At this time of year, our windows open up to sweet scents of spring – and the headache-inducing annoyance of the neighborhood nuisance barker.
Is this dog yours? The owners of problem barkers seem to develop an ability to ignore the noise that has their neighbors thinking of legal action – or worse. But a dog that's barking night and day isn't having any more fun than the neighbors are, and you owe it to both your pet and those who can hear it to fix this problem.
The first step is to figure out why your dog is sounding off so much. Dogs bark to express a variety of emotions: anxiety, boredom, territoriality, aggression, playfulness and hunger. Certain conditions in a dog's environment can trigger these emotions – and barking fits – more frequently.
The typical neighborhood nuisance is an outdoor dog that isn't getting the exercise and attention it needs. Dogs are social animals and need to be part of a family. If your dog's outside because of poor manners or because it isn't house-trained, give it another chance.
Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist and arrange for an in-home consultation to fix the underlying problems.
Once you've brought the dog into your life, keep it busy with regular outings. Exercise, both of the body and of the mind, works wonders for all dogs, especially those that bark from boredom or to release excess energy. You'll be amazed at how much calmer, happier – and quieter – your dog will be!
For the barking that remains – some dogs are just naturally yappy – your task is to train your dog to be quiet on command when you're home and to reduce the barking triggers when you're not.
Teach your dog to be quiet by distracting it from barking, saying the word "Quiet" or "Enough," and then praising it for minding – it'll make the connection soon enough, with repetition and lots of praise. Rattling a can filled with pennies is a commonly recommended distraction, and it works well. Shouting at your dog does nothing except make you feel temporarily better, since your dog may see your own loud yap as "chiming in."
Work to minimize barking cues to keep your dog quiet when you're not home. If your dog barks while looking through a window that faces the street, keep it out of that room while you're gone. Many dogs fire up when they hear car doors slam; other dogs bark at the mail carrier's steps on the walk. Muffle these sounds by leaving a radio playing while you're not home, and your pet is more likely to sleep than bark. Giving your dog something special to chew on, such as a Kong toy or hollow bone stuffed with a little peanut butter, will help to keep it occupied and quiet while it's awake.
For the most persistent barkers, an electric collar that shoots citrus or citronella mist when the dog barks may help, in concert with other strategies. The mist is harmless to the dog – the citrus tang smells good to humans, but dogs hate it. The hiss of the mist releasing from the canister and the smell itself are annoying enough to distract the dog and correct it. Citrus mist collars can be an effective alternative when someone is so desperate they're considering bark collars that shock the dog, surgical debarking or even euthanasia.
Chances are that if you bring your dog into your home and train it – get help if you're not getting anywhere – you'll never get that desperate.
No matter what, working on this problem is well worth the effort: You, your dog and you neighbors will all be happier.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.petconnection.com. Back columns: www.sacbee.com/spadafori.