Dealing with a Dog's Nuisance Barking

Few people live happily next to a noisy dog. Barking, howling, and whining are all part of the normal means of canine communication (the Basenji is the only totally silent breed). All too often, however, a dog's noisy outbursts can reach unacceptable levels. Dogs that bark frantically whenever anyone passes the gate, howl all day, or endlessly whine for attention are animals with behavior problems.

Some dogs with high levels of excitability, such as certain terriers and other small dogs, are particularly inclined to bark, whine, and yelp when aroused—for example, when visitors come to the house, food is imminent, or when playing with another dog. Dogs are quick to learn by imitation, and a dog sometimes picks up the habit of noisy vocalization from others. You may find that during a stay in kennels your normally quiet dog is encouraged to bark by other noisy dogs nearby. Early education is the key to prevention. A dog that rushes to bark at visitors may not have been properly socialized. Its lack of confidence with strange people or dogs causes it to say “Keep away from me, I don't like the look of you!” — classic territorial behavior. The territorial/defensive urge is one reason why dogs bark noisily in the car, to warn off passersby. Stress and excitement can also lead to noisy behavior in the car. Once again, early familiarization may stop the problem from developing.

Whining or barking as an attention-seeking device usually begins during puppyhood because the owner gives in too readily to the puppy's demands. While it can be amusing to have your 10-week-old puppy yelp and bark when it sees you get out the leash for a walk, this behavior is a nuisance in an adult dog and encourages barking at other times of excitement. Put the leash back on the shelf or hook, tell the puppy to sit, reward it, and wait for it to become quiet. If the barking begins again, ignore the puppy and walk away. Postpone the walk until the puppy is calm.

“Where Are You?”

A dog that howls, whines, or barks incessantly when left on its own is suffering from separation anxiety. Pack dogs such as Huskies and Beagles hate being left on their own, and you can often alleviate the problem by acquiring another dog as company. Extreme cases of separation anxiety almost certainly need treating by a behavior counselor. To deal successfully with the problem, you have to reduce the dog's dependence on you. Punishing the dog will only increase its anxiety. Don't simply try to silence it—methods such as debarking (removal of the vocal cords) or the use of electric antibarking devices are very cruel and inflict further suffering on the dog. They will not eliminate the underlying motivation for the barking.

Q&A

Our German Shepherd, Freya, always barks noisily at us from the house as we approach the front door. Why does she do this?

Freya is barking to show she's excited to see you. Don't be tempted to shout at her to make her stop—this will only increase Freya's excitement levels and worsen the problem. Wait until she has quieted down and then greet her calmly.

Our neighbor says Katy, our 3-year-old Skye Terrier, barks constantly while we are out. Would a citronella anti-bark collar be an effective deterrent?

Citronella collars are certainly a more humane alternative than electric anti-bark collars, which should never be used. They release citronella whenever the dog barks—dogs hate the smell, so if they learn to associate it with barking, they will stop. The collars are most effective for excitable barking. If Katy barks only when you are out, she is probably anxious, so your best course is to treat the underlying cause. If you simply silence her, she may show her anxiety in other ways, such as destructive activity.

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