Why does my dog bark? It’s simple, he has something to say to you!

Our animal-loving columnist offers some expert and simple-to-follow advice to readers – at least to those who are dog-owners – on how to deal with their pets’ noisy behaviour….

It never ceases to amaze me the amount of queries I receive concerning nuisance dog barking.  People even stop me on the side of the road to ask “Why does my dog bark?” The answer I give them is straight forward; your dog barks because barking is his way of communicating with you!

  Dogs don’t bark to annoy you or to spite you or just because they can…although it may often appear that way if it’s driving your poor neighbours insane! I decided to write about this matter due to the recently reported case of a dog in Strokestown who is now, sadly, the subject of a court order following complaints  of ‘excessive barking,’ by neighbours who must surely be at the end of their tether. And, as this is being dealt with in a legal capacity, I will not comment on it further, but I will try to give readers who are dog owners a little bit of advice regarding their pets’ noisy behaviour.

  First of all there are different types of barking, and you, as a responsible pet parent really need to familiarise yourself with them.

  The Alert Bark: This is the normal, expected barking to alert you there’s an intruder in the house, or the kitchen is on fire or the baby has fallen out of the cot.  It’s perfectly natural for your dog to bark if he senses there’s a threat to his family or to his territory. This is usually a loud, sharp bark and if you hone in on his natural, nurturing canine instinct with proper training you can help your dog protect your home and your family.

  Barking at other dogs: A dog down the road or across the field suddenly barks and before you know it your own pet, along with every other dog within earshot is involved in a dawn chorus. Very annoying for you and your poor neighbours.

  Playful, excited barking: This is more common in puppies who bark when playing. My own dogs bark excitedly when they know a car trip and a walk is imminent. This type of bark normally sounds upbeat and is totally different to the one your dog uses to alert you to danger.

  Then there’s the biggie: The behavioural problem or as I call it, the nuisance bark: This usually signals boredom, loneliness or miscommunication between owner and pet. If this type of barking is a problem, you need to recognise the triggers and you need to eliminate them by considering the following: When does it occur? Is my dog left alone for long periods of time? Is he getting enough exercise? Is he in pain? Is he hungry? Is he anxious about something he hears or sees? (Neighbour has a new lawn mower and the noise is scaring him; neighbour’s child is tormenting him); as was the case with one of my dogs when I lived in Dublin where the teenager next door continuously threw stones at my dog. I investigated it, identified the problem and following a strongly worded conversation between me and the brattish teen; calm was once more restored.

  However sometimes it’s a bit more difficult and in order to address nuisance barking, you, as the pet parent will require plenty of patience and I would suggest you invest in some training for both you and your pet with a specialist dog trainer. This will help you understand his ‘doggy’ language, so you can correctly ascertain why he is barking and at the same time express what it is you, as his pack leader, wishes to communicate back to him.

  Modern training techniques are based upon the dog receiving a reward for the desired action. My dogs are my family and are all trained and socialised but we have only achieved this by showing them patience, love and respect and by giving them rewards and by never, ever hitting them.

  So, for example, if your desired action is “stop barking,” gently; and I stress gently,  hold your dog’s muzzle or squirt him, again very gently, with a child’s toy water gun filled only with clean water; (do NOT hurt your dog). This gentle squirting action will momentarily distract him and hopefully make him stop barking.  When he stops, use the command “quiet.” Immediately after saying “quiet,” if your dog remains silent, reward him and walk away. When he starts barking again, repeat the process. Eventually he will learn to associate “quiet,” with a meaty reward.  Because he’s smart, your dog will stop barking without the need for the water gun and only the use of the word “quiet,” will be a sufficient command. It may sound easy enough but believe me, it will not happen overnight so be patient and remember it is up to you to determine the cause of your dog’s excessive barking and as a responsible pet parent you need to do your utmost to remove any potential reasons so that you can keep his behaviour under effective control. In addition, it will help your dog if you give him better things to do to prevent and distract him from nuisance barking so that everyone, including your adored pet can live happily and in peace and harmony.

  While I’m on a roll, here are some of the things you should never, ever do when it comes to parenting a dog:

  Never: Comfort, feed or pet your dog when he barks for attention or out of anxiety; this is simply rewarding his behaviour.

  Never: Shout! This will cause him to bark more and louder. Never: Allow your dog to bark constantly outside regardless of the reason – this is the best way to make enemies of your neighbours.

  Never: Use a shock collar to control barking; they are inhumane and painful for your dog. Never: Allow your dog to become lonely or bored and never leave him to his own devices for long periods of time.

  So it’s up to you; develop that ‘barking ear,’ and find out exactly what your dog is saying when he woofs, howls and growls.  And yes, it requires a lot of time and patience but it’s well worth it because if you train mans’ (and woman’s) best friend properly then you’re embarking on a lifetime’s investment for you and your pet.

  However, I am not a vet and my tips are intended to simply help and inform my lovely readers and should never be used in place of professional veterinary advice. If you have concerns regarding your pets, please call your vet immediately.