Solutions to Problematic Dog Barking

Experts offer solutions for excessive barking.

By | Posted: Mon Sep 23 00:00:00 PDT 2002

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"Usually, barking is not the only problem in the dogs we see," explained Vint Virga, DVM, a resident in clinical animal behavior at Cornell University in New York. "It's a component, such as in the dog that is destructive when left alone, and is barking too much."

On the other hand, some trainers focus mainly on changing the behavior. They suggest using shake cans (covered metal cans filled with beans or pebbles), beanbags thrown against the wall near the dog, or a light mist of water squirted on the dog. These methods are meant to startle the dog when the barking starts. They seem to work best when the dog cannot see the person shaking the can or throwing the beanbag.

Here are some common barking problems and solutions:

Separation Anxiety
The dog is upset about being left alone. "Dogs are pack animals and need to be with other dogs or people," said Robin Kovary, director of the American Dog Trainers Network in New York.

If you have the opportunity to gradually increase the time the dog is left alone before returning to work or going on a trip, the dog will benefit. "Slowly increase the time you're away from your dog," she said. "Ease the dog into it."

Some behaviorists, like Virga, say owners should delve deeper into the root of the dog's anxiety. "We're trying to change the way the dog feels about being alone, very systematically and slowly," he said.

He suggests reinforcing the dog's relaxed behaviors, such as lying or sitting. Praise the dog for relaxing, saying something like, "Sit. Good." Ignore more anxious behavior or barking, or redirect the dog's attention to more relaxing activities. This gradually teaches the dog to be calm in situations that once produced anxiety.

Don't expect this a pproach to be a quick fix. "A day or two won't do it," Virga said. Instead, plan on spending four to six weeks, daily. "Desensitization in dogs is a slow process."

Territorial Aggression or Aggression Against a Person
The dog barks at anyone or anything, including wildlife, that comes near its home territory.

Trainers suggest teaching the "Quiet" command. After a few barks, say "Quiet" or "Enough" and the dog stops. You praise the dog. The desired result: The dog will bark once or twice to relay its message. The owner then praises the dog and issues a "Quiet," "Enough" or "Sit/Stay" command. The dog should stop barking. Be consistent; always use the same instructions.

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