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September 21, 2022
Is your dog a little more vocal than you’d like him to be? Does he have barking and howling outbursts at times you wish he wouldn’t? Whether it’s due to a case of separation anxiety, where your neighbors clue you into your pooch’s carrying on when you’re not home; or bossy barking when they want something from you; or barking at visitors, here we’ll cover the fact that howling and barking *are* totally normal methods of communication for dogs, but there are definitely some things you can do to reform, or redirect this behavior.
Barking *Is* Normal
Barking is a dog’s means of communication, and therefore a totally normal thing for them to do. Similar to infants crying, when a dog barks or howls, they’re using the only way they know how to tell you they have an unmet need or they need to be removed from a scary or overwhelming situation. And some breeds are more barky than others.
It's normal, but it drives us crazy when they do it at times we wish they wouldn’t. So if you want to reform this behavior, don’t come at it as punishment for barking and howling, but finding the reason why they’re barking and giving them an alternative way to communicate, or removing the stimulus.
As a starting point, make sure your dog’s getting regular exercise, and enough enrichment. Try puzzle toys and games. Well-stimulated, enriched, tired dogs are less likely to have excess energy that comes out as barking and howling. If you work away from the home, try hiring a dog walker that can come for a walk and some play midday.
If They’re Barking to Get Your Attention…
Do your best to ignore your pup in this case. Just like a kid, your dog will find any attention rewarding, even if it’s scolding. If you suspect your dog is habitually barking just to get your attention, when he does it, don’t respond, look, touch him, or say anything. Turn away, look up, or walk away. Give him the idea that howling or barking makes him invisible to you. Show him that being quiet is what earns your attention. The moment he stops barking, reward him with that coveted attention, and also at other times when he’s being generally quiet and hasn’t barked for a while. Give him treats and attention in the moments he’s being quiet and calm. Try abiding by the rule that he doesn’t get anything he wants until he’s been quiet for at least five seconds.
If They’re Barking At Passersby…
Close curtains if it makes sense in your day, or keep your pup in another room, away from big windows, at times like the local school bus drop-off, or when the mailman’s coming.
If They’re Barking When They Want to Go Outside…
You could try training your pup to ring a bell! String up a bell by the back door, and start by bringing him to the bell. When he touches it, give him a treat. Then gradually work your way up to having him ring the bell when he needs to go out.
If They’re Barking When Crated…
Crate training can be super helpful. Check out a Bivvy dog insurance post here that will tell you all about the benefits and get you started. But if your pup is still getting accustomed to the crate, or never really took to it and barks from within, here are some things you can try. If you have your dog crated when people come over, say you’re hosting a party, and your dog barks, don’t reward him by letting him out. Give him a lot of exercise right before, and/or put a puzzle game or even something like a stuffed Kong, in with him.
If They’re Barking When Visitors Come Inside…
If you want this to stop, keep your own greetings of your dog calm and in hushed tones, with low-key movement. Give him a treat or a toy when he remains calm at the door. Pet and interact with him when he’s not hyper or barking, and if you can get visitors to do the same, even better. Teach him to sit and stay when people come in.
If They’re Anxious Barkers…
Separation anxiety in dogs is a common reason for barking, whining, and howling. Maybe your dog’s driving your neighbors nuts by barking and whining when you’re not home. It may be accompanied by urinating and defecating in the house or destroying things. Worse yet, there may be no “separation” involved. Maybe your dog just has a nervous spirit in general even when you’re right there with them. He may circle or lick excessively, or pace. Easier said than done, but identify the source of the anxiety and pursue avenues for controlling it. Help your dog feel safe and secure in your home.
But where separation anxiety is concerned, you can put treats inside a Kong when you leave, or give them a puzzle. Leave the TV or radio on so it can somewhat replicate the household hustle and bustle, keeping them calm and thinking all’s business as usual. You could also look into citronella collars. Some like these as a humane alternative to the shock collar. When the dog barks, the collar releases a puff of citronella, which is a deterrent made from lemongrass oils. Or devices that make a high-pitched tone that only dogs can hear.
Dogs adopted as adults are more likely to suffer from separation anxiety than those raised by the same family since puppyhood. They’re more likely to have a fear of abandonment, but they can be trained to trust and not display anxious behaviors.
You’ve Got This!
If your dog is a compulsive barker and you truly don’t know what to do, work with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) or board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB). And make sure your dog’s not hurt or ill.
If you’re looking for dog insurance, be sure to check out Bivvy. Affordable pet insurance is wise to have on-hand when going through life with a dog. Any training undertaking with a dog can be trying, but stick with it. Consistency is key. Yelling at your dog won’t work. Keep training sessions positive and upbeat. And have everyone in your home be consistent. Good luck!