As long as dogs have been around and then domesticated – they have been barking, and mostly for all the wrong reasons. Some dogs bark because they are bored, others because they are frightened or excited and still others for dominance or territorial reasons.
When dogs bark due to excitement it is usually because something has caught their attention – i.e.; a ball, a squirrel, a cat, other dogs or people. The list goes on and on. What we need to do with the ‘excited barker’ is to desensitize the dog. But just how do we go about doing this? We need to bring their attention to an accepted behavior when confronted with this type of barking. The owner needs to have the dog focus their attention to them (the owner), and away from what is stimulating the dog to bark. Once the dog has learned to focus on the owner rather than the ‘squirrel’ for instance, the owner can move closer and closer to the ‘squirrel’ until the used-to-be trigger is no longer stimulus for the dog to bark. If the dog continues to bark after learning the acceptable behavior – a quick squirt in the face with water works to distract him/her from what they were originally barking at and teach him/her that each time they exhibit the undesired behavior – they will get water in the face. This works to motivate the desired behavior from your pooch, and makes for a better companion for you.
Fearful barking is yet another form of barking which is usually attributed to dogs who are under-socialized or genetically shy dogs. They typically bark at things they fear or something they have not seen before – be it a bag in the wind, flying newspaper, etc. Dogs may lean or hide behind their owners in these instances. Hackles may show and the mouth will be tight with lips drawn back to show teeth. In these cases, we have to keep in mind that the barking is not the problem – the problem is that the dog is fearful. Barking is but a symptom of the fearful dog. An effective way to treat fearful barking is first of all – take notice to what Fido is fearful at, and determine just how close you can get to the stimuli before he begins to bark. You can do this by taking him out for a walk – if you notice he is afraid of a bag in the wind for instance, move away from it until he is no longer barking at it. This will determine the distance at which you can begin training him. Praise and treat him when he is not barking. But, just as soon as he begins to bark again – move away and continue to treat/praise Fido for the desired behavior of not barking. This is going to require patience and continuity on your part. Continue practicing this method until Fido is no longer scared or frightened of the object.
Lastly I will address the issue of dominance or territorial barking. To get Fido to behave in an accepted behavior is, once again, going to require repetiveness and patience on your (the owner’s) part. The key to this behavior is control, because afterall – sometimes this behavior is effective in warding off intruders which is desirable to most owners. One way to control the barking is to establish your (the owner’s) Alpha position in the pack – if you have not already done so. If you have not already established your Alpha position in the pack, and Fido gets over on you all the time – training for you as an owner needs to take place. Fido needs to know who’s in charge. Dogs need direction and owners need to provide that for their dog. One thing we can do as dog owners is practice positive reinforcement for Fido. In other words, if Fido barks when he sees another dog/cat, human entering into his territory – give him his favorite toy or food right away. In this instance, Fido’s attention will be drawn from the stimulus and he will begin to expect good things to happen to him whenever he sees other dogs/cats or humans. This will change Fido’s attitude toward the stimulus and will not allow for barking. Continue to exhibit this training method until the stimulus is no longer in sight. This will make it clear to Fido that the actual presence of another dog/cat or human is what triggers the ‘good things’ to come his way upon happening. Soon, Fido will not bark at the stimulus and expect toys/food and can be weaned off of this training just as he was gradually taught with it.
In closing, if your dog is left out in the backyard for hours at a time – he may be bored and bark just because of this. Keep Fido interested in something. A Kong toy with peanut butter for instance or a nice bone to chew on. If we want our companions to quit with the undesirable behavior and do what is acceptable – we must be willing to put in a lot of time and energy to allow him to be the best companion he can be.