Barking is a natural, normal dog behavior, but some dogs seem to bark at everything and anything … or sometimes at nothing at all. If you have one of these dogs, it can lead to problems with your neighbors and a stressed-out home environment. How do you work to modify your dog’s barking behavior? The first step is understanding what is motivating him to bark.
A good first step in a barking-modification program is minimizing his need and opportunity to bark. Exercise is a good behavior modification. A tired dog has less pent up energy and is generally emotionally healthier. Another way to minimize his barking opportunities is to close the blinds or barricade him away from the windows to keep him from seeing and barking at everything that is moving out there. The more your dog practices unwanted barking, the harder it is to modify.
Finally, to have a successful behavior modification program, you need to understand why your dog is barking. What is he communicating?
Reasons for Dog Barking
Learning what is motivating your dog to bark is key to modifying his behavior. If your dog is demand barking, you can successfully modify this behavior by ignoring him. But if you ignore a dog that is expressing anxiety, it can lead to more problems.
Alarm Barking: This barking may save your family members from danger. Your dog is doing his job letting you know there is something to be seriously concerned about. The problem comes in when his judgment as to what constitutes an alarming situation is faulty. To manage this type of barking, reduce his exposure to stimulation. Try a baby gate to keep him away from the windows or move your sofa away from the window. Always check out the cause for this type of barking as there might truly be danger at hand, and work with your dog to desensitize him to innocent situations.
Alert Barking: Your dog may want to alert you to something interesting going on, such as Johnny getting home from school. The emotional level is much lower here. It can also be managed and modified in the same way as alarm barking.
Anxiety Barking: If your dog is anxious, his barking can come across as hysterical barking or even howling. It is hard to manage and modify because your dog is having an actual panic attack and cannot control his behavior. A common form of this is separation anxiety. Real anxiety may require the help of a behavior consultant and behavior modification drugs.
Boredom Barking: Dogs are social animals. When they become bored and lonely from being ignored, they may bark in a continuous, monotonous bark. This type of barking is most annoying to your neighbors and can lead to a visit from an animal control officer. The solution here is to bring the dog inside. These outdoor barkers are often content lying around watching the household routine or waiting for you to come home. If he’s not house trained, you may want to start with a crate until he learns household etiquette. Keep his brain engaged with a food-filled interactive toy.
Demand Barking: A demand barker learns that he can get what he wants by making noise. Many owners will cave into giving them attention or a treat just to make the barking stop. Once demand barking starts, it’s best to nip the behavior in the bud. The longer it continues, the harder it will be to modify. The best answer to this behavior is to ignore him – no treats, no attention, no eye contact. As soon as he becomes quiet, turn your attention back to him with a treat and praise such as “Quiet, good!”
Frustration Barking: Dogs who have a low tolerance for not getting what they want may bark persistently out of frustration. They are saying, “I want it!” It sounds similar to demand barking but with more emotion. It might be more of wanting to go play with the neighbor dog or chase a squirrel. Try redirecting their attention with a treat in the presence of a frustration trigger so they will start to look to you for a treat rather than erupt into a barking fit.
Greeting or Excitement Barking: If your dog’s welcome-home wagging is accompanied by lots of barking, shift into ignoring mode. Step back outside and wait for the barking to stop. Enter calmly and only when your dog becomes calm and quiet, greet him with attention. If the barking starts again, re-engage in ignoring him. If your dog hails loud greetings to arriving guests, still engage in calm mode. Loud reprimands only add to the chaos and arousal. Calmly place him in a closed room or engage him with treats for distraction as they arrive.
Play Barking: This is a common behavior for herding dogs. As other dogs or humans romp or play, the play-barker runs around barking and sometimes nipping heels. If your neighbors and other dogs can tolerate this behavior, you might leave this one alone. But if children are involved, remove the dog from the play area to avoid any biting. To modify this behavior, use negative punishment. When the barking starts, take away the good stuff he is excited about. Gently remove your dog from the play area for one to three minutes on a short leash and release him back after good behavior. Over time, he will realize bad behavior makes the fun go away.
Uncontrolled barking can be frustrating for everyone within earshot. You do want to have some control over your dog’s voice, but don’t lose sight of the value of those communications. Learning to identify the reasons behind the barking will lead you to the appropriate path of behavior modification.
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