Bark Management 101

Dogs bark. That’s how they communicate. But what if your dog barks incessantly? What if your dog is waking the baby up all the time or driving the neighbors crazy? Don’t call the doggie psychologist quite yet. Sometimes, you simply need to correctly diagnose the problem, and then teach your dog to stop the behavior. Here are some strategies:

Figure out What Your Dog Needs
Your dog barks because it wants your attention. Instead of ignoring the barks or hushing your dog, step back and try to figure out what your pal is trying to tell you. Ask yourself: Is your dog bored? Sad? Anxious? Afraid? Lonely? Most of these conditions can be fixed by spending more productive time together. Here’s what you can do to help:

Engage your dog. Instead of sitting on your patio and reading a book with your dog nearby, play a game of fetch or teach a new command         

Burn energy. Your dog might need more stimulation in the way of longer walks or jogs to feel part of the greater world. Moreover, exercise will zap excess energy that your dog will otherwise burn by barking.

Hire help. If you find you’re short on time, hire a dog walker or neighborhood kid who can entertain your pooch.

Be good company. Keep your dog inside with you, if possible, so that your best friend can at least feel your presence.

Behavior Modification
If you know your dog is perfectly self-actualized, perhaps you’ve unknowingly taught your dog to bark. For example, the owner who opens the door when the dog “speaks” reinforces the dog’s notion that you will respond to vocal commands. If this is the case, you’ll have to try behavior modification.

Teach your dog the command “Be quiet”: First, ask your dog to bark. Then, hold a treat in front of your dog’s nose. Your dog will immediately stop barking to sniff, at which point you say, “Be quiet.” When your dog complies, reward it with verbal encouragement and strokes. After three seconds of quiet, give your dog a treat. If your dog makes a mistake (and your pal will), clap your hands to provide a distraction and repeat the exercise.

Dogs With Barking in the DNA
Several breeds are known for barking, and unless you aim to purchase a watchdog, you may want to take this into consideration when you select a dog. These breeds include:

  • Chihuahua
  • Cairn Terrier
  • German Shepherd
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Rottweiler
  • West Highland White Terrier
  • Yorkshire Terrier

Dogs that bark too much can be completely irritating. Make sure your pet minds its manners and barks only when necessary -- such as when your football team scores a touchdown.


Photo: @iStockphoto.com/WilleeCole

What to do with a dog that won’t stop barking

It’s hard to believe that your little Sparky, who’s always such an angel when you’re home, could be making so much noise when you’re away. But if your neighbors are at their wits end with your dog’s barking it’s important to get to the bottom of why he’s doing it, and then figure out how to stop it. We enlisted the help of Victoria Wells, senior manager of behavior and training at the ASPCA’s Adoption Center, to answer a few questions on barking—and to help us determine when we might need to worry.

How do you decipher between normal barking and excessive barking?

Dogs communicate with other dogs and with humans through barking, so it’s unrealistic to expect a dog not to bark at all. But what constitutes as ‘excessive barking’ is really up to the owner and their particular situation. Many owners only discover that their dogs are barking when they’re not home because they get noise complaints from their neighbors.

Is there cause for concern if your dog didn’t bark much before, but has begun to recently?

Some dogs don’t begin using their voice until they have reached a certain age. If they transitioned from puppyhood into adolescence, they may have just found their voice and this is normal. If an adult dog who has been typically quiet for most of their lives begins to bark this may be a signal that something is troubling them in their environment, health wise, or behaviorally.

What’s the best way to curb excessive barking?

Barking is motivated by different emotional states, and there are different causes for it. So, the first step is to identify why a dog is barking. To do that, you need to find out whether the dog is barking intermittently or consistently throughout the day. To figure this out, try recording the dog when you’re away. Or, the next best thing would be to ask a neighbor for their observations on your dog’s barking patterns.

What does it tell you if the barking is intermittent versus consistent?

If the barking is intermittent, the dog is likely ‘alarm barking’, or alerting to noises it hears outside. But if the barking persists throughout the day while the owner is absent, it could be because of something like separation anxiety.

How do you deal with alarm barking?

If the dog is alerting to noises in the hallway of an apartment building, or even outside, the first thing you want to do is provide them with entertainment and stimulation while the owner is absent. We recommend some sort of enrichment toy filled with food to keep their mouths busy and their minds stimulated. Then, you want to block the outside noises. So we suggest providing some sort of consistent white noise like from a white noise machine, classical music [which studies have found calms anxious pups], or even a simple, inexpensive box fan placed near your entrances or windows.

What if your dog is doing a lot of barking outside?

Again, it depends what the trigger is for the behavior. Many times barking is socially facilitated, which means they’re communicating with another dog. Sometimes that’s just how they say hello, and you’ve got to expect that once in awhile. If it becomes problematic, or if they’re incessantly barking, you’d want to distract them from other dogs by giving them treats while other dogs pass.

If the barking is towards people, then you probably have a greater issue and you might want to seek help from a professional dog trainer or behaviorist.

What role does exercise play in a dog’s barking?

For every form of barking, exercise is a great antidote. If the barking is attention-seeking, if it’s out of boredom, or even if it’s anxiety based, aerobic activity is going to decrease that behavior.

If the barking is attention-seeking, the last thing you should do is give the dog attention, because then you’ve essentially reinforced that they will receive attention when they bark. I know it’s hard, but you should ignore them when they’re barking and then pay attention to them when they’re quiet.

How do you determine if a dog’s barking is because of anxiety?

That’s where something like a recorder comes in. If you determine that the barking lasts almost the entire time you’re gone, it’s more likely to be because of anxiety than an outside noise. There are other symptoms that would accompany the barking as well, like excessive panting or housetraining accidents.

What should you do if you determine the barking is a symptom of separation anxiety?

First, exercise is very important. Then, since separation anxiety stems from a very strong bond that the dog has created with their person, it’s important to teach the dog that the world won’t end if its owner isn’t right next to them.

We suggest placing the dog in an area of confinement, like behind a baby gate or in a dog crate for just 10 to 15 minutes every couple of hours. Give the dog something to chew on, like an interactive dog toy with food in it, leave the room and then return when the dog is not stressed out and is not barking. When you enter and exit the room, don’t make a big fuss, just walk right past them. Once your dog calms down, then interact with them.

Could a dog’s bark indicate duress?

Yes, a bark can indicate that a dog is injured or ill. Most people know what their dog’s typical bark sounds like. If it deviates from something the owner is used to, to something that sounds like the dog is in distress, then you should you take your dog to the veterinarian.

Remember: Certain breeds also tend to be more vocal than others, like Beagles or Yorkshire Terriers. So, if you are sensitive to barking—or you live in a building or neighborhood where a barking dog wouldn’t be welcome—it’s important to do your homework when picking out your new furry friend. Also keep in mind your city or county rules on noise violations. If you’ve got a particularly antsy neighbor who complains all the time about your vocal pup, he could be within his rights to involve the authorities. If that’s the case, you’ll want to try out some of the above tactics to curb your dog’s barking sooner rather than later.

Good Dog Park Etiquette

For most dogs, dog parks are a bit like Xanadu. There are no leashes, they get to interact with lots of other dogs and they can run as fast and be as rambunctious as their little hearts desire. It’s pretty great.

For their owners, however, navigating the terrain can be a bit trickier, as sometimes what constitutes for “well mannered” can get a little murky. If only there were an Emily Post for pooches.

Until then, here are some unofficial rules that will help ensure both you and your pet avoid becoming the dog park pariah.

1.      Be on your best behavior. When bringing your dog to an open-play park, understand that people often have different ideas about what constitutes play versus fighting in dogs, or what is acceptable behavior and what is not. For the most part, these are judgment calls, and not rules written in stone. Try to be calm and compassionate in your interactions with other owners. Something else to keep in mind: Most dog parks post their own rules and regulations right near the entrance. Be sure to read and understand those before entering, as well.

2.      Know your dog’s signals. The dog park is not for every pup. If yours seems overwhelmed by the play—if they lunge, snarl, snap or growl at the other dogs--it might be too much for them. They could be feeling more threatened than engaged. On the other hand, it can be hard to see (or sometimes admit) if your dog is the bully, but it is imperative that you try. If your dog is aggressive in his treatment or intimidation of other dogs, a behavior class could be beneficial before trying another trip to the dog park.

3.      Be smart about safety. Do not take your puppy to a dog park until he has had all of his shots. If he is not properly vaccinated, he will be highly susceptible to potentially deadly diseases. Similarly, do not take an unspayed female in heat or an unneutered male to the dog park. This increases not only the likelihood of unplanned pregnancies, but of fighting and aggressive behavior as well.

4.      Break it up the safe way. If you ascertain that your dog is not merely playing, but has gotten into a fight, don’t immediately step in to intervene. First, make lots of noise—clap your hands, bang on the fence, shout, blow a whistle—to try to get your dog’s attention. If that doesn’t work, approach your dog at the same time that the other dog’s owner approaches them. Make sure your dog knows you are there before you make any physical contact. During a heated exchange, biting would be instinctive and should be anticipated. Once the fight has stopped, both owners should put their dogs on the leash and leave the park for the day. The next time you visit, be aware of whether or not the same dog is visiting the park again. You can always try another go-round with the two at the park at the same time, but if they don’t get along again, it’s probably best to avoid the park whenever the other dog is around.

5.      Be prepared (Dos and Don’ts). 

  • While some dog parks have hoses or fountains for thirsty dogs, some don’t. Do consider bringing a water bottle and small dish for your dog on hot days. 
  • Don’t bring treats or toys into the park, as it creates a power imbalance among the dogs that can lead to tension and even altercations. 
  • Don’t talk or text on your cell phone while in the park, as you should be focused on and attentive to your dog. 
  • Do have some waste bags on hand. Not cleaning up after your dog is perhaps the greatest dog park party foul of all.

How to Play Soccer With Your Dog

While it may be hard to imagine your beloved Fido out on a field dribbling a soccer ball, shooting on a goal and scoring, in fact there are many dogs that do just that—and love it! Whether you’ve seen them strut their stuff at a half-time show, on a TV talent competition, or in family films like 1999’s Soccer Dog: The Movie, here are three reasons we can’t get enough of dogs playing soccer.

1.) It’s adorable. When Mark Lucas saw a dog dribble a soccer ball at the halftime show of a professional soccer game, he became determined to train dogs the same way. Soon after, he founded Soccer Collies, a troupe of dogs who can run with the ball, bounce it off their noses, and even catch it between their paws and their chin. Lucas brings his dogs to interact with kids and adults at schools, charity functions, and sporting events. BEK and Ms. Z, his two beloved Collies, are even able to shoot (and score!) on a goal.

2.) It’s fun! The first step in teaching a dog to play soccer is finding out whether they’re ‘ball motivated,’ says Lucas. The simplest way to figure that out is to bounce a basketball in front of them. If they seem excited and eager to play, then they will likely enjoy learning tricks with a soccer ball. “All breeds that like a ball will play soccer,” Lucas added. At first your pooch might not know quite what to do with a ball that’s too big for him to pick up in his mouth, but soon enough he’ll figure out how to pounce on it and move it with his paws. “People shouldn’t get discouraged, it does take time,” says Lucas. Start simple by having your dog bring you the ball. If you reward him with praise and treats, he’ll be much more inclined to keep up the good work. Of course, it becomes even more fun when you get in the game and run, pass, and steal.

3.) It’s healthy.  In the wild, dogs spend their days moving, running, and scrounging for food. Domestic dogs, on the other hand, often spend their days relaxing, sleeping, and lounging around. That’s why walks and play are so incredibly important for keeping your dog healthy and happy. Dogs that aren’t getting enough physical activity often display negative behaviors like digging, chewing, barking, jumping, hyperactivity, and sometimes even aggression. Getting your dog to run around with a soccer ball is a great form of exercise, not to mention an opportunity for you and your dog to bond. “The dogs are getting a great physical workout,” says Lucas, “and they’re also getting a mental workout. The more you play, the more they want to play, and that’s how they get to be so good.”

You can find out more about Lucas and his furry friends at SoccerCollies.com, or on Twitter @SoccerCollies.

Big Fun for Little Dogs

Is your lap dog spending too much time lounging on your lap? Or maybe there’s little lap time and too much yapping from your petite -- yet vocal and bored -- pet. In either case, small-dog expert Deborah Wood can come to the rescue for you and your dog.

“I think the big thing for owners of little dogs to remember is that these dogs have the same needs as their larger cousins,” says Wood, who is the author of The Little Dogs’ Activity Book: Fun and Frolic for a Fit Four-legged Friend. “They need exercise and mental stimulation. The great news is that they don’t need a lot of space to meet those needs.”

Make sure your small friend gets the mental and physical exercise he needs. Wood, who is also the animal services manager for Washington County, Ore., shares her top tips to help you provide big fun for your little dog.

Loose and Easy
Take your dogs for walks -- and stay in charge. Your small dog should have no problem following basic commands such as “Watch me,” “Sit,” “Come,” and “Down-stay.” For small dogs, learning how to walk on a loose leash is essential, according to Wood. Before outings, your dog should be on a comfortable buckle or snap collar, she advises. “Have him on a lightweight 4-foot or 6-foot leash -- not a flexi leash.”

Small dogs tend to have big opinions about where they’d like to go, darting left when you want them to go right or zipping to the right just as you’re ready to go left. The instant your dog pulls in the other direction, say “Let’s go!” as you gently guide your dog. This verbal command should always accompany the correction. When your dog is walking on a loose leash, “provide an easily chewed treat and tell him he’s a very, very good dog,” says Wood. Combine this with the “Watch me” command later, and soon your dog will be merrily walking wherever you go, paying attention to you for guidance.

Matching Activity to Breed
The adventures you and your dog will enjoy are partly determined by your pet’s breed. Woods suggests the following guidelines by breed:

  • High-energy-level activities -- including chase and fetch games, agility, flyball and hiking -- are often enjoyed by dogs of these breeds:

    Affenpinscher, Australian Terrier, Bichon Frise, Border Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Jack Russell Terrier, Parson Russell Terrier, Miniature Poodle, Papillon, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Rat Terrier, Schipperke, Scottish Terrier, Shetland Sheepdog, Silky Terrier, Smooth Fox Terrier and Toy Manchester Terrier.
  • Moderate-energy-level activities -- including long walks, dancing and tricks -- are frequently enjoyed by furry friends of these breeds:

    Beagle, Boston Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Chinese Crested, Dachshund, Havanese, Italian Greyhound, Maltese, Manchester Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, Norfolk Terrier, Norwich Terrier, Pomeranian, Pug, Skye Terrier, West Highland White Terrier and Yorkshire Terrier.
  • Low-energy-level activities -- including shorter walks and work as a therapy dog -- are often enjoyed by the following breeds:

    Brussels Griffon, English Toy Spaniel, French Bulldog, Japanese Chin, Lhasa Apso, Pekingese, Shih Tzu and Tibetan Spaniel.

Your Little Dog Is Unique
Your dog’s breed is only half the story. Each and every dog has its own unique personality, likes and dislikes. Over the years, Wood has taught her own small dogs “a ton of fun tricks, from playing the piano to the dog sticking out her tongue on command.”

It doesn’t matter so much what you do, however. “It’s all about fun, bonding and joy, and having a positive relationship with your dog,” says Wood. “What could be better?”

Check back on ExceptionalCanine.com for more small-dog activities and training tips from small-dog expert Deborah Wood.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/ParkerDeen