Is your dog’s bark worse than its bite? While you may appreciate the notification of visitors, you don’t necessarily need to be alerted to every pine needle, bike, mailman or leaf that passes through your lawn. Barking is a natural behavior in dogs but when excessive, it can quickly become an annoyance to you and your neighbors.
The Basis of Barking
Domestic dogs inherit barking from their wild ancestors. They may bark to call pack members (you, your family and possibly other pets) to alert others of their location, or to get attention when they are left alone. Dogs bark a warning when their territory has been invaded and try to make the intruder go away. Keep in mind that while you understand the boundaries your house and your yard, your dog may perceive its territory as being much larger and feel the need to ward off potential intruders – even if they’re half way down the block! Activity in neighboring yards or other animals can also trigger barking.
Some breeds of dogs are more prone to barking behavior because of the jobs they have been bred to perform, though there are always exceptions. Some herding breeds, like Australian Shepherds and Shetland Sheepdogs, bark in order to herd their flock. The Kuvasz and Great Pyrenees also worked closely with herds but as guardians keeping would-be predators at bay with their bark. Terriers bark to tell their handlers of their location in underground tunnels when they find game or need to be dug out. Again, this working behavior is inherited by our nonworking pets. Look into the breeds that you are interested in to see if their needs and traits fit into your lifestyle.
To Bark or Not to Bark
Owning a dog doesn’t mean forfeiting calm and peace. Through prevention and patience your home can remain a quiet haven. You can start by exposing your puppy to a wide variety of people, situations and sounds in a calm, positive way. This will get your puppy used to the various things he will encounter in his environment and reduce alarm barking. Begin obedience training with your dog as soon as you bring him home to establish a clear line of communication, keep him active and mentally stimulated. Daily exercise will help burn off energy that might otherwise go into barking.
When you are unable to supervise your dog, keep him in a crate or puppy-proofed area in your home where you can control his surroundings. Keep in mind, activity going on around your dog that he can't investigate or participate in can induce frustration barking. Give your dog an interactive toy to keep him busy and entertained. Kong or Star Mark Everlasting Treat Ball, or stuffed hollow bone will give him something to focus his energy into other than barking.
Be aware of how you react to barking. Raising your voice, or calling your dog to come in when they bark may inadvertently encourage nuisance barking. Use positive reinforcement when your dog gets your attention the right way.
Teaching your dog to bark and be quiet on command will clearly tell your dog when it is appropriate to vocalize. Teaching these commands is quick and easy. Have a friend stand on the other side of a door in your home – be sure they can hear you give the speak command. Tell your dog to speak and have your friend knock on the door to induce the dog to bark. When he does, immediately give him a tasty treat that may take a while to chew. While he is chewing, tell him quiet. Your dog cannot chew and bark at the same time. He will soon associate chewing on a yummy treat with the command quiet. Practicing this exercise several times a day and staying consistent will show your dog when it is acceptable to bark. Reward your dog regularly for being quiet in the house without being told.