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A New Potential Answer to the Age-Old Problem of Barking

Reviewed by Bill Saxon DVM, DACVIM, DACVECC, Mychelle Blake, MSW, CDBC, CAE on Monday, October 20, 2014
Posted October 20, 2014 in Dog Behavior

Two barking dogs

One of the most frustrating problems dog owners face is excessive barking. It’s also a common reason why dogs are returned to shelters or pounds1.

Dogs bark for any of a number of reasons and it’s not always bad. The most common reasons for barking are boredom and excitement. These barking episodes are usually brief and specific to a situation. None of these reasons tend to result in excessively annoying barking. Excessive barking can present real problems for owners and other people in the area.

Causes of excessive barking
In order to retrain a problem barker it is necessary to determine what factors may be triggering the behavior.

  • Some breeds, such as terriers, may be more prone to barking although almost any breed can exhibit excessive barking.
  • Some dogs bark because of physical distress if they are hot, cold, hungry or thirsty. (It can be a dog’s way of vocalizing distress.)
  • Dogs may become a problem barker due to insufficient exercise (the dog’s pent-up energy is released through barking.) Click here for some creative pet exercises!
  • Dogs may be bored, excited or anxious (again, the dog is seeking attention).
  • Dogs may be frustrated (needing social and/or mental stimulation).
  • Improper confinement may lead to excessive barking (restrictive tethering, being locked in a pen alone for long periods, lack of shelter).
  • Excessive barking may be prompted by environmental cues (other dogs barking, passing cars, sirens, storms, etc.).

How do you make excessive barking stop?
[Editor’s Note: You should speak with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist when trying to alter behavior. Otherwise, you can risk making the problem worse.]

Literally volumes have been written about correcting barking behavior. As with any problem, it is important to understand the root cause. There are steps that can be taken to control or curb the problem barking.

Focus on reinforcing your dog for the behavior that you want instead of barking. For example, if your dog barks in the yard at passing people, cars, etc, you can teach him a good “come” cue and reinforce him for responding (you need to teach it when the dog is not overtly stimulated by whatever makes him bark and then slowly add distractions). Avoid using things the dog doesn’t like when he barks, as this could make the problem worse or create additional behavioral problems. You also want to remove any reinforcement for

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.