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We’ve received many questions about barking, and today we are going to talk about WHY our dogs bark and what we can do to help them express themselves in a different way.
Dogs bark for a number of reasons. It is one of the many ways dogs communicate with us and one another. Dogs can bark out of fear, excitement, frustration, pushiness, and even boredom, but WHY they are barking isn’t as important as what we do about it.
Regardless of the dog and their issues, I will always recommend more mental stimulation throughout the day. This goes for barkers, too. Make them think. Teach them to work for their breakfast and dinner. Teach them new tricks. Teach them to walk politely on leash, etc. These activities drain mental energy and help us in the barking department.
That being said, this alone will not cure barking. Barking is the expression of a buildup of energy in the dog. The barking is a symptom, and if we spend our entire time addressing the symptom, we probably won’t work through the illness. Like I’ve said in every article so far, a barking dog’s brain is running too fast.
For dogs that bark in the house, you must first do your best to eliminate the triggers for barking. If your dog sits at the top of the couch, stares out the window, and barks at every leaf that blows by, you must restrict access to the top of the couch and the window. You should also leave a small leash on while you are home and able to supervise. This leash should be 1 to 2 feet long with no knots or loops. (Never leave a leash on an unattended dog). Every time the dog barks, for whatever reason, give the dog a poke in the side to interrupt their energy. No different than tapping someone on the shoulder when you are trying to get their attention. Once you have the dog’s attention or you have stopped the barking, teach the dog what TO DO. Use your small leash to direct the dog away from the door or window and toward a quiet place like a bed. Teach them to lie down on the bed and relax every time they feel like barking. Eventually the dog will let go of the barking behavior and associate the previously stressful situation with calmness.
For dogs that bark on walks, use the same poke, but rather than having them lie down, simply create space between them and the stressor. Do not change your route completely, as this will teach the dog that the stressor really is a big deal. Just create some distance and then continue moving past the stressor. Show the dog that you will take care of them and then teach them that the stressor isn’t as scary as they thought.
For dogs that bark in the car, you must practice without driving. Start by teaching your dog to hold the down command in the car. Work in half hour stretches (without driving anywhere). Once your dog can down and HOLD IT in the car, you can take it to the next level. Park your car in a busy area, sit in the back seat with the dog, and watch the world go by. Poke your dog every time their energy gets too high and then ask them to down in the car like you had practiced. You will have to do this many times until the dogs starts to make consistent choices to stay calm. It works, so stick with it!
For dogs that bark while you are away, your must take an all-encompassing approach to training that addresses their mindset as a whole. This takes time, dedication, and consistency, but eventually we will have dogs that are calm and relaxed in almost all situations, whether we are there or not.
Calmness is magic. You should seize every moment to create it and cultivate it. Your dogs will thank you.
Stephanie Vichinsky is the owner/head trainer of United K9, LLC in Post Falls. 208-964-4806