It was 1:00 a.m. Laurie, my wife, and I had been married for just two years, so we really didn’t truly know each other. For most of the night, we’d been trying to ignore the incessant barking of one of our neighbor’s dog. Laurie had a pillow over her head and I could hear her muttering, “I have to be at the hospital early. . . I’m going to call the police. . .” I replied — inanely — “It will stop soon.”
Well, it didn’t. About thirty minutes later, this woman who I was just beginning to understand had issues about interrupted sleep, leapt out of bed, threw on her sneakers and charged out the door.
“Whoa!” I mumbled. But I got up and chased her out of the house, stage whispering, “Laurie! What are you doing? Laurie!!!”
But she was jogging down the street. Three houses down, she went up to the door and banged on it. “Stop your dog from barking!! I have to sleep!”
The lights came on in the house. I froze, but Laurie stood on their porch hands defiantly on her hips.
The home owner, who we did not know, came to the door. He had a sleepy and befuddled look. Now he was faced with an angry Norwegian Viking woman.
“Put your dog inside and stop him from barking! I have to sleep!”
He began to apologize, but Laurie spun on her heels and walked off. Message delivered. I just shrugged and followed her home.
There are two lessons. First, never get between a working woman and her sleep. Second, as dog partners, we are responsible for managing the barking of our dogs.
So, why do dogs bark? After a little research, I think the answer is mostly because they can. Dogs bark as a warning, dogs bark when they are excited. Dogs bark when other dogs bark. Dogs bark when they are bored, scared and when they are anxious. Our dog Tank barks when it is time to get up, time to go for a walk, lay in his favorite spot or eat, especially eat.
All this barking is normal and natural and comes with the territory of having a dog partner.
But it is the dog that barks incessantly that can create issues.
What to do? Here are some ideas.
1. Obvious: Don’t leave your dog outside if he or she is constantly barking. Please!
2. Don’t yell at your dog when he or she is barking. All that does is get them excited and it re-enforces the barking.
2. Don’t give them treats to distract them from barking. They are smart. They get it, barking equals treats! Woot!
3. Don’t even think of the surgical procedure (removing vocal cords). That’s just sick. Also forget the shock collars! Would you shock your child when she has a temper tantrum? (If you’re thinking, hmmm, maybe . . . you need a glass of wine and some downtime to get your perspective back)
4. Start with a little self-examination: Are you leaving your best friend alone a lot? Or keeping them outside when they want to be with you? Dogs are social animals. They are wired to be with their pack (you) and it causes anxiety to be alone. Anxiety can cause that constant barking. My bet is this is the cause of most uncontrollable yapping.
5. Positive re-enforcement. Catch your puppy being quiet and give her a high value treat (Chicken! Cheese!). Help them learn that no barking equals treats. For example, in our house I sing a lot. Now, when I’m quiet my daughters chime in: “Wow, are you working out? “You’re so buff!” Would you like a cookie?” I’ve cut way back on my singing off key.
6. So much of good dog behavior comes down to this: Tired dog equals happy dog. The more exercise a dog gets every day the better. They will be calmer and bark less. This is the number one treatment of choice at our home.
8. Bring in a specialist. If you’re despairing that your dog is too stubborn, smart or neurotic for any of the above to work, there are animal behaviorists who specialize in helping. Check with your vet or the local Humane society. There is always hope and your dog wants to make you happy.
Final note. As with most issues when dogs misbehave, it is not the dogs fault, it’s our fault. It’s up to us to fix it.