When barking gets too much…

Barking serves as a natural means of communication for dogs, yet excessive or frequent barking poses a common challenge for dog owners and often strains relationships with neighbours. While some level of barking is expected, an excess of it frustrates owners and indicates potential stress or unmet needs in dogs. Understanding the reasons behind a dog’s barking is crucial, as there is always a motive behind it, and it becomes our responsibility to decipher what our dogs require.

Dogs may bark for various reasons, such as calling out to other dogs, expressing emotions or seeking their owner’s attention. Some dogs bark out of habit, or because it’s fun!  Even minimal noises like rustling leaves, a slamming window, thunderstorms, or a doorbell ring can trigger a barking response, and it could be argued that while all dogs know how to start barking, not every dog knows how to stop. Addressing the issue of excessive barking requires delving into the root cause rather than resorting to aversive methods like shock collars or debarking procedures. A permanent solution must be achieved to identify the underlying reason behind the barking.

Conducting thorough breed research before getting a dog is essential, as some breeds naturally exhibit more vocal tendencies. Determining the cause of a dog’s barking is not always straightforward, but there is no need to panic if you find it challenging to comprehend why your dog is barking excessively. Remember that help is out there, so if you’re stuck and don’t know how to help your dog, get in touch with your nearest COAPE Qualified CAPBT behaviourist. They’ll be able to guide you in a way that helps you to address the cause of the barking in a way that does not harm your dog. 

The definition of “excessive barking” varies for everyone, but if someone is complaining that your dog is barking too much and disturbing them, it’s considered good neighbourly manners to do your best to minimise the noise – provided they are being reasonable of course! Some barking is normal, but barking non-stop (or with short breaks inbetween) is too much.  Not only for the neighbour’s peace of mind, but also for your dog’s well-being!  Barking continuously can be indicative of underlying emotional conflict, so it’s best to address this sooner rather than later.  

 If you want to address excessive barking, there are quite a few things you can try. Identify the trigger: If your dog spends the entire day barking at every moving object outside the window, the key lies in eliminating distractions. By managing your dog’s environment and limiting their exposure to triggering stimuli, you can potentially reduce or eliminate excessive barking. Close blinds or curtains or block the front gate to prevent visibility, and then work on the cause of the problem – your dog is likely reacting because he doesn’t feel safe or because he’s frustrated, so work on habituating him to his environment.  This is why early socialization and habituation is important, so dogs can learn what is relevant and what can be safely ignored.  If your dog barks at something, don’t just ignore him.  Acknowledge him, look to see if there is a cause and then help him to stop barking by saying ‘thank you, all done, I got it’ or by getting him to do something else that draws his attention away from the thing causing the barking.  

Alongside managing your space to minimize your dog’s interaction with barking triggers, teaching alternative behaviours your dog can engage in instead of barking is helpful. Excessive barking can indicate boredom in dogs. Dogs lacking sufficient mental stimulation may resort to destructive habits, including excessive barking. It’s important to ensure that your dog receives enough mental enrichment throughout the day. Use items like lickimats, kongs, treat balls, scatter feeding or puzzle toys to stimulate your dog’s brain and to keep him busy.  Encourage suitable sleeping habits too, so your dog gets to learn about ‘down time’ as well.

If your dog barks excessively at you, understand that he is not doing it to be naughty.  Whatever his motivation, don’t just ignore him.  Instead, work on teaching him that sometimes, humans are busy. And when that happens, it’s his job to keep himself occupied.  But he can only do that if you have a) taught him how to do it, b) he gets clear and consistent feedback from you that you are not available and c) you have made sure that he actually has other things to do.  Don’t send your dog mixed signals – if you’re busy and he barks at you for attention, don’t one day reach out and stroke him absentmindedly, and the next day ignore him.  That just teaches him to keep barking to see if this is a “I get loved” day.  Instead, decide what is acceptable for you and what is not. If you don’t like being barked at, first make sure he has stuff to do, and then, if he does bark at you, tell your dog “not now buddy”, guide him to an alternative and then carry on with what you’re doing (or, if he keeps doing it, get up and go walk in the garden or make a cup of tea).  If you are consistent in your lack of engagement for attention-barking, and he has other things to do, he will learn that this “not now” means exactly that – Mum is not available.  Go do something else. Learn to tell the difference between attention barking and “there is a dog eating monster in the house, come help NOW!” barking.  Don’t ignore alert barking, your dog is trying to communicate that there is something to be worried about.

Dealing with a dog that barks excessively can be stressful, especially when neighbours express grievances. Instead of becoming frustrated, it is crucial to understand that your dog is not barking intentionally to annoy you. Instead, they are communicating their needs or desires in the only way they know. Punishing your dog for excessive barking through yelling or employing devices like shock collars, citronella collars, or ultrasonic machines that produce unpleasant sounds fails to address the underlying cause of their barking.

Teaching your dog to bark on cue is also a very useful skill.  If you’re not sure how to do this, pop over to our website and read the article, it has a step by step guide on how to teach this important life skill.  

By approaching excessive barking with understanding, patience, and targeted interventions, you can work towards resolving this common challenge, promoting harmonious relationships with your dog and your neighbours.

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