Dogs bark for many reasons – out of excitement, boredom, anxiety, fear, to defend a territory, or get some attention. The noise may become a problem when dogs bark frequently or at inopportune times and disturb their owners or other people in the vicinity. Recent scientific studies indicate that over 30% of dog owners complain that their own dogs make too much noise.
Determining whether a dog is barking excessively is subjective. Some breeds, like beagles, have been bred for generations to have a loud and distinctive bark and can be expected to use it at the slightest provocation. This is a desirable habit in some instances but can wear on a person's nerves at other times. If a dog's barking has become annoying, several questions need to be answered if a precise treatment plan is to be developed. For example:
- where is the dog when it barks excessively?
- what stimuli tend to set off an episode?
- does the dog bark most when its owner is present or absent and how does the owner respond?
Regardless of the underlying cause, treatment for cases of excessive barking should center on positive reinforcement of the desired behavior (e.g., being quiet) rather than punishment for barking. Anti-bark collars can play a role but are most effective when they are used intermittently and the dog is praised for not barking after the device has been triggered. If a dog is barking out of fear or anxiety, no form of punishment, including anti-bark collars, should be used. Anti-anxiety medications can be a helpful in these instances. Most cases of excessive barking can be greatly improved if an owner is patient and persistent.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008