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 Dog Behavior Library

Excessive Barking

Barking is a natural behavior for the dog. In fact, barking is one of the genetic tendencies that was bred in dogs since wolves rarely bark. Therefore, don't try to stop all barking. The goal should be to modify the behavior to an acceptable level.

There are several reasons that dogs bark

Eliminative Barking Requesting access to toilet area
Sympathetic Barking When hears another dog barking
Territorial Barking Short alert against intruder, then silent
Social Barking Maintains eye contact with other pet
Aggressive Barking Warning, protecting, fearful, persistent
Solicitive Barking Asking for food, play or attention
Exercise Anxiety Barking Barking decreases after exercise
Stress Induced Barking Stress induced barking
Separation Anxiety Barking Missing human attachment figure

Naturally, the solution to excessive barking depends on the cause.  Most cases of excessive barking are a combination of several types. By identifying the subtypes involved, components can be removed to reach the minimum bark threshold for this individual dog. However ALL excessive barkers benefit from (1) Increased exercise, and (2) clear positive human leadership. (Both reassure anxiety dogs and reduce the status of over-confident dogs.)

The disadvantage of allowing the dog to bark to come in and out is that they tend to generalize this, and begin to bark to Instruction you to do a variety of tasks.

Eliminative Barking
Many dogs learn to bark to be let outside by their owner. In other cases, dogs are frustrated by barriers and have an instinct to not soil their own nest areas. Indoor dogs consider the entire indoor area as a nest area.
First, you must decide if you want the dog to bark to ask to go outdoors. The preferred technique is to have a regular schedule and the dog is taken out at these intervals. Most adult dogs require access to the designated toilet area 2-3 times per day. The disadvantage of allowing the dog to bark to come in and out is that they tend to generalize this, and begin to bark to Instruction you to do a variety of tasks. This is a form of insubordination which breaks down your role as pack leader, and may become annoying. Another disadvantage is that if the dog is ever boarded, he will often bark continuously saying, "I want out now."

Naturally, the solution to excessive barking depends on the causes. Most cases of excessive barking are a combination of several types. Many techniques usually need to be combined get satisfactory results.

Sympathetic Barking
This is when one dog hears another barking, and joins in. The control strategy is to investigate each barking episode until the dog understands what barking is allowed. If someone IS outside, this barking should be praised, until the dog hears "Quiet!" However if it is determined to be sympathetic barking, (you hear other dogs bark first), then invoke the, "No Barking at Barking" rule. Use the QUIET Instruction (see below) consistently.

Territorial Barking
When attempting to modify excessive territorial barking it is best to divide it into "Owner Absent" vs. "Owner Present Barking". Many techniques usually need to be combined get satisfactory results.

Owner Absent Territorial Barking (Sight And Sound Subtypes)
This is the most common cause for serious complaint, usually because the neighbors are affected and complaining to you or the authorities. The best strategy is to contact the neighbors, and inform them you are in a program to control barking. They might be willing (often motivated) to help if asked politely. Since often the barking occurs when you are gone, you need to collect some information. Your goal is to identify the pattern of barking.

Sight Stimulus Induced Territorial Barking (Barking starts after seeing something)
Corrective strategy is to put up a visual barrier or move dog to a place where he can't see what is happening.

Sound Stimulus Induced Territorial Barking (barking starts after hearing something)
Corrective strategy is to cover up sounds using a radio playing white noise (between stations) in the area where the dog is kept.

The natural human response is to yell at the dog.  If that worked you wouldn't be reading this!

Owner Present Territorial Barking
The natural human response is to yell at the dog. If that worked you wouldn't be reading this. The dog merely thinks you're joining in the barking!  If he is an outdoor dog, the best strategy is to make him an indoor dog, correct whatever other problems resulted in his becoming an outdoor dog in the first place, and teach the QUIET Instruction. If moving indoor is impossible, implement these ideas.

If territorially barking, calmly go to the dog, pull him back by the collar and stand in front, looking in the same direction as the dog. This is to communicate that you are the lead dog, and are determining if the danger is real or to be ignored. In addition to establishing leadership, this helps teach the dog that sometimes it is okay to bark. Once you determine that the problem is not worthy of barking, use the "Quiet" Instruction.

Social Barking
This is where the dog sees another dog or cat or person he wants to be with, and is frustrated. This is a form of barrier frustration, but with a different motivation.

Aggressive Barking
This is a genuine threat that one dog is communicating to another dog or a person. It may be related to territory, but is related to wanting to be aggressive toward another.

Solicitive Barking
The dog is soliciting or "asking" for something. This might be a food treat, or walk or greeting, or anything else he wants.

Exercise Anxiety Barking
Many breeds of dogs are bred for jobs that require large energy expenditure. When prevented from exercising, some dogs go "stir crazy" or get "cabin fever." The key to determine if this is part of the problem, is to significantly increase exercise, and see if this makes a difference.

Solicitive Barking
If your dog barks to request something from you, try to imagine that he is Instructioning you. This is closer to the canine point of view, and is a negative because not only does he get to act as your boss, but you reward this insubordination with giving him anything he wants!

If you decide you want your dog to tell you when he wants something, be sure that you don't allow more than one woof. You can do this by quickly rewarding one bark, but reprimanding two or more with the "Quiet" Instruction.

Stress Induced Barking
This type of barking has a distinctive sound pattern. It does not begin because of a specific stimulus unless combined with territorial barking. As the stress builds up, the dog relieves some of it by barking, and stops. As it builds up again, the barking begins again. This results in a cyclic pattern of barking. The frequency and intensity of "Stress Induced Barking" is related to the quantity of stress, and how much is relieved by barking.

Separation anxiety is often results in excessive barking. The basic strategy is to reduce the stress. Do this with increased exercise, leadership exercises, and if normally outdoors, try to make him an indoor dog.

Separation Anxiety
This occurs only in the absence of a key person. There is no specific stimulus such as someone approaching or another being within vision, etc. (Rule out other forms of barking first.)

Separation anxiety is often manifested by excessive barking. The basic strategy is to reduce the stress. Do this with increased exercise, leadership exercises, and if normally outdoors, try to make him an indoor dog. This often means solving other behavior problems, but can usually be done with crate training (see separate hand out). The dog is much less stressed indoors because he can't see or hear as well, and he can enjoy your scent in the house, be near your objects, and comfortably anticipate your return.

Avoid emotional greetings or departures since this causes anxiety due to the mood swings. If not a chewer by nature, try to train your dog to chew during your absence. The goal is to give the dog an acceptable alternative to relieve stress. Make his chew toys more desirable by spreading peanut butter or liverwurst on them. Begin a new rule that you won't greet the dog unless he has this chew toy in his mouth. You want him to associate chewing on this toy or bone with your coming home.

The QUIET Instruction
Before using this Instruction, be sure there is no chance your dog would act aggressively toward you. If any doubt, first complete "Leadership Exercises" and use a head halter to be sure the dog perceives you as leader, and therefore have the rank to tell him what to do.

If the dog is barking excessively and ignoring your request to be quiet, it is necessary to get the dog to stop barking. Since verbal correction has not worked, it is necessary to do something else. The first choice is a startle sound, like a can filled with 10 pennies. Other alternatives are for the dog to wear a head halter and pull up, hold the mouth closed. 

If he becomes difficult to catch, have him drag a leash until the behavior modification is completed. The goal is to have the dog associate the Instruction and correction, so that in the future you will only need the Instruction.

Anti-Bark Collars
There are basically two types. One type uses an electrical shock and the other uses a burst of air or an unpleasant scent as a correction.

Shock collars, if used at all, should only be used by a behaviorist experienced in their use.  They can permanently damage the psyche of a dog if not used correctly.

The latest research indicates that the scent collar on the "air" setting may work better, in addition to being safer and less painful for the dog.  One disadvantage of this is that the territorial guarding benefit of the dog is decreased. Also, if you use this without any attempt to reduce stress, you actually add a new stress. This may result in trading one bad stress related habit for another. These scent collars are available from Animal Behavior Systems at 1-800-627-9447.

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