Previously in our dog behaviour guide, we looked at becoming the alpha dog and how to deal with begging. Today we’ll look at excessive barking. It’s one of the most common complaints from both dog owners and non-owners. It’s natural for dogs to bark, just as it’s natural for us to talk or for cats to meow. It’s how they express their feelings and different barks can tell us a multitude of things. Barking, therefore, is only a behavioural problem when it’s excessive barking. There’s no specific number of barks in a day that defines your pooch as an excessive barker, but if your dog barks excessively then, the chances are, you’ve probably already noticed.
Barking is a dog’s main method of communicating. They can’t express themselves with words or speech so barking has to cover many different situations. One of the tricky parts of diagnosing excessive barking is to deduce exactly why your dog barks so much. Because barks are so versatile, it can be difficult to know what your dog is truly trying to say. Dogs bark when they’re happy but also when they’re sad. They bark when they’re lonely but also when they meet people. Most excessive barking, however, is due to unhappiness and loneliness. As dogs are pack animals, they often feel anxious when left on their own. This separation anxiety manifests in compulsive barking because the sound of their own voices makes them feel less alone.
Ideally, dogs shouldn’t be left alone for any considerable length of time. If your dog is excessively barking due to separation anxiety (and you’re too busy to spend more time with them), you should consider taking them to a dog day care or dog boarding facility where they can socialise with other dogs and receive caring human attention instead of being left alone with their anxiety. If, however, your dog excessively barks despite having plenty of human company, you may have some investigating to do. Lack of stimulation is a common cause. Tired dogs are not only happy dogs, they are also quiet dogs. Even if you take your four-legged friend for a daily walk, they may still not be getting enough stimulation and exercise. Try taking your dog to the beach or the park where they can run around and play ball games to exhaust themselves into contented silence.
If your dog is barking loudly and you want them to calm down, the worst thing you can do is raise your voice. This makes your dog think you’re joining in and just encourages them to carry on an endless bark-a-thon. Speaking calmly while they’re barking might seem counterintuitive as they can barely hear you over the din of their own woofing, but solving excessive barking won’t happen overnight. During a barking tantrum, say, “Quiet” to your dog in a firm but calm voice. It’s best to do this on your own if you can, so that no one can interfere or distract your dog’s attention. Once they stop barking (even just briefly), give them a treat and praise them. They likely won’t associate stopping barking with the reward straight away but they’ll soon figure it out.
Dogs that bark all night long are generally those that are left outside. Simply bringing them into your home to sleep will typically stop their endless woofing. If your dog goes into a barking frenzy every time the doorbell rings, you’ll need to teach them to stay while you go to greet your guest and then reward your dog afterwards as per usual. It’s easy to accidentally reward your dog for barking. For example, if they bark when they see you and you praise and cuddle them, they can easily associate that praise with the bark itself. While some dogs are naturally more vocal than others, many cases of excessive barking are caused by their owners–with all the best intentions. If you manage to reduce your own dog’s excessive barking, not only will you have a more peaceful home but your neighbours will likely also be delighted.
If you feel your dog is lonely and would be happier attending a dog day care service, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team at Doggy Day Care Cornwall. We hope you are enjoying our dog behaviour guide. Click here for part 4 where we look at dealing with chewing and digging.