Barking is one of those behaviours that is a dog’s bread and butter of communication.
They bark when they are excitable, afraid, anxious, controlling, territorial, playful, frustrated, angling for your last bit of toast and the list goes on. There are so many emotions we share in common with our beloved dogs, and often, dogs will express their opinions just as we do; through their voice. So how do we show our dogs that we are listening to what they have to say, but without encouraging them to bark…too much? And, if our dog does bark here and there, is it fair to ask them to stop completely?
The first thing I encourage clients to do is find out what exactly their dog is trying to say when barking. I get people to ask themselves;
Behaviours such as barking occur, always because to some extent the behaviour has been reinforced. Whether that be that your dog does get the last bit of toast when they bark, or that the dog walking past walks away when barked at, there is something in it for your dog when they bark and that is when you ask the next question… what is my dog getting out of it?
If we break down barking into four motivations, we can consider that they may bark because they get one or more of the following:
Attention or what they want from their owner
Stress relief if anxious or afraid
The fearful stimulus goes away
With this knowledge, it is important that we recognise that barking is really just symptomatic of a dog’s emotional state and if we can address those four motivations listed above in other ways, the barking will reduce significantly.
One of my favourite ways to teach a dog that they can have what they want is by introducing the Three Cs. I encourage all owners to look for moments with their dog, when they are
Calm – Cooperative – and/or Controlled
Even if your dog is doing one of these for a second or two, ensure a yummy treat is offered to them straight away. Successfully implementing this strategy means you can then increase the time they do one or more of these, whilst decreasing the amount of rewards they receive. Keep the rewards random, but high value as this maintains the dog’s motivation to offer the 3Cs as often as possible.
If your dog barks at the neighbour’s cat, or the man walking past the front fence, don’t punish your dog, instead use a word that means that if they come back to you, they will get something great! Start by introducing the word inside the house without distraction and pairing it with yummy food/play. When they understand what this word means, you can start to introduce this method when they are protecting their territory. What this does is provides your dog with purpose, but instead in a much more positive way.
If your dog barks for food or attention, there is good reason for them doing it. They do it because they get what they want. Even if they get what they want seldomly, they still learn that barking more and more results in a reward…eventually. So, what I recommend owners do is give their dog something to focus on where they CAN control what they want. This is where I advise introducing mat training. Teach your dog to go to a mat for a reward. This provides purpose and focus and a belief that if they do this behaviour they will get what they want; which is invariably food or attention.
Usually this type of barking occurs when a dog is left home alone. Sadly, it is a reality for many dogs, with some not coping as well as others. The best advice to help a dog suffering from separation anxiety is to give them access to their safe place. If your dog is allowed inside the house, the safe place is where they choose to sleep. The smells and familiarity of this space often alleviates anxiety of the dog, resulting in less need to vocalise their emotions. This is something that needs to be worked on over time and that their safe place is the habitual and a place they voluntarily go to in times of uncertainty.
Keep your dog thinking, active and involved in your family. The more they use their brain for positive activities, the less they bark. All dogs benefit tremendously by playing brain games such as finding their food, obedience tasks, solving problems and puzzles and simple physical exercise. Have fun with your dog. Build a bond of trust and respect, showing that you are listening to them and that you care about their needs.
HIF Pet Insurance Cover
We all love spoiling our fur-kids, yet only 26% of dogs and 19% of cats in Australia have pet insurance - and that could be very hurtful when the vet bill arrives! With HIF Pet insurance, you'll enjoy affordable cover for cats and dogs of all ages. Plus, claiming is easy thanks to our online member Pet Pawtal!