Problem Barking

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Lots of people talk to their dogs… but how many owners listen to what their dog is saying to them? 

We all know that the secret to any great relationship is communication. In order for learning of any sort to take place there must be communication on both sides i.e. between the teacher and the student. This is true whether you are teaching a person or a dog. Dogs use both verbal and non-verbal ways to communicate their intentions to other dogs and to people. 

Nothing seems to irritate people more than barking. People’s initial reaction to barking is that:

·         The dog is aggressive

·         The dog is dominant

·         He is being naughty

·         He’s doing it to annoy us

 

These reactions are based on a lack of understanding about why dogs bark and let’s face it. Dogs bark.  You ask any child under the age of five to describe a dog and 99% of the time they will say “woof”.  It is what dogs do.

Unfortunately the typical response from humans to barking usually includes yelling and punishing the dog – which usually has the opposite effect, the dog barks more.  Even humans do this, you yell at a person they yell back and usually louder! Alternately a dog may end up looking for other forms of communication such as growling and biting, or other releases for its frustration such as hyperactivity, chewing and digging.

Our aim is not to stop all barking for good, it is part of their language, nobody would ever dream of punishing a human for talking but sadly think that a dog should never growl or bark. However, there is a big difference between barking and excessive barking. Regardless of why the dog is barking excessively, whether it is because of a need for attention, stress or the barking has become “yelling” because nobody listened when the dog was trying to communicate. We can do something about it.

If excessive barking has become a problem, then it is crucial that the motivation behind the barking is discovered to fix the problem. The first step in resolving barking issues is to work out what the dog is trying to tell us. Why is it barking? Once you know why the dog is barking and understand the circumstances causing the barking. Then you can identify ways to decrease the barking, remove what is causing it and get control of the problem. Understanding why something is happening is the best way to fix it without mentally and physically abusing the dog. 

All barks are not the same. Recently scientists have confirmed what dog trainers have thought for a long time. Dogs use different barks and growls to communicate different things. I am sure that there are a lot of subtleties that the human ear can’t pick up in dog’s barks; but there at least six common kinds of barks that are easily recognised by the human ear. The most common types of barks are described below.  If you would like more detail I highly recommend Turid Rugaas’ book: Barking The Sound of a Language. The book goes into more detail about the most common types of nuisance barking, their causes and the basics of how to address them in an easy to read format.

 

Excitement Barking: This is how a dog expresses its emotion of happiness and excited anticipation that something good is going to happen. I hope every dog owner has heard this type of bark from their dog.  It can reflect a kind of stress as well but generally speaking in most circumstances this is not usually considered unhealthy. Excitement barking is common when guests arrive, when the dog knows he’s going for a walk or other places where fun happens, when he sees another dog. Excitement barking is easily recognised by the sound and the movement the dog makes.

It’s a high frequency sound and can sound a little hysterical. The barking is more or less constant or a series of barks with small breaks. Whining is often heard as well. The dog is pumped full of adrenalin so he can’t keep still, you will often see jumping up and down, spinning around, running up and down, picking something up in their mouths and a wagging tail – often you see all these things happening at once.  If your dog gets overly excited and can’t move or put things in his mouth, for example if he is being held on a short tight lead or he is chronically stressed because of other things going on in his life then you will see exaggerated reactions such as biting on trouser legs, leads and even legs, pulling violently on the lead and lunging at other dogs and cars.

Firstly some excitement barking should be allowed to let the dog express himself. Secondly remain calm this will influence your dog. With retrievers a great option is to get them to fetch something for you. They love to carry things in their mouth – teach your dog to search and find objects and then get him to channel his excitement into retrieving something.

If your dog is only slightly stressed then asking the dog to sit for about 3 seconds (not too long it is hard for them to stay still with all that adrenalin) before they get to do what they are excited about works wonders. Use a hand signal for the sit no words, dogs are more visual by nature and if he is excited he is not going to be able to hear you. If the barking irritates you it is hard for humans to ask for a sit without shouting and making the problem worse.

If the dog is already practising excessive excitement barking, then be careful not to inadvertently reward it. Try holding a treat in front of the dog’s nose. Dogs can’t sniff and bark at the same time. Then after two seconds of silence, reward the silence by giving him the treat and letting him do what he was excited about. Build up the time he must stay quiet before getting the reward start with two seconds and slowly increase the duration.  Make sure you get the two seconds of silence before giving the reward otherwise you will be teaching the dog to bark for attention.

As with teaching all behaviours it is easier to teach your dog to be quiet when he is calm and focused. Therefore, teaching your dog to "Bark" on cue is the first step in "Quiet" training, thus enabling you to teach "Quiet" when your dog is calm and focused on you and not over excited and barking uncontrollably. Most of us can easily workout how to get our dogs to bark, a knock at the door is a signal to bark for most of them, so when your dog is calm get someone to knock your door or do it yourself. When the dog barks praise him verbally no food treats, even bark along with him. After a few good woofs, (my dogs can bark about 4 times then they must be quiet) say "quiet" and then put a tasty food treat in front of his nose. Your dog will stop barking as soon as he sniffs the treat because it is impossible to sniff and bark at the same time. Praise your dog as he sniffs quietly, and then offer the treat. Repeat this a dozen or so times and your dog will learn to anticipate the knocking on the door whenever you ask him to speak. Eventually you will be able to tell your dog to “speak” and he will bark without someone knocking on the door. Your dog has now learned to bark on cue. Similarly, your dog will learn to anticipate the likelihood of something smelly and tasty following your "quiet" cue. You have now taught your dog both to speak and be quiet on cue. Over lots of "Speak" and "Quiet" trials, slowly increase the length of required quiet-time before offering a food treat—start with just two seconds, then four, then five, eight, twelve, twenty, and so on. By alternating instructions to speak and quiet, the dog is praised and rewarded for barking on request and for being quiet on request. A useful tip; always speak softly when asking your dog to be quiet and reinforce your dog's silence with whisper-praise. The more softly you speak, the more your dog will be inclined to pay attention and listen.


Warining Bark: This is short sharp single “woof” and is meant to warn the pack both human and dog members of possible danger. Often people don’t even notice this bark or they ignore it. Leaving the dog feeling like his message was ignored and he needs to take action. Over time the dog learns that a single warning bark has no effect so he barks continuously at the threat and you have a full-fledged barking problem and often aggression.

Acknowledge warning barks. Respond to them; calmly place yourself between the dog and what appears to be the threat. Dogs do this so they understand what you are doing. It is the simplest way to let the dog know you heard them and you will deal it.  


Fear Barking:
 When a dog is afraid of something they will often start barking. The barking sounds like a long series of high-pitched barks and quite hysterical. You can hear the dog’s fear in the bark.  What a dog might be afraid of is unpredictable and often hard to understand. Dogs can become fearful of anything.  It depends on the situation the circumstances as well as the dog’s experiences and mental state which is why it is vitally important that you properly socialise your puppy before 16 weeks of age. 

Fear is learned through experiences and associations. Since fear is a learned behaviour it can be unlearned. This can be very hard and depends on many variables such as the dog’s circumstances, age and health to name a few.  You will need patience and time to teach a dog to overcome his fears. It’s important to be aware of what he is expressing fear towards and give him a chance to move away to a distance that he is comfortable with. Using a barrier so that he can’t see what he fears can help. Don’t make it worse and physically force him to move close to what he is afraid of. By using training techniques that make lots of positive associations with what he fears. We can with time, move our dog closer to what is causing the fear. Remember his fear might be irrational but he is afraid of it and he can’t help it.



Guard Barking:
 This is probably the most understood type of barking. It occurs when a dog feels he is in a position where he must defend himself or something that is his against a perceived threat. The dog is unsure, stressed and afraid. It sounds like this:

growling – Short deep barks -growling -short deep barks.

Since it is usually accompanied with growling noises and with behaviours such as lunging, showing teeth, snapping and as a last resort biting if nothing else has helped, people mistakenly think the dog is being aggressive or dominant. When in fact the dog just feels threatened and is trying to make whatever is threatening him go away. Guard barking should never be punished. This will only make the dog more defensive and the guard barking will occur faster and stronger every time it happens. Planning, thinking and management are the keys to preventing guarding behaviours. Don’t put your dog in a position where he feels the need to defend himself. Again, proper early socialisation goes a long way to prevent this. It is worth remembering that defending your young, food and yourself is a survival mechanism that all species have, we would be extinct otherwise.

 

Frustration Barking: This is a sad monotonous bark with a constant tone and sometimes ends in a howl. This barking is often from loneliness, boredom or utter frustration. Long term stress is always the problem. Frustration barking develops over time. The repetitive barking is a survival mechanism that helps the dog cope with the situation. These dogs are crying out for help. They need a life. Mental stimulation and some serious adjustments to their lifestyle are required.



Learned Barking:
 This type of barking usually starts out as one of the other types mentioned above. It is distinct though because the owner has reinforced the behaviour – usually unintentionally. This type of barking is easy to recognise the dog will bark, take a break from barking and have a look around. The dog is looking for attention or whatever reward he has received previously for barking. He has learnt that barking gets him a certain reaction that he finds rewarding. To stop this type of barking the owner needs to stop rewarding the behaviour, which includes yelling, most dogs find attention rewarding and yelling is attention. Work out what is causing the barking and train an alternative. Teaching your dog, a “quiet” cue as described in excitement barking will help.

 

To conclude it is obvious that dogs bark excessively for numerous reasons including boredom, excitement, distress, territorial defence, fear and anxiety. One solution doesn’t work for all situations. It is important to remember that some barking is normal and is a way of communicating. However, if your dog’s barking is causing a problem, we recommend that you contact us for advice and we can help to determine the underlying cause of the barking and then develop a tailor-made humane treatment plan for your dog.

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