Barking is a normal behaviour for dogs and an important means of communication. They may bark when calling out to other dogs or respond to other barking dogs or when communicating with their human owners. Any noise, no matter how slight can stimulate a barking response for e.g. rustling leaves, a banging window or a knock at the frontdoor/doorbell.
However, when dogs bark excessively this usually indicates an underlying issue and they can become a nuisance to their owners and the neighbourhood. Before you can successfully manage a barking problem you will need to determine the cause of the barking. Your neighbours may be able to tell you how often your dog barks in your absence.
Dogs bark for a variety of reasons and it is important to work out why your dog is barking excessively. Once the underlying cause and ‘triggers’ for the barking are identified, training techniques can be used to treat the excessive barking in a humane way.
The basis of barking issues is quite different. Likewise, approaches to treating each of them often need to be different. Take the time to characterise your dog’s barking habits – does he bark at people passing by? Ask your neighbours whether he barks while you are away from home – does he bark all day or only some of the time?
Talk to your veterinarian who can provide behaviour advice and it’s also a good idea to take your dog to the vet for a full health check to make sure there are no medical reasons for the excessive barking.
Bringing dogs into the house may reduce barking ‘triggers’ as this can remove the visual or auditory trigger stimulus.
Some of these reasons for excessive barking include:
Dogs that are left alone all day with nothing to do often resort to barking out of boredom. Boredom barkers will bark continuously and may also exorcise their frustration on your flower beds. To tackle boredom barking you should start by ensuring that your dog is receiving enough exercise. If you take your dog for a good walk in the morning they will be more likely to rest until you come home. You should also make sure that your house and garden are sufficiently enriched with fun toys and puzzles to keep them entertained when you are not home. Try putting some of your dog’s daily food allowance into a Kong toy or treat ball so they have to work to retrieve their snacks. Keep their toys in a toy box and alternate the toys they have access to each day. Hide their toys and some treats around the garden to encourage them to forage or if they like to dig provide a sand pit to divert their instincts away from your garden. If your dog has any play mates in the neighbourhood you might alleviate boredom by inviting them over for the day.
You may also consider organising a ‘dog walker’ to walk your dog in the middle of the day while you are at work or a ‘dog minder’ to keep your dog company when you are away for long periods. You may also consider utilising your local ‘doggy day care’ services.
Being anxious when left alone
Dogs are social animals and it is normal for them to become anxious when they are left alone for the first time. Take care to teach your dog how to cope with being left alone at a young age. Begin by trying small amounts of time apart. For example you could put your dog outside in the yard for short periods of time while you are still at home. Make sure they have toys to play and safe things to chew on while they are outside so the experience is a positive one. Please see the feeding article linked below.
Gradually extend the length of time you are leaving your dog alone. When you do leave the house make sure that they have somewhere safe to retreat to such as a kennel. Make sure that they receive plenty of exercise and that they have a supply of toys and safe chew toys/items to keep them entertained while you are away. Do not fuss over your dog when you come home – make sure both your departure and return are quiet and unexcited. Most dogs will adjust to periods of time alone, however some become severely stressed and may begin to bark incessantly and even self mutilate/injure themselves. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety you will need to manage the condition in consultation with a veterinarian. Please see the knowledgebase article below about separation anxiety.
Dogs can also bark due to fear. They may be afraid of people coming near their territory or fearful of noises. particularly at night which may stimulate anxieties. Dogs can also be fearful of fireworks, thunderstorms and lawnmowers etc.
It is natural for your dog to want to warn you about potential intruders. Your dog may not be able to distinguish between welcome visitors, people strolling past your home and intruders. Try and use predictable passers-by such as the postman to change your dog’s association from territory protection to a positive experience. Try and pre-empt the postman’s arrival and offer your dog a delicious treat or favourite toy. Only reward your dog when he/she is calm and not barking. With time your dog may begin to associate a person passing the house with something good rather than someone to protect you from.
If your dog barks at your neighbours when they are in their garden it is probably also because they are protecting your territory. Again, make sure you have some tasty treats at hand so that your dog associates your neighbours with the food (only give the treat when your dog is calm and not barking). You may also consider asking your friendly neighbours to treat your dog and supply them with their own stockpile – this is preferable to having them yell at your dog in frustration – yelling at a barking dog will only tend to reinforce the barking and protective behaviour. Barking is also reinforced when owners yell or scold their own barking dog and should be avoided. Successfully treating excessive barking relies on positive reinforcement – that is, reward good ‘quiet’ behaviour and avoid reinforcing ‘unwanted’ behaviour.
Dogs can bark when trying to call out to their human owner or when bored through being left alone for long periods of time or having nothing to do while its humans are at work/away from the home.
You can modify attention seeking barking by ignoring unwanted behaviour and rewarding good behaviour. When your dog barks for attention he should be completely ignored – avoid eye contact, even leave the room. Praise and pat your dog when he is calm and quiet so he realises that this is the behaviour required to secure your attention. You can also give your dog a food treat when he/she is calm and not barking. This rewards good behaviour and does not reinforce ‘unwanted’ behaviour.
Never try and modify your dog’s behaviour by punishing him. Anti-barking collars constitute a form of punishment and are unreliable – they do not address the underlying cause of the problem and are easy to abuse. Your dog will be punished for every bark, some of which will be appropriate, and he will not learn an alternative, acceptable behaviour.
RSPCA Australia is opposed to the use of any electronically activated or other devices which deliver electric shocks, such as anti-barking collars and invisible boundaries. Such devices are inhumane as they inflict pain, involve punishment and can be used to abuse animals. RSPCA Australia is also opposed to the use of collars that deliver aversive stimuli such as sound or scent, including citronella collars and high-pitched sound-emitting devices.