As a small animal practitioner one question I am frequently asked is “ How do I get my dog to stop barking?” A better question would be: “ Are there any natural methods to prevent my dog from barking excessively?” All dogs should bark. It is their job to let you know when someone strange is in the house or yard, however, continuous barking can be an annoyance to the pet owner if it occurs at night or to the neighbours if it occurs when the owner is gone.
It is important to recognize why dogs bark. In some cases, excessive barking can indicate restlessness or boredom in the dog. Sometimes the dog is lonely and lacks human company. Dogs will also bark if they are hungry, thirsty or have to go to the bathroom! Medical conditions can cause excess barking. Some breeds of dogs bark more than others. There are breeds, like the Basenji, that hardly bark at all.
Behavioural training is the first thing to do if your dog has this bad habit. Make sure the dog has plenty of attention and exercise as a well exercised dog will sleep through the night and only bark if there is a problem. It is a good way of getting rid of “nervous energy” that the dog may have. A dog with a barking problem should be taught to start and stop barking on command. He should be taught who are regular visitors and what sounds he can expect from his environment. This can usually be done with the use of positive reinforcement such as clicker training and rewards. A dog trainer can help you with this.
Socializing the dog can also help with barking. Taking your dog to the dog park and new places helps him get a mental work out and help make him less fearful of new situations and people. Avoid barking “cues” If you know what triggers your dog to bark, try to break the behavioural cycle by associating the event with something positive or distracting him from the cue.
Citronella barking collars can be used if the above methods do not work. The dog’s barking triggers a gentle spray of citronella which interrupts the barking. The dog soon learns not bark when wearing the collar. Eventually the collar can be removed when the dog learns not to bark.
Excess barking can be annoying but it is a habit that can broken with some time and attention.