Barking and Destruction
I am often surprised at the number of owners that have barking and
destructive dogs. How do they manage to put up with all that the noise
for so long? Perhaps after a while, we manage to turn a deaf ear to the
racket the dog is making. In many instances, nothing is done about the
dog barking until a neighbor complains.
Most neighbors will tolerate a great deal before actually confronting
you about the problem, so you can usually be sure that if your neighbor
is saying that the dog is barking a lot then the dog really is barking
excessively. Do you live next door to a barking dog? Or are you that
neighbor from hell with the dog that barks all day and night?
Many barking and destructive dogs are given the label ‘Separation
Anxiety’. Once a vet hears of this type of behavior he might prescribe
the latest drug Clomicalm manufactured by Norvartis. However this drug
should only be used in combination with behavioral therapy techniques,
which very few vets are aware of.
The University of Warwick have recently carried out a survey into the
causes of separation anxiety to try to identify any common factors. The
survey showed almost seventy five per cent of vets reported seeing up to
five cases per month with the other twenty five percent seeing more than
this. That totals to one case every single week for every vet in the
country! Barking dogs are definitely a problem!
Separation disorder is rarely the reason that a pet dog owner will take
the dog to the vet, since most owners do not understand the problem. One
of the worrying aspects of the survey is that fifty seven percent of
owners stated they could not keep their pets because of the barking or
Male dogs between one and three years of age from the working or terrier
breeds were most prone to these problems. This does not mean that you
will never encounter barking or destruction if you have a female collie
The survey has so far shown that in many cases, a change in family life
or the home led to the onset of barking and destruction. Forty three per
cent were due to a change in the owners working hours, followed by
twenty three per cent from house moving, a new member of the family
showed a nineteen per cent change, and thirteen per cent from the death
of a member of the family.
Of course all surveys will produce different results. I personally find
that questions prepared by companies with a commercial interest and
asked by vets who know little if anything about triggers, which cause
behavioral problems, can be very misleading.
Analyze with Video
As a behaviorist I would be seeking other ways to analyze barking and
destructive behavior to see if particular animals are suitable for
Clomicalm or any other drug. I would install a video camera in the
owner’s home to enable me to study the dog’s behavior when left on its
own. This would enable me to study the dog’s emotional state and decide
whether the medication may help and what type of behavior therapy may be
needed. All too often the owner primes the dog before leaving the house.
An emotional farewell of "Don't worry, Mummy won't be long!" will make
the dog believe there is something to worry about. And then a prolonged
welcome and greeting could reinforce the separation to the dog, further
adding to the anxiety when next left alone.
There are a number of new devices on the market to stop dogs barking one
being the Citronella squirting bark-activated collar. The other known as
the MasterPlus allows the release of an odorless spray, which is
controlled by the owner at a distance by remote control. Roger Mugford
markets both products.
Peter Neville recently wrote, that being punished for barking is not he
answer. In the case of the citronella-squirting collars, there is an
added disadvantage that even if the dog is quiet after getting a nose
full of unpleasant scent, that scent remains in his environment, still
punishing him when he is silent. The whole house becomes associated with
the possibility of being punished by these collars and the dog may
become even more disturbed by the prospect of being left. Other dogs
soon learn that they only need to stop barking whilst they are wearing a
certain collar - the one that makes the nasty smell.
Here what to do
So, what should you do if you own a barking dog? First of all, teach the
dog a "Shush!" command. This can be done quite easily by allowing the
dog two or three barks, then hold a piece of tasty food under his nose -
the dog will not be able to sniff and bark at the same time. This gives
you several seconds of quietness that you can praise before allowing him
to get the treat. Try making a chart of when the dog barks. Most
neighbors will be happy to help out here! This could show that the dog
starts to bark when the post arrives - a remote post box may be all that
is needed to stop the barking. One dog I know of started to bark when
the central heating boiler fired up, about an hour before the owners got
home for the evening.
Whilst you're out of the house
It is generally reckoned that most barking and destructive chewing
happens within half an hour of the dog being left alone. Think of ways
to entertain your dog for that critical half hour. Offering a tasty
bone, or Kong toy stuffed with something nice tasting, just as you are
about to leave the house will keep the dog amused for some time. Hiding
dog biscuits around the house will keep many dogs happily searching for
But most of all, cut out the dramatics! No big leaving or arriving acts.
Try to ignore the dog for at least 15 minutes before you leave the
house, and also ignore him for the same time when you return home.
Ignore means do no look at the dog, do not speak to the dog and do not
touch the dog. You could even try saying "Hello" to all your houseplants
before speaking to the dog! And if you are living next door - offering
help can be a much better tactic than calling the cops!
Commitment, Firmness, but kindness.