“How can I stop my dog from barking?”

December 04, 2020

Barking can be really annoying cant it! There is always a reason for why your dog is barking….and the first step in addressing the barking is to identify what that reason is.

Barking is a normal behaviour and method of communication for dogs, and some breeds are more vocal than others, but if the barking becomes excessive and intrusive then there will be a reason for it.

Dogs get bored too

One of the common reasons for barking, especially in young and adolescent dogs, is boredom.  As a general rule,  if a dog doesn’t have an outlet for the activities they were bred to do, and doesn’t have the opportunity to engage in natural activities such as foraging, sniffing, licking and chewing, then we are more likely to notice they will engage in more unwanted behaviours such as chewing, biting and barking.

Think about the last time you were bored….really bored. Maybe during a power cut so there is no tv to watch, no radio to put on, everything is dark.  Or maybe if you were at work and were doing a really dull task which took hours.  Charlotte. C. Burn from the Royal Veterinary College defines boredom as:-

“an unpleasant emotion including suboptimal arousal levels and a thwarted motivation to experience almost anything different or more arousing than the behaviours and sensations currently possible. It arises when we perceive that there is ‘nothing to do’ or are ‘tired of doing the same thing’, and is accompanied by a sense of time dragging”.

If a dog is left alone for long periods of time on a regular basis, or if a dog doesn’t have an outlet for behaviours they were bred to do, aren’t able to engage in natural behaviours such as foraging, sniffing, licking and chewing, or are bored on a regular basis, you are more likely to experience more unwanted behaviours such as chewing and barking, as well as experiencing other negative consequences and behaviours.   Boredom can make dogs more hyper sensitive and therefore more likely to bark at noises. Boredom can mean dogs are more ‘on edge’ and have more energy to expend, meaning they can become more reactive.

Mental stimulation is so important, especially with puppies and adolescent dogs,  but also with older dogs like mine who are mentally active but maybe cant do long periods of physical exercise. They get bored too 🙂 So increase the time your dog has during the day to engage in chewing, licking, problem solving (working out how to get food out of food dispensing toys), sniffing (scatter feeding) and foraging (snuffle mats).

Seeking attention

Barking can begin for one reason, such as boredom,  but can continue for another reason. For example, if a dog starts barking because they are bored, and then the barking causes us to suddenly turn our attention to them to try and get them to stop, they can learn that barking works to get attention, and then the barking can continue for that reason. It is therefore so important to address the original cause of the barking – in this example increase the mental stimulation.

If the barking is attention seeking, we need to address the reasons why your dog feels the need to seek attention in the first place. It is not ethical to simply ignore the barking, as not only will we still be left with a dog whos needs are not being met and feel the need to seek attention, but the dog will most likely become very frustrated and therefore be likely to bark even more, or develop other behaviours.

Fear based barking

Barking can also be a way for dogs to try to create distance between themselves and something they feel could be a potential threat.  So is your dog barking at other dogs when they see them? Is your dog barking at people either outside or when they come to the house? Is your dog barking at certain noises because they’re loud and make them jump (eg fireworks or thunder)?  Its possible this is because your dog is scared.  Sometimes barking at other dogs, especially with adolescent dogs, can be frustration, but this would need to be assessed and identified by a professional by taking more history and asking more questions.

So if your dog is scared, and is behaving in the only way they know how, and in a way that is natural to them in order to try to get that threat to move away, that barking will only stop once your dog feels less threatened. All behaviours and driven by the way  a dog feels at that moment in time, so in order to address the barking in this instance, we need to actually change the way your dog feels about that particular trigger (people, fireworks, other dogs), so that they start to associate them with a much more positive outcome.

Home alone

Is your dog only barking when they are left alone,  but at all other times they are quiet as a mouse? If so, the barking is because your dog is anxious and scared about being alone. So before that barking can be improved we would need to address the way your dog feels about being alone. This takes time and should only be done with the help and support of a qualified professional.

Has your dog been checked by the vet?

Have you noticed that your dog reacts more extremely to noises than other dogs, or than they used to?  Have they become more fearful, more reactive in situations they have not been before? If so, as with any behaviour change, the first port of call would be a full and thorough vet check specifically in relation to the recent barking behaviour.

There is a proven correlation between pain and sound sensitivity, so pain would need to be ruled out first and foremost. There is also another medical condition which causes actual pain in the ear drum or brain when certain noises are heard, which although may not be the first thing we would be likely to focus on, it is worth knowing about.

So as you can see, there are so many reasons why your dog could be barking, and each of the reasons need to be addressed in different ways. If youre struggling with barking please do get in touch – send me an email to angela@politepaws.co.uk

Polite Paws 2021

 

By Angela Doyle

I am a highly experienced and qualified reward based dog trainer and behaviour consultant based in Surrey, UK. I am a fully qualified CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer) and specialise in helping dogs overcome Separation Anxiety.

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