When does Barking become a nuisance and how can you resolve it?

This is something I have been asked a lot over the last 20 years.  What one person may consider a nuisance and excessive barking another person may not.  This must always be considered in any case as acceptable behaviours are different from one dog owner to another. However, there does become a point when this can have some very detrimental effects on the dog, the owner, the people and the environment around them.

Dogs communicate through body language mostly, but there are times when they need to let themselves be heard.  There are times when no matter what the owner does, the dog will not stop barking, he is not listening and is in what we call the “limbic of fixated” state. Anything we say is like white noise to them, and if we shout then we are merely joining in! This is very stressful to both the dog and the owner; if this happens on a regular basis then the health of the dog becomes a problem not to mention the implications for the neighbours complaining about your dog and maybe involving the authorities.

Dogs bark for different reasons and it has different meanings. Dogs communicate via barking. Dogs bark with excitement, for attention, to let you know there are people around or distress barking, for example. A dog may bark in the car, in the garden, in the house, but what is he saying?

For a dog, barking can be a very stressful behaviour especially if it continues.  Constant barking is not normal behaviour or periods of high intensity barking over certain triggers as discussed further in this article then become nuisance barking.  Constant stress like this depletes the body and will, if left as it is, make the dog very unwell over a period of time, this is mostly highly anxious dogs who bark as a way of self-preservation, to ward people or dogs away as they cannot cope with them in their space, even worse their own territory such as house, garden or the car as these areas are where the anxious dog is most secure and feels safe.  The need to defend those areas in a dog’s rational is high.  The solution to that is that we need to make them feel secure, safe, and control their environment and decision making to take away the worry and anxiety.

Some barking can sound quite pitiful when they are wanting to come inside and starts as bark then changes to a whining noise.  You have the howl and bark of a dog with separation anxiety, again a totally different ball game in how you would need to deal with this.  Most certainly you would need professional help in respect of such an issue as this can lead to some severe behavioural problems as dogs have been known to dig out internal doors and walls when in such a state!  9/10 these issues can be resolved with patience, correction and consistency. 

Barking in a car can have a devastating outcome as it can cause accidents as driver error could happen. This type of barking is usually different to territorial barking which mainly happens when the vehicle is stationary and someone approaches or walks past, usually worse if they have a dog. Barking in a car can be the result of a dog being over excited as to where they are going.  Food has a huge impact on a dog’s behaviour.  Whilst this is a very personal choice, most dry food is usually a major factor due to the chemicals and the process that goes into it.  Think of it this way, if you had 20 expressos, would you be calm and relaxed or bouncing off the walls and unable to sit still?

Some dogs will guard their car and then anyone coming very close to it, they will bark, and this becomes a territorial issue. This also goes for dogs in the home, garden and behind a fence.

Dogs may also bark through fear, this may be fear of other dogs on a walk, people, children or general anxiety of the outdoors.  Hugely common, more so after the covid pandemic as these dogs were born into a world of virtually no contact with other people, dogs or general everyday noise and traffic.

Lots of dogs’ bark for attention, this can begin in puppyhood.  They learn so quickly and if we are not careful, they condition us.  Some dogs have learnt to bark and if they stop on command, they get a treat, so they do it again.  Some dogs bark to be stroked or if you are paying attention to another dog, my male English Mastiff, Neville, is a prime example of this.  Some dogs can even bark to demand food, walks and play!!  Barking is also a sign of boredom.  This can go on to create other much more stressful behaviours.

Barking can also be a result of an underlying health issue.  Deafness is the main cause in this respect but problems with the thyroid too can also exacerbate it.  If your dog suddenly develops a barking issue when previously it didn’t have one, then this is the first step to get the dog checked over by a vet.

So how can we help alleviate these problems:

DON’T

Shout or hit a dog.

Do not use cruel equipment such as electric shock collars.  Thankfully, these are now banned but nevertheless there are people and some trainers who do use them.  Do your research. These collars are not to be confused with collars that deaf dogs are trained on.

Don’t (and I really should not have to say this) tie a dog’s mouth shut.  This is barbaric but I have seen it on several occasions, much to my distress.

DO

Correct, affirm and redirect. 

There are many methods to use for different problems and if you are not sure then it is always best to ask a reputable behaviourist.  They can teach you about sound therapy, worry to work exercises and environmental control.

Feed the right diet.

Enrich and walk your dog and meet their needs. Use toys, play scent games and mentally stimulate your dog.

Teach them when to bark and when not to.  An example of this would be when its Amazon or someone you know. I taught mine “enough thank you” and used a squeaky ball to break their fixation. I then affirmed with the “yes” word (quicker than good boy or girl and if you’ve multiple dogs), it also makes you smile as they read the body language of your face and cheeks lifting upwards.  If I didn’t like who was at my gate or approaching me then I say nothing, so they continue to bark. 

If your dog must be left alone, do not give it access to all your rooms and windows. This merely encourage a dog to bark at every person or passer-by he deems to be a threat.  Keep you blinds or curtains drawn in the room you leave him in. Leave a radio or television on and a lick mat, deer antler or bone to keep him busy and release dopamine which is calming and why dogs chew.

Be proactive not reactive.  This isn’t always possible but for instance if you know next door are hanging out the washing and their dog is out, teach your dog to “quiet and leave it” as opposed to allowing the behaviour to happen and then deal with it. Same principle on walks if you know your dog will lose it on the lead seeing another dog. Stop the behaviour before it starts.  Never be afraid to get help.  Dogs are our companions and friends; we want to enjoy them and take them places without the embarrassment of constant barking and not feel the need to avoid situations or dread taking out our dogs.