Barking is one of the most common, as well as commonly annoying, vocalization methods of dogs. Wolves in the wild are believed to bark for only two reasons: as an alarm system to warn other pack members of a danger, and as a threat to ward off intruders. Unfortunately, domesticated dogs bark for a variety of other reasons as well, and excessive barking can become a serious problem for the dog owner.
Contrary to the long standing opinion that barking is merely a response to boredom, current research shows that it is instead a specific form of communication used among dogs, along with body language and olfactory (smell) messages. There are several types of specific barks, each with a distinct sound and purpose.
Warning barks are the most common type of barking, and often most people encourage and accept this type of barking. These barks are meant to alert others of potential danger or o a suspicious person. As a person approaches, warning barks may become more rapid and strong. Aggressive barks are similar to warning barks, but tend to be lower in pitch and accompanied by growling.
A dog stuck outside will commonly voice his concern at the situation with isolation barks. Isolation barks are usually higher pitched than warning barks, and often occur as single barks in an increasingly insistent tone, calling attention to their plight, like; “Remember me? I’m Out HERE!”
In addition, dogs have different types of barks for play, boredom, fear and anxiety. Although this barking is all part of normal behavior, some dogs are more frequent and excessive barkers than others, and this barking can often become a serious training issue.
In moderation, all of the above types of barking is perfectly normal behavior- however in some cases, excessive barking can become a pathologic problem for your dog, a type of obsessive-compulsive behavior which can lead to a disruptive home, community and even endanger the dogs life if ignored.
The first step to curb excessive barking in your dog is to rule out possible underlying medical causes. Dogs who bark excessively may be suffering from separation anxiety, cognitive disorders, chronic diseases or pain. These problems typically cause the dog to have greater anxiety and restlessness, and be more likely to respond vocally to stimuli. Older dogs in particular may begin to suffer from neurological changes, hearing and vision loss, more frequent trips to relieve themselves and discomfort, all which may make them more prone to vocalize.
Genetics can also play a part in excessive barking. Breeds of dogs such as hounds, and those bred to be watchdogs, as well as many dogs from the working breeds are more prone in excessive barking.
Once medical causes have been ruled out, it is important to examine the living situation of the dog, to see if there are obvious causes to the barking that might be altered to provide fewer stimuli. For instance, the barking of a dog that sits at a window all day as people go might be easily remedied by a set of curtains. If your dog barks when he is outside and you are gone for the day, try changing their scenery. Bring him inside the house, or find an indoor area to confine him in without as many distractions. Because dogs who are left outside in the yard tend to bark more in response to boredom and loneliness, Increasing your interaction and going for more frequent walks may help satisfy their needs, and curb barking.
Behavior modification aims to resolve the underlying causes of the behavior, as well as change the dogs response to stimulus through positive reinforcement. Consulting with a dog trainer or behaviorist will greatly increase your chances of success using behavior modification. Behavior modification is most easily accomplished in younger dogs that are still more readily trainable, and investment into proper training while young will improve both of your relationships in the long run.
A more severe form of behavior modification comes in the form of anti-bark collars, which utilize negative reinforcement to teach the dog not to bark. These collars come in two basic forms. The electrical stimulation collar automatically delivers a small shock to the dog when he barks. If he continues to bark, the strength of the correction is increased until the barking stops. Because the collar is automated, you do not need to be present for the collar to correct your dog from barking, and when your dog is quiet, there is no correction.
Citronella collars are similar to electrical stimulation collars, however their correction comes in the form of a sudden mist of herbal spray into the dogs face. Because dogs have a natural aversion to citronella, they learn to avoid the correction by reducing barking.
Dogs suffering from separation anxiety often bark excessively, and due to this medical condition may not respond as well to behavior modification and training as other dogs. Your veterinarian may recommend a trial of medication to reduce anxiety in addition to behavior modification exercises to make your dog more comfortable.
Although excessive barking can be one of the most frustrating and disruptive habits to curb, a careful approach utilizing a combination of training, behavior modification and potentially training aids and medication can help curb your dogs habit, restoring the calm to your household.