Dr Julie Schell BSc(Hons), DVM, CVA, CVCHM, CVC
Excessive barking is not only frustrating to the dog, but to their owners as well. It can be harmful to their vocal cords, upset neighbors and other dogs and pets in the house, and also be against animal bylaws in some cities.
Dogs normally bark to alert their owners or the rest of their pack when an intruder or threat is upon them. This is normal dog behaviour, as dogs are pre-programmed to protect their home and family members. If your dog barks at someone knocking at the door or ringing the door bell, tell them thank you, then give them a toy to calm them. You can even train them to go to a special mat or bed while you greet your guests. It is only natural for your dog to also want to go and meet the visitor, but be careful that they do not accidently escape out the door. It is helpful to have a dog-gate separating the front door from the living area of the house. I have a metal exercise pen unfolded in front of the door to prevent my dogs from running right up to the door. You can also purchase very attractive wood gates such as these!
If your pet is barking excessively either indoors or outside, it means that he or she is frustrated, frightened or bored. Dogs with any of these emotions will act out. It is possible that your dog is suffering from a medical condition causing pain such as dental disease or digestive upset. Thus, your dog should definitely be examined by your veterinarian if your dog is excessively barking. Your veterinarian, and also a veterinary behaviour specialist are very helpful to set up behaviour modification protocols.
The way to prevent frustration, fear and boredom in dogs is to increase their exercise and given activities during the day. Leaving your dog outside all day is often boring for them and they can bark excessively because they are bored and under stimulated. Bring them to daycare especially on days they have to be home alone for more than 6 or 7 hours. You can also hire a professional dog walker or a trustworthy neighbor to bring them for a walk during the day- this helps break up the monotony of the dog’s day.
An interesting remote control training and positive reinforcement tool called Train and Treat works well to reward your pet when they are well behaved.
Also, while home alone, give your pet activities to do such as play with treat-filled toys and dog puzzles, which can be available through your veterinarian. Use healthy food items to fill these toys such as almond butter, apple sauce, mashed sweet potato, grated carrots, and cucumber. Dogs will often eat Brussels sprouts and spinach and cooked kale or broccoli if left on a plate for them during the day. Your veterinarian can also recommend healthy, safe chewing treats that are enjoyed by dogs and are even helpful for dental health maintenance. Check out these videos that we made of dogs using puzzles and interactive, “busy toys”:
I do not recommend or perform de-barking as it is a dangerous, painful procedure that does not solve the dog’s original problems that are causing barking. I also do not recommend or use electric shock collars or citronella collars. They provide negative reinforcement/punishment for dogs. Instead, dogs should be rewarded when they are doing something good. They also need to be kept busy during the day and the time you are home with them as a tired dog is a happy dog. Ideally, the dog should be so well exercised and played with that when you are not home they feel like catching up on needed sleep. A good quality dog daycare will provide your dog with fun activities during the day.
Enrolling your dog in group training classes, private training lessons with a certified trainer who uses positive reinforcement techniques helps teach your dog new tricks and etiquette. A great way for them to exert energy and have fun is to train them. Dogs often love performing for their owners, and behaviour training and training them tricks helps them use their brains. This requires a lot of energy, almost as much as running.
I also have seen the addition of a new dog or a cat work well at keeping the existing dog company during the day. They can become excellent friends and decrease their boredom, anxiety and fear. This has to be well planned, and the animals must be supervised well when together until you can determine if they can be trusted alone together.
Additional ways to decrease anxiety in pets are listed in this article: https://www.bowbottomvet.com/2015/10/13/2178/
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