Monday, March 18, 2013

The Critter Corner by Dr. Steve Velling

“A Bark with Bite”

Joe couldn’t sleep. For the fourth straight night, the neighbor’s dog Bailey was outside barking incessantly. At first he tried to ignore it, then he tried plugging his ears with ear plugs, but that bark still seemed to work its way into his brain. It was 2 AM and he had a big presentation tomorrow. If he didn’t get some sleep he wasn’t going to be his best, not ideal for impressing the boss.

This scene may be playing out in a neighborhood near you. I was asked to write an article about barking, that it is becoming a common complaint in Ashburn. A dog barks primarily for communication, but the causes are numerous, depending on both the circumstances and the individual dog’s state of mind.
  • Warning – Dogs will bark if they see someone approaching their house or yard, or if they sense danger. Their bark is saying “Stay away” or “Hey, somebody come quick!”. This protective bark can often be trained and controlled.
  • Anxiety – This bark is a cry for help. Something is creating fear in the dog and they are expressing their need for attention, often accompanied by whining. This may be heard during thunderstorms or when the owner is gone from the house.
  • Playfulness – This is a dog’s way of saying “Hey, there’s fun stuff going on! I want in!” They will bark like this when they are playing with people or other dogs, or in anticipation of a car ride or play time. 
  • Boredom – When a dog has nothing to do, or is being neglected, they will bark to let out energy or to express their loneliness. These dogs need something to do and lots of exercise.
Once you determine the causes of barking, you can take steps to control the unwanted behavior. The best way to prevent the barking is to remove any source of the behavior. Be careful not to inadvertently encourage the barking, and look for other outlets that will help curtail the barking by redirecting his/her energy and focus.

  • Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. A dog needs to get out that excess energy, especially if they are a puppy or young dog.
  •  Avoid leaving your dog for long periods if at all possible.
  • Never comfort or reward your dog for barking for attention – this will only encourage it to bark more next time.Try a loud clap or whistle to stop the barking. When they are quiet, take that moment to reward their behavior.
  • If you haven’t already, train your dog or go to classes to learn. You have to get your dog to focus on listening to commands to stop barking.
  • Do NOT let your dog bark outside constantly, regardless of the reason. This is a quick way to turn neighbors into enemies and to get either the HOA or the police to pay you a visit. 
  • Consult your veterinarian or a trainer if you are still having trouble.
Poor Joe had to do something. At 3 am he called over to his neighbor, Matilda, and asked if she realized that Bailey was barking outside. She apologized, saying that her hearing aids hadn’t been working well recently so she didn’t know about Bailey’s barking. She brought him inside and Joe had at least a few hours of solid slumber before going to work and nailing his presentation.

In this case, if a friendly call doesn’t help, then a reasonable letter may be the next step, suggesting a trainer. If that doesn’t help, then perhaps a call to the HOA may be needed. This may add to an already strained relationship, but at that point you may be too sleep-deprived to care.

Till next time, Dr. Steve,                                   

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