Excessive Dog Barking.
Barking, howling, whining and a myriad of noises in-between, is the way in which dogs express themselves to other dogs, but also towards their human caretakers. Barking is a natural behaviour and no owner should expect to have a dog that always remains totally quiet! However, excessive, prolonged barking, can not only be a nuisance to owners, but to nearby neighbours as well. This Holidays4Dogs article considers the problem of excessive dog barking and how to address it.
Barking is perhaps one of the reasons we love dogs. Dogs have long been regarded as guardians of human families and properties. However, while it is helpful for the pet dog to alert the family to strangers, frequent and prolonged barking can lead to conflict with surrounding neighbours.
Why dogs bark.
There are many reasons why a dog might bark excessively. The dog could be suffering pain, or discomfort. Older dogs suffering from canine dementia may also be inclined to bark more frequently. Likewise, dogs with loss of hearing, may bark more frequently. If you suspect your dog is suffering from a health condition related to excessive barking, seek veterinary advice.
Barking can be also be due to territorial behaviour, fear, boredom, separation anxiety, or attention seeking. Some dogs are naturally more vocal than others – beagles, for example, are notoriously noisy dogs and this is often accompanied by howling. If the dog is very noisy throughout the day, try to monitor the external events which set this off.
Anti-bark collars are not recommended and pose welfare and ethical issues. Indeed, these collars are banned in Wales and it is hoped England will follow suit. reprimanding, or shouting at a noisy dog, can often be counter-productive. Such approaches can produce other undesirable behaviours, such as aggression. Citronella spray collars fall into the same category. Always seek advice from a trainer, or behaviourist for positive ways to reduce problem behaviour.
It is normal for a dog to alert when strangers, or visitors, come to the home. However, if your dog continues to bark incessantly you need to set up a positive association with visitors, neighbours, or passers-by. Always have tasty treats at hand to give to the dog in the presence of visitors.
If your dog barks at neighbours in the garden you could consider asking your neighbour to give the dog treats until the dog associates the appearance of the neighbour with food.
It may also be helpful to remove the stimulus – the thing that makes your dog bark. Alternatively, remove your dog from the stimulus. If your dog barks at passers he can see through a window, for example, try closing the curtains, or blinds.
Dogs commonly bark because they are afraid of something. They may be frightened of strangers, fireworks, loud noises, men in hats, etc. Techniques used for territorial dogs can often be useful. Thus, the aim is to associate the ‘scary’ thing with something positive, like food.
For dogs who suffer from a fear of fireworks you could try a D.A.P. Diffuser (Dog Appeasing Pheromone). These devices resemble plug-in air fresheners. Instead, however, they emit a calming pheromone into the environment which is reputed to make the dog feel safe.
There are conflicting views on how well these work, but some owners swear by them and insist they can help alleviate anxious behaviour.
Dogs will often bark because they are bored. This might be due to a lack of exercise, or attention. Consider enrichment toys such as a Kongs or ‘snuffle mats’. As well as physical exercise, dogs thrive on mental stimulation and brain games.
Dogs are social creatures and, as such, many suffer from separation anxiety when left alone. However, destructive behaviour and barking may be simply due to boredom. Classic separation anxiety is usually associated with panting, pacing, salivating and frantic attempts to escape, in addition to vocalisation.
To avoid this, it is always important when you bring your new puppy home to get him used to being alone for short periods. Get your dog used to the idea that even though you leave, you will always return. Leave the puppy for very short periods and with something to do, like a stuffed Kong.
For dogs with severe separation anxiety it is recommended the owner seeks guidance from a skilled trainer, or behaviourist. The process can be fairly long because the time the dog is left must be increased gradually over time.
Techniques may involve introducing a cue which provides the dog with a feeling of ‘safety’, for example. This might be a special toy, or chew, which the dog only has in the owner’s absence.
Some dogs will bark to attract their owners attention and this can sometimes become a habit. The best response is to ignore the unwanted behaviour, but reward the dog for being quiet.
If your dog persistently barks for attention, you will need a lot of patience!
For example, if you ignore the barking for half an hour, but then eventually yell at him out of frustration, next time he will probably bark for an hour. Remember – shouting is still providing the dog with attention.
Ignoring unwanted behaviour and rewarding the good, works very well for dogs who crave constant attention.
What about the neighbours?
It is reassuring to know that, in many cases, neighbours are usually tolerant of barking dogs – up to a point. The majority of people understand barking is a natural behaviour. Lots of neighbours may even have a sense of security knowing that nearby dogs may act as a form of neighbourhood alert.
However, people will become much less tolerant if neighbouring dogs bark incessantly all day, or into the night. This is nuisance barking and indicates the owners are doing nothing to curb the dog’s behaviour. In this case, local residents may regard this as irresponsible and unfair. Some residents may also be concerned the dog is being left alone for too long, or even that it is not being cared for properly.
What to do if your neighbour’s dog is a nuisance barker.
First and foremost, try to talk to your neighbour about their dog. You could pop round and ask if everything is o.k. because their dog has been barking for a long time. This may help you to further address the issue and find out how the owner feels about it. If the dog only barks when the owner is out, the owner may not even be aware of it. They may well feel horrified the dog is barking and offer to work out a solution.
If you feel you cannot approach your neighbour, or your neighbour has been hostile to previous communication, you can contact your local authority; (Environmental Health Department).
If you feel there might be a welfare issue with a noisy dog, you can contact the R.S.P.C.A. However, you must not call the R.S.P.C.A. solely in respect of nuisance barking as they will not be able to offer help.
Nuisance Barking – The Law.
Under the Environmental Protection Act, 1990, the local authority has the power to prosecute owners with noisy dogs.
All dogs, by their very nature will bark and we cannot expect them to be silent. However, it is important not to blame the dog.
At Holidays4Dogs we rarely experience barking from our client’s dogs because our carers provide almost twenty-four hour supervision, plenty of interaction and several walks daily. Additionally, we only ever care for dogs from one family at a time ensuring there is never any conflict – or noise! Dogs are never left alone for longer than 2-3 hours, never left in the garden alone, and we do not entertain outdoor kennelling of any kind.
If you have a noisy dog, the techniques discussed in this article may help to get you started. Remember to try and figure out just what triggers your dog’s barking in the first place, as this will have a bearing on the approach you take. The most important thing to remember is not to give up. If you are struggling, always get help from an experienced trainer, or behaviourist, who can support you in your aims.