What To Do About Excessive Barking

Oh, the wonderful sound of a dog barking. Barking is natural and a normal communication method for our canine friends; however, when barking becomes excessive it can become a nuisance for owners and, in some cases, a disturbance to the whole neighborhood. While everyone’s tolerance level for excessive barking is different, the following county code examples can help owners determine if their dog’s barking may be in violation:

King County K.C.C. 11.04.230 Animal Noise

Any animal that makes “oral noises to an unreasonable degree, in such a manner as to disturb a person or neighborhood” is in violation of the animal code.

Snohomish County Code 9.12.060

A dog that barks for at least 10 minutes during any half hour period.

Kitsap County Code 7.14.030.2 Animal Noise

For any person to keep or own any animal which by its barking, howling, baying, squealing, crowing, crying, bleating, screeching, or making any other noise that, by its volume or frequency, unreasonably disturbs or interferes with the peace of any person for more than fifteen minutes of any one-hour period of any day, on three or more separate days during a sequential seven-day period

Pierce County 8.72.090 Public Disturbance Noises

Frequent, repetitive, or continuous sounds made by any animal which unreasonably disturb or interfere with the peace, comfort, and repose of property owners or possessors.

Grays Harbor 6.04.030 – Unlawful to keep certain barking dogs.

It is unlawful for an owner or custodian of any dog or dogs to permit, keep or maintain any dog or dogs that frequently, repetitively, or continuously bark(s), make(s) other loud or unusual noises, or in any other manner disturb(s) the peace of any person. An owner who keeps or maintains a dog whose barking or howling, sustained for one hour or intermittently for three hours, can be heard at or beyond the boundary of the property on which the dog is located violates this section. 

 

Why Dogs Bark

 

Before discussing how we might help our dog who is barking excessively, it is important to first understand why dogs bark. Just like humans, dogs bark to communicate how they are feeling and to express their wants. Dogs may bark when calling out to other dogs, expressing emotion, being territorial or when trying to grab their owner’s attention. Any noise, no matter how slight, can stimulate a barking response – for example rustling leaves, a banging window, lightning or thunder, or a ring of the doorbell. Dogs may also bark due to fear, boredom, frustration, or when they are feeling anxious.

Excessive barking is often a sign your dog is stressed or their needs are not being met. For example, when one of our scoopologists enter a backyard your dog may be alerting you that a stranger is in their territory. Historically, many breeds of dogs were kept guarding their owner’s homes and properties, or to alert owners about the presence of intruders. Although today many owners find alert barking frustrating, it’s important to remember that this behavior is natural for dogs.

Again, barking is a normal behavior and is simply our dogs trying to communicate with us. However, when dogs bark excessively (as defined above), this usually indicates an underlying issue. The most important thing to keep in mind is there is always a reason for our dogs barking, it’s our job to figure out what our dogs need.

 

How do you stop your dog from barking?

 

Find the Trigger

According to veterinary,  Dr. Rosemary Elliot, “The first step is to work out the cause of the problem. Is your dog barking repeatedly in a certain situation because they’re scared of something (also known as a ‘barking trigger’)? Are they barking to get your attention? Are they barking to protect their territory? Are they barking when you’re not at home because they’re bored?”

Common trigger situations can be when a dog is scared of another dog, when they’re around objects like vacuums, lawn mowers or cars, or when they’ve been conditioned to be alarmed by something that we usually wouldn’t recognize as frightening, for example people in high visibility clothing, glasses or hats.

Once you’ve identified the trigger, it’s time to do some simple obedience training to retrain your dog’s brain to not associate the trigger with a need to bark. Behavioral modification training involves using rewards-based, or positive reinforcement, to teach your dog what ‘good’ behavior is.

Slowly expose your dog to their trigger and reward them whenever they don’t bark. For example, if your dog’s trigger is someone walking past the fence, have someone approach the fence several times, starting out a few yards away and then getting closer and closer each time. Every time your dog doesn’t bark, reward them with a treat. If they do bark, simply ignore them and try again. Likewise, if your dog’s barking is a way of gaining your attention, only give this attention when they are quiet.

Remove Distractions

Another possibility is if your dog is spending their day looking out the window and barking — at people, dogs, and vehicles in your neighborhood — a key to stopping this kind of barking is to remove the distraction. By managing your dog’s environment and their access to distractions you may be able to reduce or even eliminate excessive barking.

Adding blinds or curtains to your windows can block the visual distractions from your dog. In addition to creating visual barriers from neighborhood distractions, it can be useful to use a white noise machine or to turn on a white noise playlist, radio, or television to help muffle distracting noises from outside your home.

Develop Alternative Behaviors

In addition to managing your space to reduce your dog’s engagement with barking triggers, it’s helpful to teach alternative behaviors for your dog to do instead of barking.

For example, if you know your dog barks excessively when a package is delivered, you can teach your dog that when the doorbell rings they should go to another area of your home to get rewarded (instead of barking at the door.)

To start teaching this new behavior, have a friend or family member ring your doorbell and when the doorbell rings get your dog’s attention with a high-value treat and rush quickly with a lot of verbal encouragement to the area you want them to go. When you get to that area, reward your dog with lots of high-value treats. Repeat this interaction multiple times over several practice sessions. With practice, your dog will shift their behavior and anticipate running to that area of your home away from the front door to get treats instead of barking when packages are delivered.

Increase Enrichment

Excessive barking can also be a sign that your dog is bored. To reduce excessive barking, it may be helpful to increase the amount of mental and enrichment your dog gets during the day.

In addition to making sure your dog gets enough physical exercise by walks and active playtime, providing brain games for your dog can help alleviate boredom barking. Stimulating activities like a stuffed KONG for your dog to solve and eat satisfy dogs’ chewing and foraging instincts—all while providing healthy mental and physical stimulation that keeps your dog happy and healthy.

 

Barking At You

One of the most common types of excessive barking is attention barking or demand barking. This very persistent bark is often directed towards the owner/members of the household and/or other dogs. Attention barking is exactly what it sounds like – your dog is trying to get or “demand” attention, food, play, walk, outside etc. 

When it’s directed at another dog, it looks very similar. One dog is barking incessantly at the other dog who is often ignoring their attempt to interact. It’s important not to confuse demand barking with reactive or fear barking. Reactive barking towards an unknown dog or fear related barking when confronted by another dog is not the same thing. Attention/Demand barking is usually directed towards a dog that the barking dog has already met or knows very well and is often coupled with play bows, silly body postures and even bringing toys to the other dog.

Remember, dogs do what works so instead of letting your dog train you, ignoring the barking is the best way to curve this behavior. Often with the aid of ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones, avert your attention and gaze, you can even turn your whole body away from them, and wait for them to stop. When your dog stops barking, even for a few seconds, say YES! and give your canine companion a treat or a short play session. Your dog will quickly learn that quiet gets the attention from you or whatever it is they are demanding.

If your dog is a frequent and persistent attention barker with other dogs, you can help by distracting your dog and redirecting them to something else. Using a “Positive Interrupter” is a great way to move your dog away from the other dog. You can then engage in play or direct your dog to a toy. The other dog will be thankful, likely they have been ignoring the barker and communicating they are not interested in play at the moment. But dogs (usually puppies) that insistently bark at other dogs for attention often lack the social skills to understand that the other dog does not want to interact. Sometimes these pups need a bit of help to understand, it’s time to move away and find something else to do with that energy.

 

Breed Considerations

All dogs are individuals, and some will bark more than others. How much a dog barks can have a variety of causes including a dog’s socialization and training. In addition, some dog breeds are naturally more vocal than others. Some breeds tend to bark more because of the jobs (like guarding) that they were bred to do.

Additionally, because of their size, some dogs will have larger and louder barks than other dogs. If you are sensitive to barking or live in an apartment, it’s important to keep in mind how large a dog’s bark is, as well breed characteristics, before getting a dog. If you have a breed that is naturally very vocal, you’ll need to be especially attentive to supporting your dog to avoid issues with your neighbors.

 

Don’t Punish

Having a dog barking too much can be stressful. The frustration can also be heightened if you have neighbors complaining about your dog. When you’re stressed, it can be tempting to get loud yourself. However, getting into a “yelling match” with your dog doesn’t solve the barking problem. The louder you yell, the louder your dog barks and generally ends up just escalating your dog instead of calming them down.

Instead of getting frustrated, try to recognize that your dog isn’t actively barking to make you mad, rather they are communicating a need or desire in the only way that they know. Aversive dog training doesn’t help your dog learn anything — it just punishes behavior without giving an alternative.

You love your dog, and obviously want them to be happy and healthy. When you have a dog, you know with certainty that they’re going to bark–whether out of fear, to be territorial, as a joyful greeting, for attention, or maybe because of boredom. However, excessive barking really can be an issue for your dog, you, and your neighbors. Changing your dog’s behavior is recognizing and addressing the underlying cause for the barking. Once you know why your dog is barking, you can make lifestyle changes to prevent barking and you can teach alternative behaviors. As in all cases, consistency and patience will be key to your success.

 

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