May 16, 2012 6:12 PM by Bonnie Markoff, DVM, ABVP
Many of us expect our dogs to act as watch-dogs - barking enough to scare away potential intruders. Unfortunately, we seem to hear way more talk about unwanted barking than we do about useful barking. The incessantly barking dog is one of the greatest stresses between neighbors, and can be a very difficult thing to remedy. My newest acquisition, a young dog I rescued about a year ago, feels the need to bark at everyone that walks by the house. She also likes to bark at large birds and all cats. The neighborhood cats tend to come to our house around dusk and just sit and torment her - she would bark all night if I didn't intervene!
Barking is a normal behavior for a dog and therefore can be hard to extinguish. The best thing to do is to figure out what stimulates the barking and then keep your dog away from those situations. That means that I do not let my dog outside at dusk (when the cats come by.) I am building a fence that will stop her from being able to see people and dogs as they walk by the house. If your dog barks at unusual noises, you should make every effort to keep the dog where it will not hear these things - indoors with a TV or radio playing.
If this does not work, you may need to use a "bark collar." It is essential that you work with a qualified dog trainer or veterinarian when using these collars, as they have the potential to do great harm. Bark collars will either cause an electric shock or squirt an unpleasant liquid into the dog's face when they bark. It is important to use a high quality collar that will not be triggered inadvertently by a garage door opener or other similar devices. Timing on the reprimand is important - a good collar will give the dog a warning on the first bark and only shock or squirt if they persist. We generally advise that no dog be left unsupervised while wearing an electronic bark collar.
In those situations where the barking is due to anxiety or fear, we may be able to help with anti-anxiety medications. Bark collars should never be used on these dogs! Dr. Jennifer Evans and Dr. Marissa Greenberg are veterinarians at Animal Care Clinic who have a special interest in behavior. They may be able to help with the more difficult situations along with other canine and feline behavior problems. After all, you can't all bring your dogs to work with you everyday like I do!
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