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Let's Bark about It - Excessive Barking Part 2

Excessive Barking in Dogs

Excessive Barking is a  problem, for both people and dogs.  It can be so disruptive for people, the law has gotten involved. Did you know it is illegal to have your dog bark during certain hours of the day and for prolonged periods of time? Neighbors have brought neighbors to court over issues involving "nuisance" and "disturbance of the peace." Notwithstanding, and more concerning is that excessive barking also raises a red flag regarding the welfare and emotional state of the barking dog (s).  

Here are common reasons and resolutions for Excessive Barking:  

There's nothing else to do...Boredom:  A young healthy dog is full of energy and curiosity, and if not sleeping, is looking for something to do - especially if they're alone and insufficiently exercised.  If appropriate environmental enrichment is not made available, the dog will look for engaging activities, often causing destruction and disturbance in the wake of his quest.  Chewing inappropriate items and seeking external stimulation (e.g. looking out the window and barking) are self-reinforcing and likely to escalate without intelligent intervention.  

Dogs are intelligent and active creatures.  Make sure they are offered appropriate exercise daily and the opportunity to work for the majority of their daily food rations of meals and treats.  A young healthy dog needs at least 45- 60 minutes of sustained aerobic activity each day.  A tired dog is a quiet dog so it's best to exercise your dog before you plan to leave-or whenever you want him tired and settled.  Delay delivering some treats until your dog needs to be alone, and then hide them in enrichment puzzle toys to extend their engagement potential as foraging activities (make sure the food can be claimed).  Rotate accessible toys regularly so they stay novel and interesting.

Territorial induced barking is an innate canine vocal type, and it can become excessive and the root cause of human conflict.  Limited exposure off the property (e.g. not going for walks) and limited socialization to visitors on the property appear to be associated with hyper vigilance and reactivity.  These conditions combined with boredom (i.e. a dog more inclined to "look" for stimuli and passersby) reactive barking is likely to intensify with repeated practice.

Two key ways to reduce a dog from barking reactively is to:  a) reduce his need to seek external stimulation and b) reduce his access to it.  Provide the dog with engaging and novel enrichment toys away from windows, and reduce visual access to high pedestrian traffic corridors.  This can be done by closing window blinds, placing tinted film on glass, or adding fencing or shrubbery.  

Distress...Fear, Stress, and Anxiety:  Does your dog follow you around the house?  Pant and pace as you prepare to leave? Bark and try to dart out of the house as you exit?  If so, it is likely your dog is suffering from separation anxiety and cannot cope with being "left alone."  And just because you made your "get away" (and no longer hear your dog barking), it is more likely than not, your dog is still barking and your neighbors are in clear ear-shot distance. 

Anxiety induced barking is a manifestation of frustration, fear, and everything else you can relate to "PLEASE DON"T LEAVE ME-TAKE ME WITH YOU."  Void of the attachment necessary, panic can ensue.  Some people believe crating and confining can cure the problem, but in reality, these "quick fixes" only exacerbate the situation often triggering more vocalizations and self-injurious behavior in an attempt to escape.

To address separation anxiety (and its behavioral manifestations) you need to be willing to go slow.  First, commit to finding a pet sitter for times you need to leave the dog alone.  The last thing you want is for the dog to experience any more fear while being alone.  It will undermine your training.   While you are home, create a short absence schedule so you can teach the dog you will be right back if you go away.   In your absence provide the dog with a delicious enticing treat on which to focus their attention.  Only if the dog can engage with the toy in your absence and remain relaxed can you gradually increase the duration of your absences, while still including short absences.   Increase the amount of food according to the duration of the absence.  Ignoring the food and vocalizing are signs of stress-which means even shorter absences may be necessary.  It is often best to seek professional help.  

Crating is not a cure UNLESS a dog has already developed a positive secure attachment to their crate, and feels safe and comfortable inside.  Instant Crating is NOT an option as it has been shown to exacerbate the situation and escalate panic.

Socially facilitated barking is best exemplified in multi-dog homes, in neighborhoods with backyards, and in dog-friendly apartment buildings.  One dog's bark can set off  the entire street, and while the behavior is an innate predisposition, the tendency can prolong an already trying acoustic situation.

The easiest way to reduce socially facilitated barking is to reduce exposure and practice.  Bring your dog indoors rather than permit barking from the backyard, and mask external sounds with white noise or other non-compatable sounds.

SUMMARY:

1.  Exercise your dog well every day, especially before he's expected to spend time alone.

2.  Provide your dog with mental enrichment by having him work for food when you are away.  Deliver meals and treats in food filled toys. For examples: https://amzn.to/2AvWRkv, https://amzn.to/2LRAytY, and https://amzn.to/2RwBWYl

3.  Walk your dog off you property in your neighborhood once a day so he is exposed to a variety of stimuli.  This should be a pleasant experience. Use humane equipment that reduces pulling.  For examples: https://amzn.to/2SA29Th and https://amzn.to/2Sz4NbR

4.  Do not let your dog bark excessively when you are home.  Remove him from the stimulus by either bringing him inside the house or at least away from the window/door.

5.  Seek professional help.  Beware of quick fixes.