All dogs bark and for a variety of different reasons. They may bark in response to a threat, either perceived or real, boredom as a result of being left alone, excitement when playing, to elicit attention or in response to some other form of stimulus, for example, the telephone ringing. In other words, a dogs bark forms part of a wider context of communication that is better understood in relation to other signals, such as the individual dog’s body language for example.
Having understood that a dogs bark is quite natural and therefore expected to a large degree, a dog who barks obsessively, however, not only causes great stress to its owners but can become a wider social problem, leading to frayed relationships between friends and relatives and in some cases to legal action against the dog’s owners.
Obsessive barking is usually a symptom of an underlying problem, therefore before you can help your dog overcome this unwanted behavior, it is important to address the motivation of his barking first of all.
Frustration and stress can be a major cause of barking, especially due to a dog spending too much time alone or not receiving adequate exercise or mental stimulation. If you think this may be the cause of your dogs constant barking, then regular daily exercise suitable to your dog’s needs, plus stimulating games such as ‘fetch’ and ‘hunt the treat’ for example should remedy the problem. This is especially true for working breeds, for example, the Border Collie and German Shepherd.
Separation anxiety or an exaggerated reaction to being left alone can cause your dog to develop a problem of constantly barking. In order to help your dog try to make both leaving the house and returning as uneventful as possible. To begin with, when getting ready to leave the house do so a good 20 minutes before you actually leave. While preparing to leave don’t talk to your dog or make eye contact with him, continue to go about your business normally. When you are ready to leave don’t say goodbye, just calmly leave. When you return to action in a similar manner, don’t talk to your dog, settle yourself down and after several minutes quietly call your dog to you and pet him gently and quietly. The key is to help your dog understand there is no big deal with you coming and going. In time your dog should get the idea, and his barking should dissipate naturally.
If your dog barks obsessively to stimuli such as a telephone or doorbell ringing, for example, try teaching him commands such as ‘speak’ and ‘quiet’ for example. To do this attach your dog to a lead so you have more control over him and ask a helper to ring the doorbell, When your dog hears the sound of the bell and begins to bark, give him the command ‘speak’, wait for a few seconds, then give him the command ‘quiet’ If he continues to bark, tug on his lead; the tug on the lead is not meant to be a punishment, but more to break dogs fixation on his barking. When he responds by becoming quiet, give him a treat and praise him profusely. Keep practicing this exercise until your dog can speak and become quiet on your command.
In some cases, a dogs barking can stem from dominance or aggression due to him being highly territorial. This may be due to his personality, or his breed type for example. If this is the case with your dog, try managing the cues that elicit his barking behavior. If your dog goes into a barking mode when he hears the mail delivery person arrive, for example, try putting him in another room before your mail is delivered. If your dog dashes to the garden fence when a stranger passes by, remove him from the garden altogether. If he has no reason to bark, then his unwanted barking should extinguish naturally after a short period of time.
Many owners who indulge their dogs, especially toy or miniature varieties often find their dogs become quite vocal in an attempt to get their attention. In order to counteract this unwanted barking, refuse point blank to be manipulated by your dog’s behavior. When your dog barks to get your attention, simply turn your back on him and refuse to respond to him until he quit. When he becomes quiet, give him a treat. Again try teaching him the ‘speak’ and ‘quiet’ commands.
Occasionally poor health can be the culprit behind a dog’s excessive barking; Arthritis and problems with teeth and ears can bring about unexpected bouts of barking, especially if the dog is getting older. If you think may be causing your dogs problem barking, make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible to have your dogs health checked.