Most dogs get noisy when exposed to anything new or unusual. The stimuli that trigger noise can vary from dog to dog and from household to household. This vocalization can come in the form of barking, whining, growling, or howling.
Why all the racket?
Many situations can lead to barking:
- Strangers or other animals entering the dog’s property.
- The sight of prey, such as a squirrel running through the yard.
- Separation from their pack, mother, or family members.
- Novel sounds, such as a smoke detector alarm.
- Need for attention, food, or affection.
- Other anxieties or high states of arousal.
Growling is associated with fearful or assertive displays. Whenever growling or barking is successful at achieving the pet’s goals (the threat is chased away or the alarm shuts off) the dog feels rewarded. Subsequently, the growling will likely become more frequent or intense.
Medical problems can contribute to vocalizations, and senile changes may lead to barking problems in older pets. In some cases where barking becomes intense, repetitive, and difficult to interrupt, it may be deemed compulsive. Pets with medical, geriatric, and/or compulsive disorders may benefit from drug therapy, along with behavioral retraining techniques.
Prevention Starts Early
Socializing puppies to a variety of new people, animals, environments, and noises can reduce anxieties as the dog grows up. Owner control, training, and leadership are also essential. While young, the dog should learn to spend some of its time playing or relaxing by itself, perhaps in its bed or crate, so that it’s not too distressing when it is left alone.
Be careful when responding to a barking dog, because you may be inadvertently giving into your dog’s demands. Examples:
- Allowing a barking dog to come indoors,
- Feeding a barking dog, or
- Playing with, or even just going to your dog to quiet it, may encourage barking.
Correcting Bad Habits
Correcting a barking problem requires an understanding of the situation and stimuli that initiate barking. Until effective control and leadership is established, training programs are unlikely to be successful.
Increasing play and exercise, coupled with obedience training, maybe necessary before bark control can begin.
Once you feel you have some control over your dog, you can begin to train it to quiet down when barking begins. Training the dog to stop barking on command can be accomplished with lure-reward techniques, disruption techniques, or head halter and leash training.
Begin training sessions with situations that are easily controlled (a family member knocking at the door) before proceeding to more difficult situations, like a stranger approaching the door. Training a dog to be quiet on command allows it to continue to bark at stimuli but stop at your request. Rewards are then given for quiet behavior. At each subsequent training session, the dog should remain quiet a little longer before the reward is given. Teaching a dog to stop all barking in the presence of stimulus is much more difficult. To be successful, barking must be interrupted immediately as it begins, and the process repeated until the dog does not bark at the stimulus – and at that time, rewarded.
Punishment is generally ineffective to control barking. Excessive punishment can even increase anxiety and further aggravate the problem, while insufficient punishment merely rewards the behavior by providing attention. For punishment to be effective, barking must be disrupted at the instant it begins, using a technique or devise that effectively interrupts the barking. When you are not present as barking begins, the only solution might be to use bark-activated products. But unless the dog is also trained to be quiet in the presence of the stimulus, devices with only disrupt, not eliminate barking habits.
There are several products that may successfully interrupt barking. Owner-activated devices are often effective at disrupting barking. Devices include:
- Ultrasonic trainers
- Audible alarms
- Water sprayers
- Shake cans (fill an empty soda can with coins or pebbles sealed inside)
Bark-activated products are often the most practical means of deterring inappropriate barking and maybe a better choice than owner-activated devices since they ensure immediate and accurate timing. They are also effective in training the dog to stop barking in selected areas. Types of bark-activated products include:
- Bark-activated collars – effective when the barking occurs in multiple areas,
- Audible or ultrasonic collars – occasionally effective, but seldom a reliable deterrent,
- Citronella-spraying collars are effective with most dogs, or
- Electronic shock collars are a final option. Since they have the potential for injury or abuse, most veterinarians do not recommend them.
As soon as the barking ceases, take the opportunity to direct the dog to appropriate behavior, such as play, so the problem diminished over time.
The Last Resort – Surgical Devocalization
This is a drastic method of eliminating barking. Devocalization surgery often results in noise returning as the dog’s surgical site heals and scars. Devocalization should only be considered if you must resolve the barking problem, or give the dog up.