Sleepless nights? Neighbours complaining? It's offical, your dog is driving you mad! Excessive barking is a common reason people seek professional help for their dog.
Forget yelling, forget anti-barking collars... solving the problem means looking at why your dog is barking in the first place, not punishing it for barking.
Firstly, is it normal or abnormal? Most barking is a normal behaviour. It’s how a dog communicates vocally and may just be happily ‘talking’ to other dog’s in the distance, barking at a cat or birds in the trees, ‘telling’ people and dogs passing by to ‘move away from my place’, saying 'hi' or seeking attention, excited by other noises or maybe just bored.
Sometimes, however, excessive barking may be abnormal when the underlying emotion is anxiety, such as separation anxiety, panic disorders and noise phobias. In older dogs, senile dementia may be the underlying cause. Medical conditions causing pain, vision and hearing changes, chronic skin problems, neurological disorders and hormonal disorders also need to be ruled out.
Secondly, barking may be a problem when you are at home or when the dog is home alone, and there are different solutions to put in place for each.
If barking is occurring when you are at home:
A. Identify what stimuli are causing your dog to bark excessively and reduce access to these by:
B. Determine what amount of barking is tolerable (time or number of barks)
C. Reward-based training techniques
Barking solutions when your dog is home alone:
Firstly, identify the underlying cause. No amount of electric anti-barking collars or even citronella collars are going to help if your dog is suffering from anxiety – punishment only serves to increase anxiety. Some may bark despite the pain or the dog may stop barking eventually but only because it has given up entirely, helpless to do anything else. Very inhumane.
For dogs with Separation Anxiety, anti-anxiety medication is often required before you are able to teach the dog to cope with being alone. Dogs with Separation Anxiety often also display destructive behaviours such as chewing, digging and attempting to escape. You need to seek veterinary help for this.
Environmental enrichment is important for all dogs left alone for the day:
Fences again need to be looked at if outside stimuli are causing the barking and to stop dogs from escaping and injuring themselves. Allowing your dog inside and creating a cosy, safe den for it can help keep it calm and away from arousing or frightening stimuli. Using pheromone products like Adaptil in the den make it even more safe and calming for the dog.
Night-time barkers are also much better if kept inside away from the night-time noises, nocturnal animals and scary shadows.
Remember, if anxiety is at the root of the problem then an indivudiual treatment plan, inlcuding environment and behaviour modification, along with medication if required, is recommended.