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Ask Dr. Wan: How to Stop Your Dog's Excessive Barking

A certified applied animal behaviorist answers a reader's question about how to reduce her dog's barking.

I have 2 dogs - a poodle mix and a Pharaoh Hound. My question is "How do I get the Pharaoh Hound to quit barking at EVERYTHING?"  She barks at people, dogs, noises, etc. I've tried squirting her with water (she moves a lot faster than my arm moves, however), yelling at her, and telling her “Bad Dog."  I did buy a "bark collar" for her, but it makes me feel too bad to use it.  I love her, but she's so aggravating with this behavior.  I thought about putting coins in a jar and shaking them at her, but I know that would terrorize the other dog who is not such a barker.  Please help me, my neighbors, and family. - Darla D.


Your instincts are right about avoiding the use of the bark collar and the coins in a jar.  It’s not just my opinion that punishment can be detrimental; see this statement from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.  Short time-outs (up to 1 minute) by leaving the room or putting your dog in another room are generally the only type of punishment I might recommend in this situation.  But first, rather than punishing the behavior that you don’t want, instead change the focus to positively reinforcing your dog for the behavior that you do want.  In other words, reward your dog for being quiet, and teach her that sounds and sights from outside are events to be celebrated.

From your dog’s point of view, she is being effective at guarding your home from intruders and making them stay away.  You can help her understand that there is no need to be so vigilant by pairing stimuli from outdoors with her favorite foods (try boiled chicken, cut-up hot dogs, or soft, meaty store-bought treats).   As soon as a person or dog walks by or a sound is heard, feed her treats continually until the person or dog has passed or the sound has stopped.  Make sure you have the food ready, and try to feed her before she starts barking.  In the beginning, if you are not able to catch her before she starts barking, it is okay to let a few barks slip past.  If you keep at the training consistently, your dog will eventually learn to come running to you for her treat when she sees people or dogs or hears noises outside.  Because it sounds like the behavior is quite frequent and has been going on for a while, you might want to enlist professional help to help you assess the behavior and come up with a more specific plan.  Suggestions for selecting a dog behavior professional are available here.

In addition, set your dog up for success by limiting opportunities to practice the unwanted barking behavior.  Avoid leaving her outside unattended, and when inside, cover up windows or doors from which your dog watches people and dogs pass.  Using blinds and shades can help a great deal in reducing barking.  If you don’t want to block out sunlight, you can purchase window film online or at a home improvement store.  In addition, for sounds, try keeping a TV, radio, white noise machine, or other background noise on to block out sounds from outside.  Lastly, you can also improve your dog's behavior by keeping her well-exercised and busy with toys and other activities. 

Here's to restoring peace and quiet to your home!

 

Dr. Michele Wan, a certified applied animal behaviorist, provides dog behavior consultations and classes to Fairfield County dog owners and phone consultations to owners from other areas.  She earned her doctorate and researched dog-human communication at Columbia University.

Have a dog training or behavior question?  Post your questions to Dr. Wan below, or e-mail them to AskDrWan@westportdogs.com.  Please read the guidelines before submitting your question. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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