In the same way that we chat to convey information, barking is your dog’s way of communicating. While barking is normal, excessive barking often indicates an underlying problem. Dogs can bark excessively for many reasons such as boredom, to get attention, defend their territory or when they’re anxious. Once you determine the cause, consider these five ways to solve the underlying issue, and bring peace and quiet back to your life:
- Is your dog getting enough exercise? Active dogs which receive enough exercise will generally bark less, as a tired dog is a happy dog. If possible, walk your dog in the morning so that your dog burns off excess energy and will be more likely to settle during the day. Even just a short walk around the block or to your local park is better than nothing. If you’re unable to dedicate much time to walking your dog, consider hiring a dog walker to give your dog some daily active time.
- Are you spending enough time with your dog? Dogs are social creatures who generally don’t like being on their own. So it’s natural for them to want to spend time in the company of their pack (which of course includes you). If your dog is left alone for long periods of time, consider organising a dog walker or dog minder to visit your dog during the day. Social time provides both physical and mental stimulation to your dog and is a great way to help prevent excess barking. Paying a visit to a dog park is also a fun way for your dog to engage with other people and canine friends.
- Is your dog bored? Make sure your dog has plenty of opportunities to actively engage body and mind, especially if they are left alone for long periods of time. So this means in addition to at least one daily walk, make sure your dog has plenty of toys and puzzles to enjoy. Toys which require your dog to work to access a treat within, such as treat balls or Kongs, are a great way to provide entertainment. Chewing causes the release of happy hormones in dogs, so give your dog a chew toy or raw bone to munch on during the day.
- Are you rewarding good behaviour? Dogs see all forms of attention as good, even if that attention is negative. For instance, when your dog is bored, lacks attention and then barks, if you look at or scold your dog, they will learn that barking gets attention. Therefore it’s important to use positive reinforcement – rewarding your dog for good behaviour with praise or a treat whenever they are quiet, and ignoring the behaviour when your dog barks. Training should never involve punishment as it tends to exacerbate the barking problem.
- Have you removed the benefits of barking? Paired with positive reinforcement, creating a process of ‘non-reward’ for your dog helps to reduce incidences of excessive barking. To remedy bad barking behaviour you must completely ignore it. Walk away, look away and do not speak to your dog when they bark. Remember that with this method, your dog’s behaviour may get worse before it improves, so you must be persistent. Your dog will eventually learn that barking is counter-productive to what they want to achieve. Similarly if your dog is barking when you return home, wait until they stop barking before going inside. This helps ensure your dog never associates barking with a positive outcome.
Be as consistent as possible in your efforts to correct your dog’s excessive barking, by always responding in the same way. Dogs respond well to structure; they are happier and calmer in an environment where consistent rules apply. By treating the cause of your dog’s barking and implementing an appropriate action plan, you’ll be able to curb their excess chatter, which means a happier dog and a happier you.