Problem Barking

The sound of a dog’s bark is a common and not all together unexpected sound in neighborhoods, apartment complexes and anywhere people live among each other.  Barking is a means of communication, but when it reaches an excess in both pitch and frequency, the potential for conflict between neighbors grows. 

Barking is a symptom of something deeper and in order to find a solution, the reason behind the barking needs to be determined.

Lack of Exercise

If a dog is not exercised sufficiently on a daily basis, the extra energy may be released through barking.  For example, the dog learns that he gets a quick walk in the morning, and then is left inside, full of pent up energy with nothing to do and no one to do it with. The act of continuous barking releases the energy, eventually he gets tired and is able to sleep or remain in a calm state for a few hours.

  • Before leaving your dog for any period of time in which he will bark, take him on a walk, play a game of fetch or any activity that will burn off all excess energy.  A tired dog has stands a much better chance of being a quiet dog.  The key in knowing that your dog has received enough exercise is to be able to physically see your dog is tired.
  • Sometimes physical exercise is not enough to keep a dog quiet.  Many dogs, sporting and herding breeds, were bred for a specific purpose and need a “job” to keep them busy.  Mental exercise is just as important and can be found in the form of items which are safe to chew on in your absence. For example, a Kong Toy may be “stuffed” with the dog’s food, hard dog biscuits and then topped off with peanut butter, low sodium is best.

             Your veterinarian is a good source for safe chewing alternatives.

Boredom

  • Enroll in an obedience or agility class.
  • Play on a regular basis.
  • Plan daily activities-Include the dog on runs to the bank, go to the park, rotate his toys every week so they stay “new”.
  • Make time for your dog every day.

Barking for Attention

Barking becomes a way to receive attention and negative attention is better than none. 

  • Do not give your dog attention if he is being pushy-barking, whining or pawing at you; wait until he is calm so that he understands calm behavior gets attention.
  • When he is calm, give a command such as “sit”, and give him a couple of pets and move away.
  • If the dog does not calm down within a few seconds or the barking becomes more intense, give a one word command, such as Hush! in a firm tone and command a “sit”.
  • If the barking has become habit or the dog does not take you seriously, the use of a startle tactic may be necessary to stop the behavior.  The most commonly used and effective means of this type of correction would be a small spray bottle of water, a sealed metal can full of pennies or a loud whistle.  The object used must be small enough to avoid being seen by the dog for the startle element to be effective.
  • When the dog begins to bark, give your one word command and then follow immediately with a stream of water, a loud shake of the can or a loud blow of the whistle.  This should capture the dog’s attention and stop the barking.  When the barking stops, call the dog, command a sit, praise lightly and walk away.
  • Continue practicing until the dog stops barking for attention and respects your one word command without the use of a startle tactic.

Being Territorial or Protective

If a dog has been encouraged to react to strangers, animals and noises outside, he is being taught to respond to those sounds regardless if anyone is home.  The barking becomes problematic when there isn’t anyone around to tell him to stop and in many cases, the dog is more “on guard” when left alone.  A dog’s perception of a “trespasser” can be anyone who is not supposed to be there.

  • When you are home, allow the dog to bark several times, then tell him “Quiet” and call him over to you and ask him to sit and then reward.  If the barking continues, remove the dog from the room and stay with him until he is quiet.  Repeat this procedure until the dog learns not to bark past the initial “free barks”.
  • Do not allow him to decide who gets to come in the house, rush the front door or jump on anyone entering or be pushy for attention.
  • Have a door strategy when guests or repair people arrive, place the dog in a sit stay or put him in an area away from the door and keep him on a leash if the dog’s obedience is still a work in progress.
  • The dog is greeted last and is not acknowledged at all until he is calm and under control.
  • When he is calm, have the guest give the dog a treat, so the dog will eventually learn that people in his house are a good experience.
  • Repeat this procedure until the dog is well behaved and confident around guests and anyone in your home.
  • Do not encourage barking at outside noises, for example, saying “who is that?” or “get’em!”
  • If your dog’s body posture is stiff, tail and ears are erect and he will not settle down or relax his body, and ignores any attempt of control, consult a professional.  This is an example of a dog with more serious issues.

Fearful Barking

A dog that barks at thunderstorms, firecrackers, loud noises or construction equipment is a fear barker.  A fearful dog will have his tail tucked under; ears back, and may be crouched low to the ground, freeze in one spot or have frantic movements, like he is trying to escape.

  • Move the dog away from outside stimulus-in inner room or basement, draw the blinds, and block doors and windows from view.
  • Leave a radio or television on to help drown out any frightening noises.
  • Do not soothe or comfort your dog when he is frightened by petting or saying, “it’s ok, sh”, the tone of voice being used sounds like praise and you are inadvertently teaching him to act fearful.
  • Seek professional help to help desensitize your dog and build confidence.

Separation Anxiety

The anxious dog will begin barking when you leave or briefly afterwards, the dog displays a deep attachment to you by following you from room to room, greets you in a frenzied fashion and seems anxious when your are about to leave.  A dog suffering from separation anxiety will always bark, regardless of how long you are gone.  The problem can become worse if there has been a change in the dog’s life, a move, a new roommate or pet, being left alone for a longer period, the loss of a family member or if the dog pet has recently been adopted from an animal shelter.

  • Provide the dog with structure and consistency in his daily routine.  This will allow the dog to become familiar with what to expect and give him less things to worry about.
  • Teach him simple obedience commands, for example, sit and down stay to build his confidence and allow him to receive rewards when he is “away” from you.
  • Do not make a big deal out of leaving or coming home.  When it is time to leave, walk out of the door in a matter of fact manner and ignore the dog for a few minutes when arriving home.  This will allow the dog time to calm down and then receive attention when he has settled.
  • When you are not leaving, practice the triggers that cause the dog to become anxious and anticipate leaving, for example, putting on a coat or shoes or picking up a purse, briefcase or keys.  Pick up the keys and hold them until the dog is calm, do not say anything to the dog, when he is calm, put the keys down and move on to a common activity, reading a book or watching television.  Repeat this exercise daily until the dog can remain calm and watch the procedure.
  • Many cases of separation anxiety are severe will take the help of a professional trainer or veterinarian to resolve.

Positive Alternative

  • Dog daycare-an excellent resource for teaching the dog that he can have a great time in your absence and you will return to pick him up.  The dog will return home exercised and will be able to remain calm for a longer period of time.

Remember:

  • Regardless of the reason your dog barks, all dogs need regular exercise.
  • Don’t punish after the fact-if you don’t catch the dog in the act of barking, the effectiveness of any correction is lost.
  • Enlist the help of a friend or neighbor to assess the length of time the dog barks, when and if the reason can be found.

Sonny and the Big Move

I will never forget the day, Mom told me we were leaving my Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  This was the only home I had lived in since Mom adopted me at six months old.   

Mom was excited as she said, “On February 15th we are moving into our very own place, Sonny.” 

That’s only two weeks away.  Shih-tzus don’t like change.  Initially I was energized by Mom’s excitement, as I love to go anywhere with my mom.  But, it didn’t take long for me to decide I didn’t want to go.  As I watched all of my belongings being boxed up, and Mom shop for all sorts of supplies, I changed my mind.

  When will I hear about anything other than the move?  I don’t like all this commotion.  I like it here with Grandma, Grandpa and the Westies.  The past two years here have been great.  Why do we have to move?  I don’t want to have to stay anywhere by myself!

On the morning of February 15th, I watched as Mom loaded up the car with all of my toys and some other supplies. 

Wait what are you doing with my stuff?  No, don’t take that, I wasn’t done chewing it.

Mom then called, “Sonny, let’s go.”

The apartment complex wasn’t too far away, and soon Mom was leading me into the office.  I had to sit quietly with Mom for what felt like forever.  All we need is the key.  Let’s go.  I pulled on the end of my leash trying to explore.

 “Just hold on a second, Sonny. We will go in just a minute,” Mom soothed and pulled me up into her lap.

Finally, we left the office and got back in the car.   It was a short ride and Mom pulled the car into a garage.  I waited eagerly to be lifted from the car.  I was off leash, so I quickly took in all the strange smells that were here.  It doesn’t smell like Grandma and Grandpa’s garage.

“Come on Sonny,” Mom called, “Let’s go see our new place.”

I followed Mom through the door and up the stairs.

Wow.  Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.

Mom wandered through the first floor and then disappeared up more stairs.

Wait where did you go, Mom?  I don’t want to stay here alone!

Mom did a quick walk through of the upstairs and then said, “Let’s go unload the car.”

Out in the garage, I watched as Mom unloaded box after box from the car stacking them by the garage door.  Suddenly, I saw the bag that contained my toys and bones.  Mom also had my bed in her hands.

Wait.  Where are you going?

I ran up the stairs after her.

Mom got up to the living room and quickly dumped the bag’s contents on the living room floor.

All right. I’ll take those.

 I ran to the toys and shook one in glee.  I then had to sniff and sort through the stack making sure none had been lost.

Phew, they are all here.

 I picked up my stuffed tree trunk toy and wandered around the room.

Mom had carried the rest of the boxes from the garage while I was busy, and now called, “Sonny, come on, let’s go for a car ride.”

What was the hurry to get back in the car again?  

I rode with Mom back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house where we got my grandparents help as we made another trip back to the apartment.  Both cars were loaded up this time, and Mom and my grandparents worked quickly to unload the cars back at the apartment.

After following them up and down the stairs several times, I decided to just wait for them.

Those stairs are wearing me out.

I explored all the boxes and bags that were brought into the house.  

When the last of the boxes were unloaded from the car, and Mom and my grandparents were in the kitchen unloading boxes, I decided to just shut my eyes for a quick nap.

I guess, I slept longer than I thought, because when I woke up the living room and kitchen were completely set up.

Boxes were no longer stacked everywhere. My toys and bones were in a basket next to the entertainment center.

I stretched, yawned and carried a bone over to the window. Wow, this view is great. Oh, there is a dog my size, let’s go make friends.

 I turned around to find Mom, but everyone was heading upstairs.

I trotted after them, but by the time we went outside, the dog was gone.

I dosed on Mom’s futon bed, and watched Mom, Grandma, and Grandpa unpack.

It was almost dinner time, when I startled awake as everyone else heading back downstairs.  I jumped off the futon and had to admit, this room now looked like Mom’s room at her parents house.

As I caught up with everyone downstairs, I overheard Mom say, “Thanks for all your help today.  I will call you tomorrow.”

Grandma and Grandpa were heading for the door.   Wait, where are you going?

“See you later, Sonny,” Grandma said scratching my head.

“Have a good night,” Grandpa said.

I was scooped into Mom’s arms and we watched her Grandpa back the car out of the driveway.

Left on our own, Mom fixed us dinner and took me for a walk that evening.   I got to explore and mark my new territory.

Back at the apartment, Mom turned on the TV. Since I immediately fell asleep on the couch next to Mom, I was startled when Mom said, “Ok, it is time for bed, let’s go.”

Great.  I am exhausted.  Let’s not move again anytime soon ok?

Mom climbed into bed.  She patted my head good night and said,  “I love you, Sonny.”  She laid down to go to sleep.

I love you too.  I curled up at the foot of the bed.

This place is great after all.  Nothing has changed between me and Mom.  I have all my toys, bones, and a brand new window to entertain me. 

The End