Dog Training 411

posted January 15th, 2008 by
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Story by Mary Green

Q: My neighbor has informed me that my dog barks all the time, and she is going to report me to animal control.  What can I do?

AIf your dog is in the backyard home alone while you are gone, there may be lots of reasons for the barking.  In order to resolve the issue, you may have to do some detective work.  Ask the neighbor for specifics about the barking, such as what’s going on when he is barking.  Set up a video camera, tape recorder, or do “recon” from a neighbor’s house.  Leave your house, drive around the block, park and sneak back to observe.  Once you have determined a cause, or causes, for the barking you can take corrective measures.  This is applicable whether your dog is outdoors barking in the yard or inside your apartment. 

He may be lonely or bored, and spending too much time home alone without enough to do.  How can you tell if this is the problem?  His barking may be very repetitive and may include howling, and he may be standing in the middle of the yard.  Adolescent dogs (those under 2 years), sporting dogs and herding dogs are particularly notorious for boredom barking.  

You can combat boredom by creating a more interesting environment.  Instead of feeding dog food out of a bowl, use food-stuffing toys such as Kong®, Buster Cube®, or Premier Busy Buddy® and let your dog “hunt” for his breakfast.  You can even put a few dog biscuits in a brown paper sack and hide them in the yard for a scavenger hunt.  Create a digging area in a child’s sandbox, hang a tether-ball from a sturdy tree branch.  Leave a good-sized knuckle bone outside for him to chew.  For indoor dogs, leave the TV or radio on to mask outside noises.

Maybe he is becoming territorial, or protective of the area.  If his barking sounds like an alarm (sharp, rapid) and his body posture is erect and targeted at something, he may be guarding.  Sometimes these dogs create paths that follow the fence line.  If he is barking at traffic, people or dogs passing by, you may have to restrict his access to certain areas of the yard, or windows.  When you are home, teach your dog a stop-barking cue by calling him to come to you and giving him a really good reward.  If you have a privacy fence, he may be frustrated by looking at the world through a slit in the fence.  If that’s the case, try creating a window by cutting out a small portion of the fence and blocking it with wire screening.

He may be afraid of something.  I worked with a client whose dog barked frantically and continually when he was left outdoors.  This was a newly developing problem and we were able to determine that he was frightened by the construction going on at another house.  We successfully integrated crate training indoors, and the dog was fine left alone.

Take a good look at your dog’s typical day.  Is he isolated for a long period of time?  Are you taking him on daily walks, playing fetch, grooming him, taking him for car rides, or going to training class?  Every dog needs physical exercise, mental stimulation, and social time with their family.  

Regardless of the reason, nuisance barking causes bad feelings between neighbors, and can potentially lead to removing the dog from the home, or even retaliation.  Devices such as no-bark collars (citronella, high-frequency noise, or shock) may appear as a solution, but these do not address the underlying cause of the dog’s barking, and often result in developing other bad behavior.

Q: What do you do for a dog with separation anxiety?  

AFirst, you have to know what separation anxiety is, and if your dog really “has” it.  Destructive behavior that happens when the dog’s owner is absent may just be an issue of boredom or access.  True separation anxiety occurs every time the dog is left alone.  The dog may become anxious when he realizes the owner is preparing to leave — gathering car keys, coat, purse, etc.  When the owner is gone, the dog may pace, whine, salivate, and destroy things.  He may shake or tremble.  In severe cases the dog may urinate and defecate, and self-mutilate.  

Mild cases may be helped by altering your patterns of coming and going.  Keep all greetings very low-key.  Change your routine; put your keys in a different place.  Leave the radio or TV on for company.  Teach your dog not to shadow you from room to room.  Dr. Patricia McConnell, says “All your dog needs to learn is:  crate = feeling good.”  A good crate training routine can be a lifesaver for a home-alone dog.  In her booklet, “I’ll be Home Soon,” Dr. McConnell has written great information that the average pet owner can use for a mild case of separation anxiety.

Serious separation anxiety cases are not easily treated without professional help, and perhaps the addition of anti-anxiety medications.

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