Google “top dog behavior problems” and barking always makes the list. Most of us tolerate a little barking, but excessive barking can get on any dog lover’s last nerve.
Barking is a natural dog behavior. Dogs bark to communicate with us, to communicate with each other and sometimes just bark to express an emotion. Some breeds bark more than others – beagles, various terrier breeds, schnauzers and chihuahuas come to mind.
Barking is self-rewarding
Barking is challenging to address because it’s an incredibly self-rewarding behavior. UPS arrives in your driveway to make a delivery, and your dog starts barking. Eventually, UPS leaves. Mission accomplished! The dog did his job (barked at the intruder) and the intruder went away.
The best way to sustain a behavior (be it good or bad) is by randomly rewarding it. While you may be able to redirect your dog to be quiet when you are home, what happens when you’re not? The dog barks – and the squirrel goes away. The dog barks – and the jogger on the street goes away. The dog barks – and the bicyclist goes away. The dog is self-rewarded and nobody is home to redirect the behavior to something more appropriate.
Barking is also just fun for dogs. How often have you screamed while riding a roller coaster, or cheered on your favorite sports team on TV? Releasing emotion – and dogs do this by barking – is fun.
How to address a barking issue
The key to addressing a barking issue is to determine why the dog is barking. Common causes of barking include insufficient physical exercise, boredom and loneliness so make sure your dog is getting enough exercise, mental stimulation and time with family and friends.
Rule out medical issues. Dogs may bark due to anxiety if they are in pain, having sudden vision or hearing issues or are in cognitive decline.
If your dog barks for attention (demand barking), immediately turn your back on the dog or abruptly leave the room. Your dog will quickly learn that barking results in you leaving, not staying.
Your dog may bark at you when you return home after an absence (greeting barking). The key here is to not reward your dog for barking. Stand outside your door and do not enter until the dog is calm. Once inside, ignore your dog until he is quiet, and then very calmly greet him.
Most dogs will alert or alarm bark when the mailman or UPS man arrives. Several approaches can work here:
Why the use of an aversive can backfire
Wikipedia defines aversive as “unpleasant stimuli that induce changes in behavior through punishment.” Some examples of aversives include:
The use of an aversive can make things worse by installing fear and anxiety. It can damage the bond you have with your dog. The biggest concern that trainers have is that the aversive may result in unintended associations. A dog that continually gets corrected for barking at children may end up fearing children even more because every time a child appears he is punished. The dog may eventually bite the child – or you.
Pay attention to what your dog is trying to tell you
One day, my dog was barking hysterically out the front window while I was on the phone. When I looked out, I saw a mother bear and two cubs in our driveway. Be sure to figure out why your dog is barking before reacting. Your dog may just be trying to tell you something important.
Photo by Robert Gramner (unsplash.com)