November 15, 2013
Barking problems

Dogs bark for a variety of reasons, some good, some not so good. Sometimes barking may be a welcoming signal, other times a warning. Some dogs bark briefly, and other times just wouldn’t quit – and therein lies the problem.{{more}}

By nature, some breeds tend to bark more than others. “Bequia Poodles” and Shetland sheep dogs, for instance, tend to be very vocal. Greyhounds and Basenjis, in contrast, rarely bark.

Barking is a form of communication. When people or other dogs are around, barking can be a statement intended specifically for them.

Barking serves different purposes; sometimes it is used to repel, with a tone indicating “Stay away!” and other times to attract, the tone being “I’m over here! Where are you?” Even the most inexperienced dog owners will notice the variety in their dog’s barking, ranging from the muted “woof” of appreciation or alarm, to the loud angry series of barks indicating aggression.

Barking often serves as an alarm call. Many owners appreciate such alarm barking and some domestic dog breeds have been selected for an advanced warning system of this nature. When the barking produces the desired result, the “language” is reinforced and perpetrated. However, not all of this “language” is wanted or appreciated by friends or family (let alone the neighbours). The key to dealing with barking is to be able to turn it off.

When Barking Is a Problem

In order to deal with a barking problem, you first need to know why your dog is barking.

To Get Attention: Most people get a little irritated when the family dog barks and gets whatever he wants. These dogs are pushy individuals who insist on getting their own way, demanding attention and the limelight. This is the kind of dog that will not allow you to sit peacefully and relax. Instead, he will bark in your face, demanding to have a ball thrown, to be allowed on someone’s lap, to be given food etc.

So, what allows a dog to become like this? One word could describe this, “conditioning”. Although we sometimes don’t realize it, we are training our dogs all the time through our actions. No dog will persist in a strategy that doesn’t work, whether that strategy is barking, whining, or crying. Whatever produces the goods is what is reinforced.

A dog that barks to get attention will have been trained to do so by random intermittent reinforcement for barking. Barking for attention, if ignored, will intensify before it dissipates, because the dog will try even harder, at first, to make his point. Here are some suggestions on how to deal with an attention-seeking barker.

Attention withdrawal. Ignore the “bad” behaviour and only respond with attention when the dog is quiet. You should not make direct eye contact with the dog, speak to him, or touch him, when he is barking. To the attention-seeking dog, any attention is better than no attention – even if it’s in the form of scolding.

Bridging stimulus.: If the attention withdrawal becomes tedious, a bridging stimulus can be employed to hasten progress. A bridging stimulus is a neutral sound, such as a whistle or even a click, that is made as soon as the dog begins a tirade. It signals that you’re about to withhold attention. This strategy can produce a speedier resolution of attention-seeking barking, than simply ignoring the dog’s barking because it focuses the dog’s attention on the consequences of its actions.

Punishment: Audible punishment can be a deterrent. This can be done by issuing a command, such as “No bark!” and punishing the dog by shaking a “shake can” (a can with a stone inside of it) or by blowing a whistle if he does not respond to the command immediately. The technique sometimes works, but audible punishments are only really effective for more sensitive types of dog.

To be continued …

For further information, contact: Dr Collin Boyle Unique Animal Care Co. Ltd. Tel: 456 4981