We’ve all heard the phrase “follow your instincts,” but no one does this better than a dog.
This one is very personal to me because I have suffered through nuisance barking myself. But having come out on the other side, I can tell you it can get better.
Although barking is a natural behavior, it can also really get on our nerves. Remember that a large part of doggy communication is through body language and the other is through sound: barking, growling, whining, yelping, whatever form it may take in your household.
By this, I don’t mean let him bark until your neighbors are wearing ear plugs, but it is important to know why your dog is barking. What is he telling you? This could be communicated to you by the pitch or frequency of the barking or by his body language. Are his ears perked up or flat? Is his body wiggly or stiff?
Most barking behaviors become a problem when they are miscommunicated as aggression or otherwise accidentally fed by us humans. Two very common barking behaviors are attention seeking or fearful (sometimes territorial).
This bark is usually of higher pitch and the dog tends to look at you or even paw at you.
Giving in to this behavior is like feeding the beast. All too often we give into to these behaviors without realizing it and then when we try to ignore the behavior later on we find our pooch having a temper tantrum. Two musts to extinguish this behavior:
First, you must work on preventing it. Even if your dog has never exhibited the behavior before, these are good exercise to practice. If you have work to do on the computer or are about to make a phone call or just want to sit and watch TV, give your dog something to do so that he doesn’t beg for your attention. My go to is a bone stuffed with cream cheese and then frozen. Have a couple in your freezer so you are always prepared.
Other ways to prevent this behavior is exercise. Take your dog on walks or play fetch out in the backyard. If you don’t have a yard, take him to the park or forest preserve on an extra-long lead.
Second, when you do observe the behavior you must ignore it. If you give into the barking, your dog will learn that it works for him, that by barking or whining he gets what he wants. If one day it doesn’t work he won’t understand so he will try again and again and he’ll get louder and then you have the equivalent of a child rolling on the floor and kicking in discontent.
Sometimes dogs bark because they are scared. Never force a fearful dog to interact with something it is afraid of instead be patient and let your dog approach at his own speed. Also pair scary things with treats. Even if your dog doesn’t seem scared of the jogger that just went by, give him a treat. This will give him positive associations with joggers and when they pass by, he will look up at you for a treat instead of pulling away or barking at them. This goes for bicyclist, skateboarders, children, even inanimate objects like blown up lawn decorations.
Never force interactions
Create positive associations (pair with treats)
This type of barking often gets confused with aggression, but the truth is that this type of dog is not aggressive, he is actually afraid. That said, it is not to be taken lightly. This behavior often happens when on leash. All animals (humans included) have a fight or flight instinct. Unfortunately a dog on leash knows that his flight option is no longer available so he puts on a big show barking and sometimes lunging. When the person or dog he just barked at leaves he realizes that it worked and so he does it again and again until it becomes a habit. Number one with this kind of barking or reactivity on leash is to seek positive-based training, but there are precautions to take in the meantime.
Allow your dog some space. Again, don’t force reactions. I also suggest that if you find yourself in a situation where he is barking at another dog or person that he leaves the situation, instead of watching the other dog (or person) leave. This won’t fix the problem, but it is a good start.
It also helps to know that if you do have a dog that just needs some space, you are not alone. In fact, there is a movement called the Yellow Dog Project which is about identifying and educating the public on dogs with these types of issues. The idea is to tie a yellow bow on your dog’s leash or harness to let people know that your dog needs space. The hope is that this will become universally recognized. Read our blog about the project’s start.