Christine Hibbard, CTC, CPDT-KA
In my post Control Your Dog’s Barking, I discussed the most common reason owners complain about their dogs barking, Alert Barking. In this post, I wanted to talk about some of the other reasons that dogs bark and how you can stop the barking as effectively as possible.
If your dog is barking all day while you’re gone, that’s a type of separation anxiety. While it may be tempting to use a bark collar (spray or shock) to simply shut off the behavior, we strongly recommend that you do NOT do that. Separation anxiety/distress is a type of panic disorder so using aversives or pain to simply shut it off can cause more damage to your dog in terms of behavioral fallout (increased anxiety and fear).
If you’ve received a neighbor complaint about your dog barking “all day”, it’s time to set up a web cam and observe your dog’s behavior remotely. Neighbor reporting is sometimes unreliable as one hour of barking can seem like all day if you’re the neighbor having to listen to the barking. If your dog really is barking all day, that means your dog is suffering. The first thing you can try is to stop feeding your dog out of a bowl and put their food in puzzle toys. Let them eat their meals while you are gone. You can see our favorite work to eat toys here. If your dog will not eat while you’re gone, it’s time to call a professional to help you counter condition your dog’s panic disorder. If you want to know what protocols work for treating separation anxiety, we recommend I’ll Be Home Soon by Patricia McConnell, PhD, CAAB or Don’t Leave Me by Nicole Wilde.
Fear Barking and Conflict Behavior Barking
Dogs bark when they’re trying to tell a person, other dog or thing to go away. It’s a display that says “I’m not comfortable so back off!” Sometimes though, dogs are anxious and conflicted so they will bark as a way of gathering information about the situation in which they find themselves. These dogs are conflicted. They are curious about the person, other dog or thing but they’re also anxious and uncertain. This is a type of conflict behavior but can be helpful to the dog when they’re trying to figure out what type of social interaction they’re about to have. We often see these dogs engage in approach/avoid behavior. They will approach barking but then back up.
If your dog is fearful or conflicted, we recommend that you take your dog further away from the person, other dog or thing they’re reacting to. Things are always scarier or more exciting the closer they are. If you move away, you are NOT reinforcing their fear. Instead what you’re teaching your dog is that you hear them and they don’t have to escalate their emotional reaction further to make their point (lunge or bite). If your dog is fearful, anxious or conflicted they are suffering. Call a qualified professional to help you. We also recommend the book titled Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell, PhD, CAAB.
Some dogs bark because they want your attention and you know what? This almost always works for most dogs. Owners respond by saying “quiet!” There are two ways we recommend you handle demand barking:
- You can simply ignore them until they stop. This method is called extinction. What we’re teaching the dog is that this type of barking does NOT work any more. Using this method is painful for owners either because they’re concerned about their neighbors or family members being annoyed or because the extinction burst that happens right before the barking behavior stops drives them to distraction. An extinction burst is what happens when the behavior becomes suddenly, horrifically worse. This is the time to hold firm because it’s an indication the behavior is about to extinguish for good.
- If you can’t survive the extinction process, then it’s time to teach the dog that the barking gets them the opposite of what they want. Leave the room and close the door behind you. You can also use “time outs” for this type of barking as well but in our experience, it doesn’t work as well because even timing them out is attention.
Does your dog bark at squirrels? Does you dog bark at your neighbor’s dog on the other side of your fence? Does your dog L-O-V-E other dogs off leash but when your dog sees another dog on leash the barking begins? If so, you know all about frustration barking. Most often, the cause of this type of barking is barrier frustration. Barrier frustration is a form of behavioral thwarting which means your dog sees someone or something they want to chase or investigate and can’t because of a leash or fence. We also see this type of barking in dog training classes when the dog is trying to figure out what will make their owner click/treat. When they can’t figure out what they have to do to get the click/treat, they will bark out of frustration. If your dog is barking at other dogs while on leash, you need to figure out why your dog is barking/lunging. My article What Is a Reactive Rover might help you figure out why this behavior is happening. If you’re in Seattle or Vancouver/Portland, we offer classes to fix this problem. We really like a book/DVD set by Kim Moeller called Reactive Rover.
What other types of barking does your dog engage in? What techniques have you used to keep the barking around your house to a minimum?