Barking dogs are a real problem in my area. They bark all hours of the day and sometimes at night, too. The problem is that my dog has now started joining in. I am sure he is annoying the neighbours (and their dogs), but he seems to want to bark back to shut the other dogs up! Is there anything I can do to stop him?

Sue Gilmore advises…

I know exactly what you mean, and can understand your annoyance and frustration. Barking can sometimes be useful – dogs might alert us to a visitor at the door, for example, or tell us there’s something going on outside, maybe even an intruder. The tone and urgency of the barking generally gives us an indication as to the reason for the dog’s response.

Understanding why dogs bark is the starting point, as barking is either wanted or unwanted behaviour, depending on the circumstances. Dogs bark to communicate – to alert family members or other dogs in the vicinity. Wild dogs reserve barking for important issues, like calling other dogs to hunt, or to scare off a threat, but when pet dogs bark all day, it is generally because they have been left alone at home, and it’s a way of communicating to other dogs locally to relieve the boredom. Boredom like this causes some dogs to bark, while others may become destructive in the home instead.

Other causes of constant barking, regardless of whether the dog is alone or not, can be excess energy, anxiety, hyperactivity, or just being overexcited, especially if there is something annoying the dog, such as a cat or squirrel perched on top of a wall. Barking constantly for no apparent reason means that the dog’s needs are not being fulfilled, so if you can find something that will meet the underlying need, the barking should stop. Distracting your dog by making a noise, engaging him with a few training exercises, playing with a favourite toy, and interacting to use up the excess energy may work. In my experience, mental stimulation takes more energy out of a dog than physical exercise, and dogs that attend training classes often tend to sleep for several hours afterwards.

Once you find the key to stopping your dog’s barking, be consistent and diligent. Remain calm at all times and never yell at him or raise your voice, as that will only make things worse. Engaging your dog with stimulating activities, such as giving him a Kong toy stuffed with tasty food, may be enough to control the barking when people approach the house or ring the doorbell. You could use this as a cue to reward your dog for alerting you to someone’s arrival. Consulting a qualified dog behaviourist may be necessary if the problem persists.

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