Barking is natural; this is how dogs communicate. In the wild, dogs bark to raise the alarm for danger and to interact with their pack. An important thing to remember is that asking a dog never to bark is like asking a child not to speak. It is only when barking gets excessive that something needs to be done about it. After the cause of excessive barking has been determined, treatment can begin.
Excessive barking can be caused by many different factors. Dogs bark when they are territorial, fearful, bored, lonely, seeking attention, greeting, and playing. Barking can also be a sign of pain, separation anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, or another medical condition. Usually when a dog ages and becomes senile, it will bark more. Sometimes it is due to the dog no longer recognizing family members or getting “lost” in the backyard, or it could also be the dog is barking just to hear its own voice. More often than not however, a dog will bark excessively because it is unhappy, and it is up to the owner to take responsibility to fix whatever underlying cause is present.
It is always important to talk to a veterinarian regarding excessive barking, as increased vocalization can be a sign of many medical conditions. After a full physical exam, history check, and an assessment of the clinical signs, a veterinarian may order a blood test or urinalysis. A brain-stem auditory evoked response test can be done as well to rule out the onset of deafness.
Once health problems have been eliminated, behaviour modification should be considered. It is essential to begin dealing with excessive barking as early as possible. As a puppy grows, so does its anxiety and aggression in relation to whatever is causing the barking. Barking can actually cause an adrenaline rush in a dog, and a dog that learns “barking is okay” will continue to bark, especially when stressed or stimulated.
Some behavioural conditions, like separation anxiety or compulsive barking, will need intervention from a behaviour specialist or veterinarian. Drug therapy (Benzodiazepine, Tricyclic Antidepressants, Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, Clomipramine) can be used to keep pets calm during stressful situations, but reducing arousal can help as well. Keeping the blinds and windows closed to reduce sight lines and noise, and turning down the lights will provide a dog with a quiet place to rest until its owner gets home.
When treating any type of behavioural issue, a dog needs exercise, discipline, and affection. Many dogs are not exercised enough (especially apartment dogs) and their pent up energy releases itself in vocalization. Increasing stimulation in a dog’s life by adding more exercise, companionship, toys, or agility games may be beneficial. As for discipline, train the “Quiet” command using positive reinforcement. Reward the dog with treats when it is calm and quiet, while saying “Quiet” in a stern voice and performing a simple hand gesture. Never scold a dog when it barks, as scolding will be perceived as attention (and therefore affection) by the dog. Yelling can even entice a dog to bark more, as it thinks the owner is joining in. It is better to ignore the bad behaviour and reward the good behaviour when it comes to training. A reward can be a treat, a favourite toy, playtime with another dog, or a hearty belly rub. Some owners use shock collars to deter a dog from barking, but collars can often cause more problems. A dog may associate the “shock” with whatever is stimulating them to bark, and in the end will be more fearful and aggressive. An alternative to a collar is having a dog “De-Barked” by removing the folds of the larynx. This procedure does not stop the barking, but instead reduces the noise by leaving the dog with a raspy bark. De-Barking surgery is usually dangerous, and can cause choking, dyspnea, and chronic pain.
Raising a dog takes patience, work, and consistency. A dog needs a strong and confident leader to teach it how to react properly to stimuli in its life. As long as an owner is willing to put in the time and effort required, excessive barking behaviour can be modified, and completely cured.