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It wouldn't be reasonable to expect your dog never to bark, nor would it even be desirable. After all, your dog's barking might alert you to the presence of an intruder in your home, and there's nothing like a friendly “Hello!” from your best friend to perk up your spirits.
But for dog owners whose animals bark excessively, barking can become a headache-inducing nuisance, not to mention a source of tension among neighbors. If you have a dog who has been showing problem barking tendencies, then here are 10 things you can do to quiet the barking while still keeping your dog happy.
Dogs bark for different reasons, and some dogs are vocal about defending what they see as their territory. When a person or another animal encroaches, your pet may feel duty-bound to let them know they're not welcome. Dogs also may bark out of loneliness, separation anxiety, or fear.
When you're frustrated, you might be tempted to raise your voice. But always resist the urge—your dog might think you're joining in on the barking, and that might cause him to bark more. Instead, speak in a low, calm voice.
Dogs can be trained to recognize certain words, but it's important to stay consistent with your commands. Choose whichever synonym for “quiet” you prefer, but always use the same word when you want your dog to be silent.
Dogs don't understand that their barking is annoying you or causing your neighbors to lodge noise complaints with the local police department. Treats, on the other hand, make perfect sense to your pooch. When your dog is barking, calmly use your one-word command. As soon as he stops, reward him with a treat.
Exercise is one of the best ways to ease your own tension and it's excellent medicine for anxious animals, too. Make sure your four-legged friends are getting plenty of exercise each day. If possible, time the exercise session to take place right before typical problem barking periods. As a bonus, you can get a nice walk or trip to the park in before work—a pleasant way to start your day, too.
The longer you allow your dog to continue barking, the more ingrained the habit will become. It's always best to address barking issues as soon as they arise, rather than letting your pet grow accustomed to habitual barking.
Barking is normal behavior in dogs, but there's an outside chance that excessive vocalization could indicate a medical issue. If your formerly quiet pet has suddenly taken to making a lot of noise, it's not a bad idea to stop by your veterinarian for a checkup.
For territorial barkers, it may be useful to limit exposure to external stimuli by keeping window treatments closed while you're away, or by installing privacy fencing for outdoor pets. Dogs have keen hearing, so they might still be stimulated by the sounds of people or animals encroaching on their territory but limiting their ability to see the action may be helpful.
Dogs are pack animals, and their desire for companionship is strong. If your dog barks while you're away at work, it may be helpful to hire a dog walker (or a trusted neighborhood kid) to check in on him every day, and to walk him while you're away.
For dogs who bark out of sheer boredom, it may be useful to leave some extra toys around to keep them occupied while you're away. Chew toys, food-dispensing toys, and other amusing diversions can help your pet stave-off boredom and resist the urge to bark.
Dogs, like children, often have favorite toys. It may be worth identifying which toys your dog likes best and setting a few of them aside for times when problem barking is typically an issue. For example, you might keep your pet's preferred food-dispensing puzzle toy out of reach until you leave for work. That way, your departure becomes a special occasion rather than a source of anxiety.
This piece of advice can be tough to follow, especially if you're concerned about upsetting the neighbors. But if you've conditioned your dog to expect that barking will elicit a response from you, you're going to have to undo that conditioning. And the best way is to ignore the barking until it stops, then reward your pet for being quiet.
Problem barking is one of the least pleasant aspects of dog ownership, but it's an issue that can be addressed with training and patience. Follow these tips, and you'll find a few that work wonders for you and your best friend.
Dr. Evan Ware is a veterinary practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona. He received both his undergraduate degree in microbiology and his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University.
Dr. Ware is currently the Medical Director of University Animal Hospital (VCA) and is also the owner of two other hospitals, including Laveen Veterinary Center and Phoenix Veterinary Center. His areas of expertise include orthopedic medicine and surgery, veterinary oncology and chemotherapy, and general and advanced soft-tissue surgery.
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