Even though they may appear to be barking for no reason, dogs are trying to communicate something.
Dogs bark to alert their owners to trouble, such as an intruder or perhaps fire. But a dog’s idea of an intruder may include cats, possums or even birds flying across the property.
While it’s acceptable for a dog to bark to warn its owner, it’s the owner’s responsibility to train their dog not to bark at normal occurrences such as possums, cats and birds.
Barking at normal movement or noises from adjoining properties should be considered unacceptable behaviour. Training techniques can be taught to your dog to stop this reaction.
Changing aspects of your dog's home environment may help stop barking.
Lack of exercise, inadequate yard space or boredom
Dogs become bored when they are confined in a backyard, enclosure, in a run or kept on a chain.
Treat your dog like a member of the family and include them on family outings, take them on regular walks and bring them inside to spend time with you. Taking them to doggy day care gives them space to run and play.
Make sure your dog has comfortable shelter away from all weather elements. They often cry for attention if they are uncomfortable due to hot, cold, windy or wet weather conditions.
Hunger or thirst
Make sure you’ve left your dog access to plenty of fresh water and give them well-balanced food every day so they remain healthy and contented. Your dog will bark, howl or whimper if they have not been fed or have no water to drink.
If your dog barks for food and you feed them only once a day, try splitting their food between morning and night to see if this helps. Leaving them a bone to chew on throughout the day not only provides food but gives them an activity to focus on.
Barking may be a consequence of your dog's mental or physical health.
Lacking human company and loneliness
Dogs are social animals and enjoy the companionship of other dogs and of their human owners. If they’re left for long periods of time without companionship they can become discontented or lonely.
To reduce this loneliness, take your dog to doggy day care, give them lots of toys to play with during the day, come home for lunch or have a family member or friend visit during the day.
An obvious or underlying medical condition can be the cause of howling, whimpering and barking. Flea or worm infestations, skin allergies and some injuries can also cause a dog to make excessive noise.
Take your dog to a veterinarian to eliminate a medical condition from being the cause of excessive noise.
Understanding what disturbs your dog may help calm your dog down.
Something is provoking the dog
Remove the source of provocation or remove the dog. If the source of provocation is a person, discuss and solve the problem with the person. Or if the person is unapproachable, contact the Dispute Settlement Service.
Animals and neighbours
Birds: Seek out a dog trainer to train your dog not to bark at birds.
Possums: House your dog indoors during the night.
Dogs and cats: Locate the owners of an intruding dog or cat and discuss the problem with its owner. Ask the owner to confine their animal to its own property. You can also seek out a dog trainer to train your dog not to bark at other dogs or cats.
Activity of your neighbours: Retrain your dog not to bark at normal noise and activities taking place on neighbouring properties.
Sirens and alarms
Dogs have sensitive hearing and the volume or pitch of a siren or alarm may upset your dog.
Reassure your dog and either bring them inside or distract them from the noise until they quieten. Some dogs can be desensitised to the sound of sirens and alarms. Check with your vet or a dog trainer.
Storms and thunder
Reassure your dog and either take them inside or stay with them until they quieten. If your dog will be at home alone and you know there will be a storm, prepare a quiet, safe place for them to retreat to.
Dogs can assume an uninvited visitor is a threat. Welcome your visitor in and reassure your dog, allowing them to socialise with the visitor so they learn they are a friend and not an intruder.
A change in your dog's physical or social environment may cause your dog to start barking.
Change of territory
Dogs are territorial creatures and when you move house they can become insecure and stressed, resulting in behavioural problems. Some dogs may try to jump the fence or dig out in an attempt to find their way back to their own territory.
It takes time to adjust to a new house and neighbourhood, and it's important to ensure your dog can claim their new territory. A dog’s territory is an area they've claimed as their own by scent-marking landmarks.
Follow old routines as much as possible and keep your dog's bedding, toys and food bowls. Spend time on the floor with them to add familiar smells at their level, and be patient, giving them lots of attention and love.
Change to family structure
Dogs are naturally ‘pack’ animals. When placed in a family environment, a dog perceives the family as its pack. A change to the family situation such as a new baby, children leaving home, a new partner, or someone leaving after a separation, disrupts and upsets the hierarchy of where and how they fit into the pack structure.
If a change results in aggressive behaviour and resentment in your dog, seek help from a dog trainer or your vet. You need to take firm but loving action towards your dog so they understand and learn to accept the change to your family and their new position in the pack.
Owners need to teach their dogs what is and what is not acceptable barking. This learning process can be time-consuming and persistence is required.
Seek the professional help of a dog trainer or your vet if you need help training your dog.
Barking at other animals
One simple and inexpensive method involves the use of voice control and a water spray gun. When the dog is barking at birds, cats or possums, say (while spraying the dog), “No! Bad dog!” in a firm but controlled voice.
Never call your dog to you to receive the reprimand, as your dog will believe it is being reprimanded for coming when called. Your dog should never be reprimanded after the incident, as this confuses the dog as to why it is being punished. It must be done at the time that the behaviour is occurring.
Desensitise your dog from things that cause excessive barking by gradually getting them accustomed to whatever is causing them to bark.
Start with the stimulus (the thing that makes your dog bark) at a distance. It must be far enough away that your dog doesn't bark when they see it. Feed your dog treats. Move the stimulus a little closer (perhaps as little as a few metres to start) and feed treats. If the stimulus moves out of sight, stop giving your dog treats. You want your dog to learn that the appearance of the stimulus leads to good things.
For example, if your dog barks at other dogs:
- Have a friend with a dog stand out of sight or far enough away so your dog won't bark at the other dog
- As your friend and their dog come into view, start feeding your dog treats
- Stop feeding treats as soon as your friend and her dog disappear from view
- Repeat the process multiple times.
Try not to progress too quickly as it may take days or weeks before your dog can pay attention to you and the treats without barking at the other dog.
Contact a professional dog training organisation to help you stop bad barking habits in your dog. Your veterinarian may be able to provide names of organisations that have been successful.
Anti-barking citronella collars can be purchased online or at pet stores. Speak to your vet before purchasing a collar as they can be quite expensive. Dogs have been known to chew devices off their collar or find other ways around the deterrent device.
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