Barking dog

Why does my dog bark?

Dogs can bark for many different reasons. It is one of the ways they communicate with us and other dogs. It’s just that we can’t understand what they’re saying! This makes the barking sound like just an annoying noise. Your dog may be barking because of;

  • excitement or play
  • attention seeking
  • a sign of aggression
  • fear or anxiety
  • separation (from owner)
  • boredom.

How do I translate the bark?

To understand why your dog is barking you need to look at when they are barking. If they are barking when the doorbell rings and visitors arrive it may be attention-seeking or excitement. If they are barking when separated from you and/or while you are out then it could be separation related distress or boredom. Some dogs will only bark when certain noises are present e.g. thunderstorms, fireworks or nail guns. This is often fear or anxiety of these noises. If your dog only barks at other dogs on walks they may be fearful of other dogs and/or showing aggression.

Somebody please stop the noise!

Decreasing the amount of barking a dog does depends on the cause for the barking. This means getting the right diagnosis. You may need to seek advice from a veterinarian or veterinary behaviourist. Treatment for any of the reasons will require you to do numerous different things rather than just one specific activity.

I’m so excited - that’s the doorbell!

Barking at the front door is a very self-rewarding behaviour. The doorbell rings, the dog is excited and barks at the door, the door opens and then somebody (usually) gives them a lovely greeting and a pat. In this way it is self-rewarding. Putting your dogs in a separate area until they settle down can help. You can retrain your dogs to come to you and take a treat when the doorbell rings. You and all visitors should ignore the dogs at the front door too. (Placing a sign on your front door 'Please ignore my dogs' can help).

I’m bored.

Barking can be caused by boredom or just ‘because it is fun’. This can be despite all the measures you put into place to keep your dog occupied. For some dogs with an active temperament they just continue to want more!

Try changing to feeding your dog with food release devices (e.g. Kongs stuffed with food, Buster Food Cube, Busy Buddies etc). Another option is to 'feed the chooks' by scattering the food in the backyard. The idea is that no longer is your dog fed from a bowl but rather from the food release devices.

Ensure your dog is getting adequate exercise. Do not underestimate the importance of exercise! Active, healthy dogs should be walked twice daily for a minimum of 30 minutes. If possible some of this should be off-leash to provide both physical exercise but also lots of sniffing and socialising (as long as you and your dog are comfortable with being off-lead!).

Ensure your dog has plenty of toys and rotate the toys daily to provide novelty.

Look at me! Look at me! Woof! Woof!

Barking can be attention seeking. This occurs only when the owner is present and is directed at the owner. Treatment for this involves ignoring the dog when it is barking (e.g. no eye contact, no yelling 'no' or 'stop' etc). At the same time, the dog needs to be rewarded with food rewards or play when they are quiet.

Walkies!

Barking and whining when walking could be excitement, fear or anxiety- based. Try training your dog to sit for you and focus on you for food rewards when they are not walking. Do this with no distractions (e.g. inside the house). Then place a lead on inside the house while continuing to try to focus their attention on you with food rewards. Gradually increase the stimulus by moving into the backyard (where there are likely to be more distractions) and then the front yard and then onto the street etc. The idea is for your dog to be able to remain comfortable and sit and focus on you despite all the distractions or excitement going on. Eventually you will be able to walk them normally on the street. This process will take several months and will require consistency and dedication.

Woof! I’m all alone. Woof!

Separation anxiety is the anxiety of being separated from the owner, that is you. It can be a difficult problem to treat.

Getting another dog does not always solve the problem. In fact, you may end up with two or more problems!

Some simple suggestions that may assist for mild separation anxiety are:

Allow your dog inside when you are absent. Letting your dog have access to your scent/smells can assist with the anxiety. You do need to be careful that they do not become destructive or house-soil when inside as this can indicate that it is not helping.

Try changing to feeding your dog with food release devices (e.g. Kongs stuffed with food, Buster Food Cube, Busy Buddies etc). Give these as you are getting ready to leave (before they get anxious) and when departing. Another option is to 'feed the chooks' by scattering the food in the backyard. The idea is that no longer is your dog fed from the bowl but rather from the food release devices.

Ensure your dog is getting adequate exercise. For a dog that has separation anxiety, walk your dog twice daily for a minimum of 30 minutes. One of these walks should be ideally before you depart. If possible some of this should be off-leash to provide both physical exercise but also lots of sniffing and socialising (as long as you and your dog are comfortable with being off-lead!). Rotate the dog toys daily to provide novelty.

Ignore your dog for 30 minutes before you leave and do not make a fuss of them until they have settled down when you arrive home. It is ok to say a simple ‘hello’ but do your best to ignore their attempts to greet you excitedly.

Unfortunately, separation anxiety is a problem that, without treatment, worsens over time. Luckily, there is much more that can be done to assist a dog with this problem. There are even medications that can assist. If you need further assistance contact your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviourist.