Dogs bark for a variety of reasons – boredom, warning, lonely, fear, communication, to get attention and just because it is fun.
Some breeds, like many herding dogs, may be more vocal than others. For example, a Shetland Sheepdog is a breed prone to barking and they use vocalising as part of herding.
Many dogs are given up each year due to barking. However, this does not need to be the case. Barking is a problem that can be worked with if you are consistent, patient and diligent. Training from day one is very important.
How can I control my dog’s barking?
The easiest thing to do is not allow barking to become a bad habit. As soon as your puppy or dog joins your house, you need to start teaching what will and will not be allowed.
Use a firm command such as ‘no barking’ or ‘enough’ and reinforce it with praise as soon as the dog quiets down. Use a firm but not yelling voice. Yelling can sound like barking and make the situation worse as you are barking as well. Reward the dog for not barking with a treat and praise.
What if you want the dog to alert bark when someone is at the door?
Set up training scenarios. Have someone ring the bell or knock. Call the dog to you and have him escort you to the door. Ask excitedly, “Who’s there?” “Check it out!” or whatever cue you decide to use. Go to the door, have the dog sit and then have him stop barking. Praise and treat the stopping of barking. Be consistent, be positive and be responsible.
What if your dog is already nuisance barker?
First, identify why your dog is barking - loneliness, alerting you to something, fear, being bored or aggression. If your dog is alerting you to something, teach him that when you have checked out a situation and you have told him it is fine, he must stop barking. I say, “Enough! It’s fine”. This is their cue that alerting you is no longer needed.
If your dog is bored or lonely, you need to get active with him. Toys, games, training and interaction all go a long way to help a bored or lonely dog. A tired dog is generally better behaved. Agility classes, as well as just playing fetch, will help. Do not leave your dog unsupervised while outside. Dogs left outside all day, especially when no-one is home, are more prone to becoming nuisance barkers. If no-one shows him what he can and cannot do, the issue will persist.
n This column is written by Suzhy Winfield, head nurse at Vetsavers in Spalding.