On Murdoch’s facebook page, a customer asked, “My dog won’t stop barking. Help? What do I do?” So, we sought the advice of Nancy Tanner, a dog trainer who lives in Bozeman, Mont., and blogger extraordinaire. This is her advice. We hope it helps!
Life is short. Bark loud… or not? In the training world there is an old saying: if you don’t like barking, go work with cats. It’s cheeky and sarcastic enough to get a laugh, but the reality is, it’s true.
Barking is characteristic of domestic canines and is a vocalized form of communication. Because it is a form of communication, not all vocalizations are equal, and not all vocalizations carry the same message.
But when is barking too much? Well, it all depends, really.
First off, you should know your dog breeds, and choose carefully. Some dog breeds are genetically predisposed to barking, meaning it is expected and encouraged in breed standards. So if you already know you have a low tolerance for noise, some breeds should be crossed off of your list immediately.
For example, our soft eye upright herding breeds all use barking and nipping to move stock. Our alarmist breeds (mini schnauzer) will yodel, bark, scream and chirp when something new or different enters an environment. Our stock guardian breeds are fairly quiet until they need to patrol the pasture or send out the warning to potential predators, and then things are quite loud. And then let’s talk about shelties. Our dear, sweet, loud shelties bark and spin, bark and spin. Why they encourage this genetic trait I will never know! But it is there, so you should expect it. And the list goes on. It’s quite extensive, actually, and it’s a super fun google search!
Secondly, you need to know why your dog is barking, or barking in excess. In order to do this, you need to look beyond the behavior of barking, and find the cause. While it may look like some dogs are barking just to bark as a form of self-stimulation, that is almost never the case. There is always a cause.
Is your dog under exercised mentally or physically? That is usually the number one cause of excessive barking. If you meet your dog’s exercise needs for their age, breed, and current physical health, you might be surprised how quiet things get around the house. Note to everyone: a walk around the block does not make a dent in the exercise requirements of most breeds in their youth. Mental and physical exercise takes creative thinking, time and planning, but the bonus is more time together and a more functioning relationship.
Could your dog possibly be barking out of fear, concern or caution? This is also quite common. If you have a dog with an unstable temperament, and things can be scary for him or her, it is always important to choose your environments carefully. This includes your yard or, say, front door. Dogs that have fear can be the most reactive and blustery dogs you will ever see, but only when they are in an environment over their skill or comfort level. A trainer that is familiar with working with dogs that have these concerns can set up a plan to help you help your dog find more comfort, and slowly over time create a more positive conditioned emotional response.
Lastly, dogs can become excessive barkers when they are bored. The dog that is left in the yard all day long, with nothing to do, will almost always find something to do. If you decide to not work with your dog, the environment will, and it will always work against you. A bored yard dog will learn to bark, dig, run the fence line, and guard your property. One if not all four. Guaranteed.
A yard is not a babysitter, and a yard does not take the place of interactive time with you. Use the yard with your dog, together, and then have a managed space while you are away. If you exercise your dog appropriately for their breed, age, and current health before leaving for work, and then kennel your dog either in/outside depending on weather, you will find a more relaxed and balanced dog. Adding interactive toys like Kongs or chew items that are safe for your dog (raw bones, bully sticks, hooves, etc.) can create a more enriched and interesting environment while you are gone.
Correcting a dog’s bark is almost never recommended. If you correct a bark you risk a bite.
If you verbally yell, “No Bark!” when your dog is barking, you are then barking, too, and it’s only a game the two of you can play. How super fun for your dog to have a partner in crime! It’s really not effective at all. It makes for great family home video, but that’s about it.
If you choose to use a device to correct your dog’s bark, without taking care of their fundamental needs first, you are just displacing a behavior that will appear in another form, say, shredding your furniture, peeing on your bed, or biting a person that comes too close. You’re just shifting the problem around. It may be quiet, but rest assured, all is not well.
Correcting a bark never takes care of the cause, and if you want to be fair to your dog, always look to the cause, and start your work there.
Let your dog’s bark keep you honest, not bring you to the point of frustration. When you shift what you are currently doing, or not doing, you will find a more relaxed and balanced dog, and this will hopefully lead to more time together, doing cool dog things!
By Nancy Tanner: Certified Professional Dog Trainer, knowledge and skill assessed. She is also the owner of Paws & People, LLC in Bozeman, Montana, est. 2003. A dog sport competitor, award-winning writer, and Mother. Visit her website at: www.nancytanner.com