Nuisance Barkers

Former Shelter resident gives a howl

Do you BARK! ever have trouble BARK! finding peace and quiet BARK BARK BARK! at home? Have you ever come home from a long day at work to find neighbors lined up on your porch, waiting for you with scowls on their faces? You may have what’s called a nuisance barker on your hands. Though it will take dedication and patience, with some work, you can have a quiet dog and a happy neighborhood.

The first step to a contented, quiet dog is to be sure that your pal gets enough exercise. Adequate exercise does not mean an hour alone in the yard. Most of these animals were bred to perform a demanding job and they must have their physical needs honored. Sufficient exercise for a dog means long walks or runs, vigorous games of fetch, or activities like agility. Imagine having the energy to do something as strenuous as herd cattle for 12 hours a day, but you are confined to a tiny yard and never get to run. You might resort to barking all day, too. Even if energy release is not the primary cause for nuisance barking, dogs need exercise. All dogs. Daily. (If your dog has physical problems, first talk with your veterinarian about appropriate activities.)

Dogs bark to warn the rest of the pack (that’s you and your family) of lurking dangers. Though we know that they are not trying to invade our territory, passers-by, other dogs, airplanes, or even squirrels may precipitate alarm barking. Correcting this behavior starts with proper socialization. Because your dog is working so hard to keep strangers away from his territory, start in a neutral place. Begin by walking your dog on a leash. Arrange for peaceful introductions with friends’ dogs, strangers, perhaps even a letter carrier. When your dog greets them politely (or even ignores them), reward him with a treat and plenty of praise. If your dog reacts poorly, simply walk away with your dog. Resist the temptation to try vocally or physically persuading the dog to be calm and quiet as your attention may be perceived as a reward and reinforce the behavior. Once your dog is comfortable with unfamiliar people and animals, it’s time to try this at home. (Which is not to say quit walking your dog- walks are great for so many reasons!)

Back at home, start small. In the yard, with your dog on a leash (which means that you are in charge), have a friend walk by. Before the barking begins, get your dog’s attention. Use toys, treats, affection, whatever motivates your buddy. As soon as your dog sees the person approach, but before he starts barking, reward him. Timing is everything. Once the barking begins, you’ve missed your opportunity. Better yet, if you have been training your dog, have him perform a command. Giving him a job can help keep him from deciding to take the initiative and make his own job. You can also try having your friend reward the dog if he approaches the fence but is quiet. Be sure that your friend keeps walking and does not acknowledge the dog in any way if he starts barking. Start small and progress in baby steps. Set your dog up for success and the process will be quicker and more satisfying for both of you.

Another cause of nuisance barking is an attempt to get attention. Let’s face it, we humans are busy creatures and, though we have the best of intentions, we don’t always get to spend the amount of time with our dogs that we would like. They are social creatures, however, and not getting enough quality time with us is unacceptable to them. Many owners inadvertently reward nuisance barking with interaction. Even negative attention is accepted as being a good thing and a reason to keep repeating this behavior. The cure for this type of barking is two-fold; be sure that your dog gets some quality time with you each day and reward only appropriate behaviors, not the barking. If possible, do not acknowledge the dog while he is barking. You can also try relieving his boredom with puzzle toys, long lasting chews, or frozen Kong treats. Spend some time training your dog. It doesn’t need to be hours- in fact, long learning sessions are ineffective. Just five minutes once or twice a day working with your dog on commands or tricks will give them something to do, allow you to bond, and result in a happy, obedient pet.

With a little time and a little patience, you (and your neighborhood) can have plenty of peace and quiet.