Dogs that bark excessively can create tension and cause many issues between neighbours, family and friends if the barking continues or worsens over time.
It is important to remember that barking is a large part of a dog’s natural behaviour. Excessive barking however is a problem that affects the entire community and is a major reason for local council complaints.
Before we delve into some of the reasons why an adult dog may be barking excessively and some treatment tips to help, it’s important to note that most young puppy ‘problem’ behaviour can be related directly to survival techniques, instinctive to the puppy, so our main aim is to prevent and avoid reinforcing inappropriate behaviour including barking from becoming an established habit.
If you have a dog that is excessively barking then there may be one or more reasons for this including:
- Attention Seeking: Jumping up, nudging for pats, scratching / whining at the back door.
- Excitement: Occurs when the dog is aroused or excited.
- Separation Anxiety: Occurs only in the absence of the dog’s owner or significant other and likely to be accompanied by other Separation Related Behaviour such as destructive chewing, digging, excessive greetings, pacing, inappropriate elimination, loss of appetite and more.
- Fear / Limited Socialisation: Barking would be directed at a specific object people/ other dogs and triggers and would be accompanied by fear-based postures and reactions.
- Boredom: Lack of exercise, stimulation, appropriate toys, family interaction.
- Inadvertent Reinforcement: Owner responds to dog barking by letting them inside, yells out, poor attempts at stopping it which actually reinforces the unwanted behaviour.
- Predatory: The barking occurs in response to ‘prey’ objects or during a chase.
- Territorial: The barking occur at fence lines, in the car or at the front door / window.
- Dementia: An elderly dog, with no obvious cause that disrupts normal activity.
To really understand why your dog is barking excessively and what to do about it, it is important that you engage a qualified trainer to do an assessment and provide a plan to address it. Especially, if the issue is related to the mental state of your dog such as anxiety, SBR, boredom, fear and limited socialisation as applying your own treatments may not address the underlying issue and could result in other problem behaviour.
Some techniques that may be worth trying in the short term, whilst waiting for professional help include:
- Mask the noises that may stimulate the barking (ie: people walking past, outside noises, thunder etc.) by turning on a radio or the TV.
- Remove the dog from the environment (if barking at people walking past front gate/windows etc.) by keeping them inside, or fence/keep out of an area or in garage/inside at night if they bark at possums, cars etc.
- Address the attention seeking behaviour or poor leadership with independence training, obedience training, avoid reinforcing the bad behaviour and other techniques including those mentioned below in ‘environmental enrichment’.
- Reward appropriate behaviour/avoid reinforcing the barking. For example, if a dog is barking at the back door to be let in, do not yell at them to be quiet or go out to tell them to be quiet (= giving them attention!). Wait until the moment they go quiet and reward that good behaviour (ie: allow them to come inside at that moment, go out and pat/play).
- Visit Vet if dementia is suspected.
- Put the behaviour on cue ie: teach to ‘Bark’ and then ‘Quiet’ on command so that we are setting clear guidelines as to when it is appropriate.
- Provide environmental enrichment ie: obedience training, appropriate exercise, interactive toys such as Aussie Dog or KONG that provide mental & physical stimulation, correct diet, appropriate levels of human contact and play, trips/walks outside the home environment.
Exercise & Stimulation
All dogs need mental and physical stimulation and exercise appropriate to their breed, age and temperament in order to keep them happy, healthy and prevent behaviour problems such as excessive barking from occurring. They are also not programmed to be left alone all day which is a reason for many problem behaviours when they have no environmental enrichment to help keep them from becoming bored or anxious.
Dealing with excessive barking is so important for your own peace of mind, your local community and, most importantly, your dog! So to find a qualified trainer near you that can assist contact the National Dog Trainers Federation.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog walking, dog minding and dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.