By Dr. Andrew Jones
Dog barking is a very common behavior problem that causes serious grief for pet owners. It irritates the neighbors, scares away the postman, leads to neighborhood unrest, and occasionally lawsuits. In this article you will learn why dogs bark and the causes of inappropriate barking. You will find why the debarking surgery is never advised and is considered unethical. I will advise you on what not to do, then you will find the most important solutions to quickly stopping your dog’s barking at home.
Barking is a completely normal behavior; great for dog communication, guarding and protecting, but a big problem when it happens too much. Finding the cause of the excessive barking is key, as we can focus on this as well to help eliminate the problem barking. Some of the common dog barking reasons: play, giving a warning, from anxiety or fear, in response to the door bell, to keep visitors of your property, or in some cases just boredom. Some dogs will bark in confined spaces ( ie a kennel), being outside in response to other dogs, or just in response to environmental noise ( ie cars, people talking etc.).
Debarking,or ventriculocordectomy is a veterinary procedure in which the dog’s vocal chords are surgically removed. The procedure is outlawed as a form of mutilation in the United Kingdom and all countries that have signed the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. The surgery carries risks, such as anesthesia, excessive bleeding, secondary infections and proliferation of scar tissue obstructing the airway. Barking is how dogs communicate, and this procedure deprives them of this basic means of expression. I fully agree with the European ban on debarking surgery, and advise that you never consider this unethical procedure as an option for your dog.
So what should you not do that most people do?
First quit yelling at your dog to ‘Stop Barking’ or ‘Be Quiet’; in fact this may actually lead to more barking. Your dog is getting attention when he barks, and some dogs find that this attention is better than non at all. Shock collars are painful, and can actually make your dog more aggressive toward the person or other dog that they may be barking at. Do not give your dog positive attention immediately after barking, such as saying ‘good dog’ when he finally comes after calling him for 10 times.
What works then to stop your dog from barking?
The most important way to start is to go back to dog training basics and teach your dog to come when called. Start when you can almost guarantee that your dog will come, not when they are barking. Begin anywhere with no other distractions, and use tasty treats as a positive reward. Always ensure that positive reward is given every time your dog comes when called, never anything negative. If your dog runs out after a neighbor barking, and will not come, go get him as opposed to calling to come at first. You want to set it up that every time you call, he comes, and then gets rewarded with positive attention, petting, and a treat.
The next step in using training to stop barking is to call your dog to come when they are barking. When he comes, give him positive attention and a treat; you want to pet him which will lower his anxiety, decreasing adrenalin which is part of the cause of the barking. Keep the pattern of call, come, praise give a treat, and pet him consistently every time there is barking you want to stop.
Keep your dog away from the places where he barks- in other words set him up for success. If your dog constantly barks when you leave him outside, then avoid these triggers by keeping him inside, especially while you are retraining. If the barking is in response to your doorbell, then remove the doorbell. Make it a priority to never let your dog bark constantly while being outside, and if the come when called command isn’t working, immediately bring your dog inside.
Adequate exercise is one of the big keys to resolving many canine behavioral problems; this gives your dog a purpose, and allows them to better regulate their own emotions. Incorporate the come when called training command while walking, and make it a priority to exercise your dog for at least 30 minutes twice a day. Have them retrieve or run as this elevated heart rate helps produce the calming, sedating hormones that can lead to less barking.
Bark spray collars, such as the citronella spray collar, can be helpful if your dog resists training, and is outside unsupervised for short periods of time (and still barks). The collar emits a spray of non toxic citronella in response to the noise of the barking, and causes most dogs to immediately stop. Some of the problem dogs at the animal shelter adjacent to my veterinary practice responded well to the citronella collar; it stopped their barking at the grumpy neighbor, and did not make them in any way aggressive ( except of course to that grumpy neighbor).
A type of therapeutic touch, called Tellington Touch may help your barking dog. The most effective area is the ear. Gently hold the ear flap between your thumb and forefinger. Gently stroke from the base of the ear to the ear tip; repeat the motion several times covering different sections of the ear. Use the same fingers to draw tiny circles at the base of the ear. Try both of the techniques on your dog when he is calm. If he reacts well, then try it the next time he is barking.
There are a number of over the counter anti-anxiety supplements. The most popular one is one called Calm Pet, which contains Melatonin, Kava Kava, St John’s Wort, Valerian and Chamomile. Use as directed on the label. Bach Rescue Remedy is a very safe alternative medication that may calm your anxious pet. Place 4 drops on your pet’s gums prior to leaving.
Dog barking really can be controlled, especially when you understand why your dog is barking. The causes are varied, but ultimately you must accept that it is a normal dog way of communicating; your dog just needs to bark when it’s appropriate. Debarking or ventriculocordectomy is a dated unethical veterinary surgery that can cause harm and should never be considered as an option. Go back to basic training, starting with teaching your dog to come when called. Consider the use of a citronella spray collar if your dog is outside unsupervised, then look at trying some of the holistic anti-bark options in conjunction with training.
Dr Andrew Jones, DVM
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