While some barking is natural and healthy behaviour for dogs, when it’s done in excess it usually means that there is an underlying cause of stress which is driving this behaviour to unhealthy levels. In other words, the excess barking is usually the symptom rather than the cause, and to stop it, we need to identify the source of the issue and shift this rather than just focus on the barking itself.
The main issue we find at the source here is stress. Stress can manifest itself in many ways in a dog’s life, just like in our own, and this stress needs to have an outlet. If you are stressed, chances are you pace up and down, chew your nails, bite your lip, fidget, fiddle, scribble etc, and for dogs, barking is a great alternative (along with other behaviours such as digging and chewing).
Here are 7 common reasons why stress may crept its way into your dog’s life and why he/she may be barking excessively.
Is your dog bored? Before you say no, really think about this. Many clients think that because the dog has lots of toys and bones, that their dog cannot be bored. But what is seen as interesting and enough for you may not be enough for your dog. A bored dog will easily become a destructive dog or a barking dog. In every 24 hour period, after the ‘hour’ of exercise we give them and the 15 hours of sleep, that leaves 8 hours a day to fill. Just like a toddler with nothing to do, they will find their own forms of entertainment. They can’t just do NOTHING in these extra hours. For more ideas and tips on this please read my other blog article on here titled “Ways to Challenge Your Dog’s Mind and Body”
Lack of exercise
This may seem cliché, but making sure your dog has enough exercise is fundamental to keeping them fulfilled and happy. That’s why we encourage sport with kids, and especially teenagers. If in doubt, try more exercise and see if things change. What may seem like a lot to you is usually not a lot to a dog. Think about exercise they would give THEMSELVES if they had control of this – it would be hours, and include loads of variety – such as play, migrating, tracking and exploring. Every dog is different however, so you’ll need to find the right amount for your dog. For eg, a young border collie is going to need a lot more exercise than an older bulldog. Exercise in the morning is usually essential if your dog is going to spend several hours alone during the day. If you are genuinely unable to give your dog the right amount of exercise to keep them balanced and fulfilled, please consider hiring a dog walker or taking turns with a friend so you both can double up. If this is still not an option, you may need to consider that this is not the right dog for you and your lifestyle. It is simply not fair or realistic to expect a dog to “deal” with ongoing excess energy levels – this energy has to come out somewhere.
Many clients are surprised to learn that their dog’s diet plays a huge part in both health AND behaviour. Again, just like kids, artificial colours or preservatives, grain, and processed and packaged foods can often lead to ADHD, irritation and moodiness. We highly recommend switching to a RAW natural diet and leaving tinned food, dry kibble and biscuits alone, or at least use them sparingly. We have seen profound changes in the general wellbeing of most dogs when this has been implemented, and this in turn will help issues such as barking and chewing.
If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, they feel immediate and genuine stress when you leave. This is usually a relationship issue, and as such only happens when the dog is alone. More often than not, the dog becomes stressed about the loss of control of the pack member (s) who have left the pack. This can be described as similar to co-dependency in humans, and often also means the dog has lost the ability to self pacify. Overstimulation, giving affection and attention at the wrong times and emotional upset or issues within the human pack members are common causes, however this can be a multi layered issue. Contrary to popular belief, it is very fixable in the majority of cases once the underlying causes are addressed and the dog can return to comfortably being left alone. If you feel your dog has separation anxiety, please call a specialist for advice or help.
Stress in the humans’ life
You are not an island. Pack animals live and think as one, and share emotional energy as their key form of communication. What you feel, they feel. Therefore any stress you are holding or experiencing for any reason will flow through to them and this negative emotion will communicate to them that there is something wrong. Becasue they live in the moment, no matter what your source of stress is and when it occurred or is due to occur, they will assume it is happening now. The safety and survival of your pack means everyone helps when there is danger or problems so this will send your dogs into stress (ACTION) mode. If your stress levels or emotional states are high, good chance your dog will reflect this. Even rushing out the door late for work regularly can trigger this.
Feeling unsafe or overwhelmed with having to protect
If a dog feels overwhelmed with the role of protecting their pack, territory or themselves, they may overdo things and become hyper vigilant.
Some dogs are genuinely insecure without a stronger energy around to provide safety and direction – these are the true ‘followers’. The stress that this can create can lead to defensive, overprotective behaviour where every possible threat is overdone – “I’ll get you before you get me”. Giving these dogs a ‘leader’ is essential, whether it is you or another dog. Spoiling them may seem nice from your side of things, but it usually creates insecurity in the dog. Elevating any weak disposition to a position of authority will load them with more responsibility than they can handle and issues arise.
This type of dog will often feel more insecure in open, exposed areas, such as on corner blocks, big open patios, or not a lot of shelter from above. Providing a sheltered, comfy, hidden “den” where the dog feels like they can hide when alone can really help here, but again, each dog is an individual and an overall assessment and plan is recommended.
If your dog has at some learned at any stage that barking is a good option and has found relief (boredom, anxiety etc) you may simply have a residual habit, even if the original source of stress has been dealt with. In these cases, when you are sure the habit is the only issue remaining, you will need to support the dog to break this habit and allow their brain to ‘rewire’. Just like us, it usually takes 2-3 weeks of 100% consistency for this to work effectively. A hit and miss approach is not the answer. There are some great products out there to help you do this (we are happy to run through options with you) but please remember that most bark collars etc will only address symptoms, not the cause. It is essential to eradicate the source of stress first, and to correctly match the right product with each dog.
Hopefully this has shed some light on how to stop your dog barking, please give us a call if you would like some individual help.