Making barks a pleasure, not a pain


Dogs being dogs express themselves by barking, just as we do by talking. As pet parents we need to understand this need and encourage it at times. However, it becomes a problem when the barking is ceaseless (or that’s how it may seem at times!). This is where we need to step in as pet parents and take responsibility to nip the problem in the bud.
Each dog has his own reasons to bark and invariably the solutions are also equally varied. This makes generalising them into categories difficult. Here, we are talking about incessant/ continuous bark, which we want to resolve and not the occasional bark which, in my opinion, we should encourage. There are two things we need to know – why does my dog bark? And what steps can I take?
Why do dogs bark?

A dog barks continuously for the following reasons:
Anger: As a guard dog, when he sees an intruder. This sort of barking can further be classified as suspicion and aggression. While the former is easier to cure, the latter is often more difficult to resolve.
Excitement: Most young dogs are very excitable by nature, as when your dog would bark at food time or as you prepare to take him out.
Anxiety: This is a state of nervous tension due to actual or imagined threat. In dogs, anxiety is manifested in many forms – like separation anxiety, noise anxiety, etc.
Rules of rearing
If prevention is the best cure – then the following rules of rearing would be the best thing you can do for your
Philip A Butt
Socialising: In broad terms, it means exposing the dog to various situations and reinforcing desired behaviour. Expose your pup to different people, places, objects, sounds – the works. When he shows undesired behaviour – just ignore it. Do not try to pet him or cajole him, this would reinforce the behaviour. When he is calm – go to him and praise him.
Crate training: It means getting your dog used to staying in an in-house kennel or crate when he is just a pup. I recommend it from the first day you get him. It is a very useful tool to control separation anxiety. A crate-trained dog will not whine and bark when he knows you are going out.
Win your puppy’s love and respect: Easier said than done- it needs a right balance of play, praise, love, correction, firm handling and discipline for your dog to love and respect you as his boss. Pet parents who want to live with their dog on ‘equal’ terms usually end up with demanding and spoilt pets.
Balanced diet: Ensure that our dog is well fed and has sufficient drinking water available at all times. It is amazing how a good diet can itself be a stress buster for many dogs.
Training: Training and its importance in the development of a dog can never be overemphasised. Training teaches your dog that you are the leader of the pack. It helps your dog to focus and be attentive. Most of all, it gives the dog and pet parent a platform to interact – a level playing field from where a pet parent can fairly expect his dog to respond to his reasonable commands.

Coping with the barking problem

In spite of everything, people do end up with dogs that have a barking problem. It could be triggered by shifting to a new place, change of pet parent, new people, and change in activities in the area (like construction) or something we cannot even fathom. Here is what we can do to try and alleviate the problem:

  • Try and identify the cause. It would be smart to try and remove that cause. If your dog starts barking at the sound of your scooter starting, push a distance and start it there. If he barks at other dog, put a screen in front of his kennel/your gate.
  • Give your dog sufficient exercise. Especially if you have a dog who barks away when you are not around – tiring him before you leave is a good option. Not to mention the health benefits he will derive from the rigorous exercise. Needless to say, you will have to gradually build up the exercise schedule. If running with the dog is not your cup of tea, teach him to retrieve on command, few long distance retrieves are enough to wear out a hyper dog.
  • Gradual acclimatization to new people or situations would help. If your dog barks at strangers and you don’t desire it, let them come closer in your presence. Reassure the dog that they are harmless and as soon as your dog is quiet, treat him and praise him. Build up over time till they can actually come close and pet him. Use different people. This might not be easy especially with a dog who has aggressive intent. Basic obedience training would make a world of difference in giving you the opportunity to communicate to your dog and expect a desired response.
  • Speaking of training, it is never too late to teach your dog the ‘speak’ command. Once you identify the trigger that makes your dog, give him the command “Murphy speak” just as he is about to bark. Immediately praise him and offer a treat. If he barks incessantly, just ignore it. Again after some time, tell him to ‘speak’ and reward him for obeying. The trick is that while you’re still rewarding him for barking, he has to keep silent in between barks to get the treat. Once he has mastered the ‘speak,’ use the same technique in reverse to teach him the ‘quiet’ command. With patience you will soon have a dog who keeps quiet on command.
  • If your dog is the type who barks in your absence, you will have to use the ‘creep and peep’ technique. After you leave the premises and go out of sight from your dog, creep back from another route and look out till he stops barking. As soon as he stops barking, run up to him and praise and treat him. Another variation of the ‘creep and peep’ technique is to correct the dog by scolding him, if you find him barking on your return. Either way, it is important that the dog is surprised by your return.
  • Finally, it will be important to remind that training will help you get through this problem, but you have to be persistent. These habits get ingrained with time. The more you delay the training programme, the longer it will take. The best time to start is NOW.

So, if your dog barks continuously, you can train him to become a well-behaved pooch, one you will love all the more!
(Philip A Butt is trained in arms explosive search dog training and methods at Corporate Search Limited, Nottingham, UK. He has pioneered many new dog sports and training techniques in India).