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 Dog Behavior Library

Letter to neighbor with barking dog

Dear Neighbor,

This is a note to tell you your dog has been vocalizing to an alarming level. The frequency of this disruption has increased to the point that you should know, since there is no way to make a difference if you don't know about it. In an attempt to be a good neighbor, we have tried to live with it, but it is now too disruptive of our lives to continue to ignore this problem.

The barking is a clear reminder that you are not home, (since you would certainly stop it) and therefore the risk of an intruder is a possibility.

On one level, it is a simple intrusion of our sleep and enjoyment of life. Murphy's Law dictates that when it occurs, it is usually the nights we REALLY need to sleep. Sometimes we are not good sleepers, so that if wakened, we cannot easily get back to sleep for many hours, if at all. It feels as if something of value is being stolen from us on a regular basis. The barking is a clear reminder that you are not home, (since you would certainly stop it) and therefore the risk of an intruder is a possibility. This sometimes causes anxiety so that one of us has to get up and check all our doors. The problem is most annoying at night, but for your reference, it is not uncommon for them to bark or howl at any time of day.

The second level is as pet lovers. If you were here, you would hear how much pain is in the barking and crying that they do. Since we are with earshot, we are forced to hear very clearly every wail, whimper, bark and howl. It is not clear how much of their pain is physical pain, and how much is emotional pain, but it is clear that the vocalization expressed is what spills over their ability to handle physical and emotional pain. All this causes us as pet owners emotional distress over their well being.

So, what to do. This letter is intended to offer constructive suggestions from a professional animal behaviorist, to try to rectify this problem.

1) Have them checked for physical pain. There is a reasonable chance that at least SOME of their discomfort may be physical. Not many veterinarians are familiar with medical components of behavioral problems. When you take them in, have them carefully checked for Arthritis, Dental Pain, Intestinal Parasites (bring a stool sample), Bladder infection (have a Urinalysis done), Dermatitis, and any other source of chronic discomfort. A thorough behavioral work up also includes a serum blood profile to see if there is any internal source of nausea, or pain due to early internal organ dysfunction.
2) It is possible that there may be some mild mental illness present. This might take the form of senility, separation anxiety, phobias, dementia or other. Again, there are not that many people who work in this field. A consultation is available by phone at (800) 372-3706.
3) If it is determined they are mentally well, increase mental stimulation. Some emotional pain is simple boredom. The easiest way to do this is with chew toys that have food hidden inside. Examples are "Kong" or "Buster Cube", or the "Planet Pet Goodie Gripper Toys". Give them their daily meal inside these toys, when you leave. Giving them something to do when you are home reduces the likelihood they will be interested whey you are gone. The idea is that it becomes a motivated puzzle, and a form of entertainment for the dog to occupy them while you are gone. The most important time to divert attention, is immediately after you leave.
4) Increase their exercise. If they don't have physical pain from movement, then it may be what humans call, "cabin fever." The body needs a certain amount of exercise to be mentally at ease. If they are not leash trained, then some training may be needed. There is a new type of "head collar" (Gentle Leader™ 800-933-5595) that eliminates choking and pulling on the leash. A rule of thumb is to average walking one block per 10 pounds of dog, once a day as a minimum. Larger dogs need more. Only exercise off the property reduces exercise anxiety.
5) Rule out simple causes of environmental discomfort. Maybe it is as simple as they run out of food or water, or are too cold or wet, and crying out for help.
6) If you have ruled out all of the above, consider making him or her an indoor dog. Being indoors is much more comfortable for most dogs, because of temperature, sleeping surface, and they are immersed in their owner's smell, which is comforting.
7) If this is diagnosed as Canine Separation Anxiety, then daily sedation may partially remove the symptoms of mental and emotional discomfort.   Combine this with a behavior modification program.  See www.AnimalBehavior.Net. Also don't say goodbye, or give enthusiastic greeting, since these worsen Separation Anxiety. 
8) Consider a citronella bark collar. The newer models do not cause any electrical shock or discomfort. Instead they use a small mist of citronella smell. They are made for barking, but might not help howling or whining. If this is done by itself, it only stops the symptom, and the dog is still terribly unhappy and frustrated. Therefore this citronella collar is not recommended until after sources of the physical or emotional pain are treated. The recommended collar for this use is made by Premier Pet Products at 888.640.8840. Cheaper collars often malfunction.
9) Last resort is consider a new home for the dog. If you cannot find out how to decrease it, and they continue to express unhappiness of this magnitude, they are not happy dogs.

I hope this information if helpful. Please do something so it is not necessary to contact the authorities regarding the barking.

A concerned neighbor

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