from when you get your puppy up to 16 weeks of age. That’s why Puppy Preschool was invented, and why we recommend early finish vaccines for puppies. If you have an older dog, they can still learn to be social by regular attendance at a positive dog training school.
Treat Fear & Anxiety
The fearful dog will bark to make things go away. The dog with separation anxiety will bark out of distress. Your vet should be able to tell if your dog is anxious and recommend a course of action. A simple thing you can do is provide a safe and secure den for an anxious dog.
Give Regular Exercise
We do go on about this a bit, but that’s because it’s true. How many excessive barkers are walked every day? Some, but not many. Read our blog about the myth of the big yard.
Provide Good Stimulation
So many ideas here. We’ve written a whole article on activity toys, you can read our amusement ideas for solitary dogs but there’s nothing like just being there. That’s what we used to call face time before FaceTime; spending 30 minutes a day just hanging out with your dog.
Leave an audiobook on when you go out. A study by Brayley & Montrose in 2016 has shown that audiobooks are superior to classical music in increasing resting behaviour and reducing barking & vocalisation in shelter dogs.
Remove Bad Stimulation
It’s asking too much of a dog to sit by the front fence and stay quiet. Some do, but I don’t take the chance; my two dogs are behind a second fence that keeps them 10 metres back. Reduce exposure to anything else that sets them barking too. Some barkers are better off inside during the day; all they usually do is sleep so they shouldn’t need to toilet until you get home.
Dogs love routines they can predict. I can’t prove this, but I think that a dog who can rely on doing something together with his owner after work is more likely to be settled during the day.
Know Your Dog
Dogs may bark for genuine reasons like confinement, thirst, heat, cold or two dogs may keep setting each other off.
Seek Expert Help
There are many excellent, compassionate and professional dog behaviour consultants we can recommend.
“Barking is commonly associated with play, anxiety and frustration. Problems with play-associated barking are rare. We have many interventions available for reducing anxiety and frustration.” RJH
Do Anti Barking Collars Work?
Technology to help with barking dogs can be used for good or evil. I’ll tell you about some new and exciting ways after I deal with the old ones.
Anti Bark Collars are widely sold in Australia, usually without any supervision of their use. There are three types:
Citronella Spray Bark Collars
These work by delivering an unpleasant spray across the nose of a barking dog. They require working batteries and pressurised citronella refills.
I’ll admit that until ten years ago we used to hire out a citronella collar for people with barking dogs. They are effective for many dogs. Nowadays, knowing the psychological harm they can cause, we would only use these under the guidance of a behaviourist.
Electronic Shock Bark Collars
Evil. Surely a correct reading of the Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act would render these products illegal but here they are, freely available in Adelaide. This charming model comes with a “User Selected Correction Mode” range of settings so you can dial up the shocks. Which, by the way, they call “Static Stimulation”. You know something’s dodgy when they won’t even say it like it is.
Ultrasonic or Vibration Bark Collars
These use a milder deterrent effect (as far as we can tell) but if it isn’t unpleasant to a dog, it doesn’t work.
The problem with all three collar types is that like all punishment, they only treat the symptoms, not the cause. A dog (like the one pictured) barking from anxiety is unlikely to be stopped by one of these devices. In fact it could produce aggression like the dog I rescued who had been subjected to a prong collar.
Even when punishment works, there’s always a better and more understanding approach.
“Humane and rational treatment reduces or eliminates the causes.” RJH
‘Good’ Anti Bark Technology
Here’s where technology may come to the rescue. Reward-based automatic treat dispensers for problem barking are the latest idea. The simple idea is to reward for quiet or calm behaviour, and an automated approach means it happens all day. They really do seem to work, but we recommend you use them together with a behaviourist for best results.
What about ‘debarking’? It has no place in civilised society. Next week I want you to know about the dog debarking situation in South Australia.
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!