May 31, 2006
Nuisance Barking I
One of the most widespread problems facing owners and trainers today is nuisance barking. Barking is an instinctive canine behavior and therefore presents special challenges when it comes to control. While sometimes useful to their owners, barking dogs can cause major disturbances in their neighborhoods. This is especially true in urban and suburban settings, where families live in close proximity to one another.
Territorial barking is, perhaps, the most common of all barking behaviors. It is triggered by the sight or sound of a person or animal intruding on what a dog believes to be its territory. Very often dog owners encourage their dogs to alert them to the presence of outsiders. Problems arise, however, when dogs continue to bark after performing the task of alerting.
There are several ways to go about controlling territorial barking. The first, and most obvious, plan is to modify or lessen your dog's territorial instinct. This instinct starts to develop in dogs at about nine months of age, and can take up to three years to fully develop. Therefore, it is wise to neuter or spay your dog before it is nine months old in order to reduce its territoriality. Spaying and neutering may have some calming effect on your dog's territoriality, but it is only one aspect of a program to control barking. We will need to go further.
A regular schedule of obedience training is essential in controlling territorial barkers. While traditional obedience training may not meet the barking problem "head on," it does establish a strong master/dog relationship. This relationship, in turn, strengthens a dog's working instincts and willingness to follow commands.
One of the challenges we face in controlling territorial barking is that it is a strongly reinforced behavior. Suppose a cyclist or pedestrian is passing by your home. Your dog, seeing the "intruder," barks at him or her. In a few moments that person moves along and is out of sight. Your dog thinks his barking chased away this interloper, thus reinforcing (rewarding) his barking. He will most likely repeat this behavior when another intruder appears.
Because external stimuli such as sights and sounds trigger territorial barking, common sense dictates that by reducing these triggers we can lessen problem barking. The use of solid fencing such as stockade prevents dogs from seeing passersby. If your dog is highly territorial, do not leave him out in the yard unsupervised. His barking may escalate into nuisance barking. It's better to build a "quiet zone" in back of your home where your dog can be outdoors without seeing a lot of activity.
Some dogs are extremely territorial even when inside the home. They may run from window to window, barking at passersby all day. For such dogs, an indoor quiet zone is recommended. A gated area or a comfortable crate will provide your dog with a "den" for his quiet time. Be sure to provide interesting chew toys to help prevent boredom.
Yelling at a barking dog is not a good strategy. Your yelling may be misinterpreted. In fact, your dog may think that you have joined in on the barking to chase away intruders. A better approach would be to teach your dog a command such as "Quiet," to shut down the barking.
After several alert barks from your dog, gently cup his muzzle with your hands, saying, "Quiet." Have a treat in your hands as you do this. As your dog takes the treat, say, "Sit," and praise, "Good boy." As your dog learns the "Quiet" command, slowly withdraw food rewards while continuing verbal praise. He will soon learn to cease barking and sit on the command "Quiet."
Left unchecked, territorial barking can lead to aggression in some dogs. So be a good neighbor and responsible owner by training your dog in obedience regularly and teaching him to quiet on command.