Talk to the Animals

Zoologist and animal behaviour expert, Sally Hibbard, is interested in the relationship between people and their pets. She’s a fan of frogs, scared of spiders and can be seen spotting stick insects.

Talk to the Animals: Dealing with barking dogs

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It is normal for dogs to express themselves through barking, but sometimes it becomes a problem.
Photo / Thinkstock
It is normal for dogs to express themselves through barking, but sometimes it becomes a problem. Photo / Thinkstock

My friends were shocked when I got my two little dogs. "You're not a dog person" they said quite rightly. I like lizards and frogs and all things weird and wonderful. I was even traumatised as a child by a dog - all huge and black and threatening. I very slowly crossed the street to avoid the menacing creature. This was before my parents realised I needed glasses, so despite the fact that 'the dog' actually turned out to be a rubbish bag it was still very unsettling.

My foray into dog ownership started with customers of my animal care workshops constantly asking why we don't have them. Of course any pet I adopt will be loved, but I just hadn't really had the urge to get a dog before. I went along 'just to have a look' at a pomeranian-cross-Japanese spitz pup and instantly knew she would be mine. Unable to bear leaving her only other littermate behind, I came home to my then shoebox apartment with two little balls of adorable fluff. I got very fit walking them twice a day to compensate for the lack of space and to wear them out so they wouldn't bark at the neighbours.

I would love to be a shining example of a dog owner that has barking under control, but despite three training courses I am now of the opinion that small dogs are just a bit yappy. What works best for me is a well aimed bucket of water as they as they bark at the many people walking past my fence. The only problem is that the water often connects with innocent pedestrians, so not only do they get barked at, they also get a drenching.

I work from home but for those who have to leave dogs home alone, that is where the barking can become a real nuisance to others.

I have a friend who not only trains dogs but really understands them. I asked Kayla to shed some light on why some dogs bark constantly and owners can do about it.

Why do dogs 'nuisance' bark?
Boredom
Guarding of the area they are confined to, and when this is large, the barking can be worse
A response to noise or movement
Lack of exercise means lots of energy for barking
Separation anxiety - being upset at their owner having left them

So what can you do about it?
Take your dog for a walk before work so that it is tired and content for the day
Leave a meaty bone or food filled toy (e.g. kong) to occupy the dog
Utilise the services of a doggy daycare
Hire a dog walker

The suggestion of restricting the dog's area to guard was very enlightening for me. Kayla says it can be quite stressful for a dog to feel they need to constantly protect the entire perimeter of a property, particularly when there is a lot of activity around. I would combine the smaller area with some chew toys or treat balls to ensure boredom doesn't become the next problem.

Ideally dogs would not be left alone all day but as this is inevitable, Kayla suggests starting as you mean to continue by leaving a new puppy for short periods, increasing over time. When you return, wait until the dog is calm and quiet before making a fuss of it.

I am not a fan of bark collars to control nuisance barking. It's okay for dogs to bark sometimes, and it's a normal way for them to express themselves. Bark collars are often used incorrectly, causing fear and distress to the wearer. Children can be annoying too but would you ever think of controlling them with electric shocks - I think that got outlawed some time ago.

The surgical procedure of debarking is only performed in NZ as a last resort if a dog is facing euthanasia. This procedure severs the dog's vocal chords and the result is a gasping rasp instead of a bark. Exercise, training, and changes to the environment are a much better option and will work with commitment from the owner.

When it's your dog causing the problem, you have the ability to do something about it, but what if it's the neighbour's dog driving you mad?

It is quite possible that the neighbor has no idea that their dog barks while they are out, so a polite word may be all that's needed. In one such case, the affected neighbour simply dog-sat during the day as she worked from home - all the barking dog wanted was some company.

A call to your local animal control is the other option. Keep a record of how often and for how long the dog barks before calling. Your complaint can be anonymous to keep neighbourly relations intact and an animal control officer will make suggestions to the owner to improve the situation, not only for the neighbours but for the dog as well.

- www.nzherald.co.nz

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