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Dealing with Barking: Strategies to Control Excessive Vocalization

Dealing with Barking: Strategies to Control Excessive Vocalization

Dogs bark for a variety of reasons. Some barking is completely normal and serves an important communicative function for dogs. However, excessive or nuisance barking can become a real problem for pet owners. Before trying to curb barking, it's important to understand why your dog is vocalizing so much in the first place. Common reasons for frequent barking include:

  • Boredom/loneliness
  • Alerting to noises or movement
  • Play or excitement
  • Territoriality/protectiveness
  • Anxiety/fear
  • Attention seeking
  • Compulsive/repetitive barking

Certain breeds like hounds, terriers, and guarding breeds tend to be more prone to frequent barking. Dogs left alone for long periods with insufficient exercise and mental stimulation are also more likely to bark excessively. identifying the triggers and contexts for your dog's vocalizations will help you address the root of the behavior.

Training Your Dog to Stop Barking

While you can't realistically expect your dog to never bark, you can train them to reduce excessive barking through positive reinforcement techniques. Some useful strategies include:

  • Desensitization and counterconditioning using recorded noises or visual triggers. Reward calm behavior and silence around these triggers.

  • Teaching "quiet" or "enough" commands and rewarding your dog for complying. Never yell at a barking dog.

  • Providing sufficient daily exercise and enrichment activities to prevent boredom. Food puzzles, chew toys and play can help.

  • Managing exposure to stimuli that cause territorial barking like fencing, doors, and windows. Use curtains, positive redirection, or indoor barriers.

  • Addressing underlying anxiety issues through pheromones, training, or medications if necessary. Consult a vet or trainer.

  • Discouraging demand barking for attention by rewarding calmness and ignoring attention-seeking barks.

  • Using citronella or ultrasonic anti-bark collars. These shouldn't be used without supervision and can have risks.

  • As a last resort, talking to your vet about medications to reduce anxiety and compulsive barking tendencies in severe cases.

The key is addressing the motivations for barking and making it rewarding for your dog to stay quiet in situations that normally trigger frequent vocalizing. It takes time and consistency, but barking can be minimized in most dogs.

Making Your Home and Yard Less Bark-Friendly

Beyond training, there are several changes you can make around your home to help discourage excessive barking:

  • Restrict access to windows and doors where your dog watches for triggers. Close blinds/curtains or apply decorative film.

  • Use noise machines or music to mask outside noises that prompt barking. Place them near doors or windows.

  • Minimize sounds from outside by ensuring fencing is solid and opaque around your yard. Plant privacy hedges.

  • Bring your dog indoors at times of peak neighborhood activity if they bark at passersby. Create a comfortable indoor space.

  • Ensure your dog gets sufficient outdoor time for exercise, play and enrichment to prevent boredom. A tired dog barks less.

  • Provide food puzzles, chew toys and interactive play to occupy your dog's mind and energy. Rotate items to keep it interesting.

  • Avoid accidentally reinforcing barking by startling or yelling at a barking dog. Stay calm and use positive reinforcement.

  • Use pet-friendly appearances like window clings to deter territorial barking at outdoor spaces. Apply these sparingly.

With some environmental management and training, most dogs can learn to curb barking inside and outside the home. Never punish or scold a barking dog, as this can increase barking. Maintain realistic expectations, as no dog will be silent all the time. The goal should be to control excessive, nuisance barking that disrupts the household.

Collars and Devices to Stop Barking

There are a variety of collars and devices on the market that claim to reduce or stop barking through vibrations, sounds, or sprays. These include:

  • Citronella bark collars – Detect barking and emit a spray of citronella near the dog's face to deter further barking.

  • Ultrasonic/sonic bark deterrents – Emit high frequency sounds when barking occurs. Only audible to dogs. Can be collar-based or standalone devices.

  • Vibration bark collars – Detect barking and issue a startling but harmless vibration. Aim to condition dog to avoid barking.

  • Static/electronic bark collars – Emit a small static shock when activated by barking. Considered inhumane by many trainers. Very controversial.

  • Spray bark collars – Detect barking and spray water or inert gas on the dog's muzzle. Aims to surprise and interrupt barking.

  • Manual bark deterrents – Handheld devices an owner activates to produce an unpleasant sound, vibration, or spray when the dog barks. Requires supervision.

While sometimes effective at curbing barking, many of these devices carry risks. They should never be used without first consulting a veterinary behaviorist or certified dog trainer. Risks include:

  • Stress, fear, or pain inducing collars can worsen anxiety and worsen barking long-term. They suppress rather than solve barking issues.

  • Devices using punishment can damage the human-animal bond. Dogs may associate the punishment with owners or environments.

  • Improper collar use can injure dogs if activated randomly without barking or for extended periods. Supervision is critical.

  • Dogs can adapt and bark despite the deterrent if highly motivated. The root cause of barking must still be addressed through training and management.

  • Collars are a temporary fix and barking often resumes when their use is stopped. They do not fix motivations for barking.

While bark deterring devices have a place in curbing nuisance barking, they should be a last resort after training and behavior modification efforts. Work closely with your veterinarian or trainer when using these tools to avoid any unintended consequences.

Medications to Reduce Excessive Barking

In severe cases where excessive barking is linked to underlying anxiety or compulsive behavioral issues, medications may be recommended in conjunction with training. Some medications used for excessive vocalization include:

  • Clomipramine – FDA approved for dog separation anxiety. A tricyclic antidepressant. Can reduce compulsive behaviors.

  • Fluoxetine – An SSRI sometimes prescribed for anxiety disorders causing vocalization like noise phobias.

  • Benzodiazepines – Fast acting anti-anxiety medications like alprazolam or clonazepam. Used for short term anxiety reduction.

  • Natural supplements – Products containing ingredients like melatonin, tryptophan, chamomile, and L-theonine aimed at calming anxiety.

As with humans, not all dogs respond the same way to pharmacological treatments for behavior problems. Veterinary supervision is crucial when using medication to curb barking or anxiety issues. Key considerations include:

  • Medication is not a substitute for behavior modification training but rather a supplement when training alone is insufficiently effective.

  • Prescription anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications require diagnosis and monitoring by a vet. Long term use can have side effects.

  • Medications are most effective when combined with environmental management strategies and professional training guidance.

  • Natural supplements have little scientific evidence and purity/potency are unregulated. Consulting a vet first is recommended.

  • Medication trials may require adjustments in dosing and drug type before optimal results are seen. Have realistic expectations for the process.

  • Weaning off medications must be gradual and supervised to avoid relapse of symptoms. Sudden stopping can be dangerous.

While not appropriate for all cases of excessive vocalization, prescribed medications or natural supplements can help reduce barking that's driven by stress, fear, and compulsive tendencies. Working closely with vets and trainers is crucial when exploring this option for your dog.

Getting Help from Trainers and Behaviorists

For serious cases of excessive or nuisance barking that have proven resistant to your own training efforts, seeking help from professional dog behavior experts is advisable. They can help in several ways:

  • Identify the underlying motivation and context for frequent barking based on expert observation of your dog.

  • Develop an individualized behavior modification plan using positive reinforcement, management, and sometimes medications.

  • Provide guidance on environmental changes and management strategies to minimize barking triggers.

  • Teach you how to reward silence and train alternate calm behaviors using methods tailored to your dog.

  • Oversee use of bark management devices or medications when appropriate to ensure correct and safe usage.

  • Adjust training protocols based on your dog's progress and any setbacks.

  • Provide emotional support and realistic goal-setting when owners feel overwhelmed by a constantly barking dog.

The best results often come from collaborating long term with a trainer or behaviorist. Expect that fully resolving excessive vocalization may take months of diligent effort. Veterinary behaviorists can diagnose and treat any medical components contributing to barking issues. Always ensure any professional uses reward-based training and avoids punishment.

Surgical Interventions for Excessive Barking

In the most severe cases where no other treatments have successfully reduced excessive barking, surgical interventions may be considered as a last resort. However these carry inherent risks and should only be considered after all other options fail. Two surgical approaches include:

Debarking surgery:

  • Removes portions of a dog's vocal cords to reduce volume and frequency of barking. Does not eliminate barking entirely.

  • Considered controversial and banned in many regions. Dogs rely on barking for expression.

  • Can have long term complications like infection, breathing issues, or ongoing pain.

  • Does not address root cause of barking behavior. Anxiety and frustration can remain.

Vocal cord paralysis:

  • Severs the nerves that control vocal cord movement to prevent opening/closing needed for barking.

  • Usually requires extensive testing to identify specific nerves and carries surgical risks like permanent raspy breathing.

  • Can reduce quality of life by removing a dog's ability to communicate vocally.

  • Ethical concerns exist around removing an ability that dogs rely on naturally.

Given the ethical issues and health risks, invasive surgical approaches to stop barking should only be a last resort when no other options provide relief. The root cause of excessive vocalizing should be addressed through positive training and management instead in most cases. Surgical interventions are very controversial in vet medicine.

Learning to Live with Some Barking

While excessive and nuisance barking should be addressed, it's important to have realistic expectations about stopping barking entirely. Dogs naturally communicate via barking and some vocalization will always be normal. Instead of expecting silence, aim for controlling extremely frequent or sustained barking through training and management. Some barking tolerance will always be required. Ways to cope include:

  • Habituation – The human brain has an amazing ability to tune out consistent noise that it learns to categorize as non-threatening. This takes time but allows you to mentally minimize unavoidable barking.

  • Compromise – If your dog barks heavily at one time of day, compromise by securing them in one room with background noise to mask it.

  • Training – Reinforce quiet moments heavily. The more you reward silence, the less inclined your dog may be to bark constantly. But expect lapses.

  • Management – During events that trigger stressful barking like storms or fireworks, proactively use soothing music and pheromones to help maintain calm behavior.

  • Drain energy – Ensure your dog receives sufficient physical and mental exercise daily to avoid barking due to boredom and frustration. A tired dog barks less.

  • Contact neighbors – Politely explain if barking cannot be fully resolved and provide tips to help limit peak times. Most will understand if communicated compassionately.

While implementing training, medications, and management tools, it also helps to adjust your own expectations and tolerance. Creating realistic barking goals and communicating those to family and neighbors can help ease coexistence. With time, habituation and compromises make occasional expected barking more manageable long-term.

When to Seek Professional Help

Excessive and nuisance barking can be frustrating. But it's important not to delay seeking outside assistance if your own efforts to train your dog and curb barking aren't succeeding. Warning signs professional help may be needed include:

  • Barking remains frequent and sustained daily despite diligent training efforts over 2-3 weeks.

  • Barking causes significant disruptions to your household routines and lifestyle.

  • Neighbor complaints or legal notices due to noise are received.

  • Your own quality of life and mental health are suffering due to persistent barking stress.

  • Barking arises from underlying anxiety, fearfulness, or compulsive tendencies.

  • You find yourself yelling at your dog frequently out of barking frustration.

  • Training devices like citronella collars are ineffective or seem to worsen barking.

  • No obvious trigger for barking exists making it hard to address through management.

Don't feel defeated asking for help. Dog behavior experts can often identify solutions that pet owners cannot. If barking is disrupting your home, relationships and mental health, seek professional support sooner than later. Be patient – resolving severe barking issues takes diligence and time. But know that relief is possible with consistent training and management.

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