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Barking up the right tree

One of the regular dog training questions we receive on Facebook is how to prevent excessive barking.  Dogs bark for lots of reasons and it’s a perfectly normal and natural thing for them to do.  Barking has a lot of positives including protection of us and our homes but when it becomes excessive it can be one of the biggest causes of neighbourhood complaints.  With management and training, barking like all other doggie behaviours can be dealt with quite effectively.

The majority of barking complaints come when dogs are left outside in the backyard all the time.  A dog that is left outside is exposed to far more noises and disturbances so if your dog is naturally “a bit of a barker” there is a really high probability that your dog is going to bark a lot in this situation.  The simplest and best way to manage this is to keep your dog inside as much as possible.  We realise there are people who don’t like having their dogs inside but most of us consider our dogs to be part of the family so at home they are where we are, whether inside or outside the house.  But that aside, if your dog barks all the time (particularly at night and keeps the neighbourhood awake) then you really have an obligation to keep them quiet.  If you are totally opposed to your dog being loose in your house at night purchase a dog crate and teach your dog to sleep in there.  Most dogs learn to love being in crates.

Dogs also often bark when their owners are away during the day.  The barking commonly occurs when the owner first leaves and can be a sign that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety.  This can be managed by providing your dog with a hollow chew toy filled with treats.  As a suggestion, is a Kong with peanut butter and biscuits jammed inside.  You can be really creative with these, the goal being to make it as challenging as possible for your dog to get the treats back out.  Dogs can be so obsessed with their morning treat toys/balls that they may not even look in the direction when your car pulls out of the driveway as you head off to work for the day.

Having a dog that barks can be very useful,  not often, that someone will ever sneak into your house without you knowing.  It certainly is a comfort to know that the barking would likely put a burglar off from breaking in.  So rather than try and stop the barking we suggest that you try and teach the commands “bark” and “quiet”.  It is best to teach your dog the bark command first.  This can be done by setting up a scenario where your dog will bark.  Do this when your partner gets home from work or when they are extremely excited before you go for a walk, both times when things can get very noisy.  For most dogs you could simply get someone to go and ring your doorbell and when the dog barks say the word “bark” followed by a reward.  To teach your dog to be quiet say the word “quiet” and immediately give your dog a treat.  Once you are able to ask your dog for each behaviour and are getting the correct response without a specific stimulus you can start to use it in situations where you want to stop your dog barking.  For example, get someone to walk past your house (without coming up to the front door) and give your dog the quiet command.  If he is quiet reward him.  If he barks just ignore it and repeat, getting the person to walk past until you are successful in your dog giving you the correct response.  Mix that up with someone actually coming to your front door and knocking where you give your dog the command to bark and reward when he does.

If you would prefer that your dog doesn’t bark at all when people come to the house you can try a distraction technique.  Next time you invite a friend over have a container of treats ready.  Be prepared when your friend arrives with the treats so you are organised before your dog starts to go crazy.  Throw a big handful of the treats on the ground.  Most likely your dog will immediately abandon any care factor around the person arriving and spend however long it takes hoovering up the treats off the ground.  This is a great method for keeping dogs quiet however bear in mind that if you do it often enough your dog will start to associate people arriving with treats therefore if you want your dog to alert you to people coming to the house you may instead find your dog gazing at you waiting for its treats, completely ignoring the person the door!

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