Here we are, halfway through our Never Shock a Puppy campaign. Our blogging coalition is continuing to cover the behavior issues that are frustrating for dog owners–yet solvable with humane, positive-reinforcement techniques. Find out about our campaign prizes at the end of this post!

This week, we cover barking–one of the more troublesome behaviors for my clients.

Barking–Natural Behavior

We all think it’s annoying to hear a dog bark for more than a few minutes; I know I get frustrated when my dogs do it! But barking is a dog’s way of expressing herself… just as all beings have their way of communicating. Birds sing, frogs croak, people talk–you name it. Dogs communicate through whining, howling, barking. And often, pet owners unintentionally train their dog to bark. Have you  let Fido out when he’s whining in his a crate? Do you open your front door when Fluffy barks? How about barking with him by shouting “Quiet” when he’s on a barking jaunt? Your behavior often influences how your dog will react.

And of course, if someone walks by your house, yard–well hey, in a dog’s mind, barking works to make that person go away! Especially if the person has the nerve to be walking another dog. Bark=offending being leaves. Since I live on open space and on a corner lot, there are lots of distractions. So, not only did I build a kind of double-fence, I also clap my hands and say “who wants a treat?” My dogs, although they hesitate for a few seconds, usually decide that high-value treats (chicken, turkey, roast beef, cheese) seem better than the distraction.

Barking Classifications

Not all barking is the same. As also mentioned in today’s Never Shock a Puppy blog post, the infamous Turid Rugaas, in her insightful book Barking: The Sound of a Language, lists six major barking types:

  • Excitement
  • Warning
  • Fear
  • Guard
  • Frustration
  • Learned

I’m not going to cover all of these, as others in our coalition will present their tips. But for me, two of the more difficult barking issues: Frustration barking and barking at squirrels (or any critters) that tease a dog when he’s outside.

Frustration Barking

Most people want help with their dog’s frustration barking–sounding hours on end in the yard or house while the owner is away. It’s heartbreaking to hear, as the desperation and frustration comes through in those repeating and static-sounding barks. Leaving your pooch in the yard means he has nothing to do. Bored. Even if you provide toys and a doggy door, will he use them? Why have a dog if you don’t interact? Take him with you! Give him a job! You’ll both get exercise! Even if it’s just a ride in the car, hanging out in the house, walking around the block. When you’re not home, have a dogwalker take him on a hike. Bring him to doggy daycare, or have a neighbor drop by. Mental games, such as Nina Ottoson’s toys or dog treat dispensing puzzles, are great fun for you both!

Some trainers like the citronella collar as a way to humanely discourage your dog from barking. It does work effectively for many barkers! My dogs Frisbee and Luna, however, figured out a way to twist the collar so that it doesn’t spray when they “shout” out. And I also didn’t like that they had to smell like citronella, a scent they hate, even when they were behaving nicely.

Squirrels–A Dog’s Nemesis

If you have herding or prey-driven dogs, they’re hard-wired to go after critters–I’m sure you’ve heard yours go crazy when squirrels are out in force, teasing from fence lines or trees. Although you can use “leave it” or other attention-getting methods when you’re home, what happens when you’re gone? My dogs have a fixation; it’s a struggle to keep them quiet when squirrels abound. How can you get a dog to stop that fixation?

If you’re into doing some research and reading, consider the Premack Principal. It’s based on scientific studies showing that a low probability behavior or reinforcement is the opportunity for Lassie to exchange a less-valued activity for a more valued one. In real life, that means: “Eat your brussels sprouts and you’ll get cake!”

Leslie McDevitt discusses the principle in Control Unleashed (great book on behavior modification!), and Jean Donaldson shows how this works for squirrel-obsessed dogs in Oh Behave! Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker.

However, what if you’re not into doing all that homework? Reading is one thing, action is another! Why not just get rid of the squirrel nuisance? My neighbor, who said “my fence is a squirrel highway!” rigged up a cool device–PVC pipe strung together and hung at the top of her fence.  That way, the squirrels roll off and learn not to even venture onto the fence! It works like a charm–I haven’t heard her dogs squirrel bark for awhile now!

Prizes Galore!

This week, we’re giving out the second of our five prize packages to those who comment on the Never Shock a Puppy site. If you’re a first-time dog owner, you’ll get extra credit! Here’s what you can win:

We Need Your Donations Today!

As you’ve read in previous weeks, we’re raising money for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley‘s upcoming No-Choke Challenge, commencing in November. Every $5 helps! Just click the donation button on the donation widget on the right side of this post to get started!

5 Responses to “Barking Problems?”

  • Those clever dogs! I have experimented with citronella collars and one dog hopped into a tub of water with it on, shorting it out and so that was $70 almost literally down the drain. Another time (a cheaper collar this time) I had it on the dog upside down and wondered why it did absolutely nothing (except spray the dog’s feet). Some dogs will bark right through them until they’re empty and just keep barking. With multiple dogs the sensor may detect other dogs barking and squirt the dog wearing the collar even if they were quiet.

    Just sharing so folks know what to be on the look out for if they try one.

    • Hilary:

      Wow, Debbie, you’ve had a rough time with that citronella collar! I know that there have been problems as well as successes, but those poor dogs have to smell like citrus (great smell to me, not my dogs, though) until you wash off that scent. But maybe worth the try–much better than a bark collar!

  • Great post Hilary.I especially liked what you had to say about leaving dogs in the yard all day with nothing to do. That’s just setting the dog up for bad behavior.

    • Hilary:

      Thanks, Deborah. So many trainers have written about the leaving-a-dog-in-the-yard-with-nothing-to-do, but people still do it. My neighborhood is full of those poor dogs.

  • I saw an ad for a sonic sound transmitter that is supposed to distract the dog and stop the barking. Have you heard of anyone that has tried one of those out. My dog barks at people going by and I say NO BARK as a command but my dog just smiles (I can see that smile) and continues to bark. So I’m wondering if a sonic or high pitch sound would be a good tool somewhat like a voice command that would be a negative feedback mechanism?

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