Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Barking Dog Got Ya Down?

What’s worse than living next to a barking dog? Living with a barking dog!

The still and calm of the early morning air is broken by the
unmistakable, earth-shaking booo-wooo-wooo-wooo that is Clarence’s wakeup call
to the entire neighborhood.

The bark of a Great Pyrenees is not easily ignored by owner,
neighbor or threat. Feet firmly planted,
tail curled high, head thrown skyward, warm up growl and he’s off to the races
of psychological distress to anyone within a two-mile radius. He goes from
sound asleep to sonic boom in 0.3 seconds.

So what is a neighbor or owner to do?

As a neighbor your choices are limited to lawful acts and
humane practices when it comes to dealing with Barkley’s barking.

Your first obligation is to calmly discuss the situation
with the dog’s owner. You can offer the
names of positive-reinforcement trainers in your area. To locate one visit: Barkley can be taught rather easily to bark
on cue, and to be quite on cue. Animal
behaviorist and world-renowned trainer, Dr. Patricia McConnell, and Clicker-Training
Expert, Karen Pryor, both offer detailed instructions for teaching the “bark”
and “quiet” cues in their books and DVD series.

Dogs bark for a laundry list of reasons. Let us not forget that the modern dog had
beginnings with humans as part protector, part hunting mate. A defensive, alerting bark was a desirable trait and still remains so today.

The owner should be encouraged to take Barkley to the vet
for a checkup to rule out any health issues that may contribute to the barking. Is the dog uncomfortable and trying to communicate that to his owner? The vet
can check for common disorders and offer advice to deal with the barking. I should note that medication is sometimes prescribed for extreme vocalization cases, mostly due to anxiety. Medicating Barkley should be a last resort reserved for circumstances where other options—behavioral modifications and training--have been unsuccessful.

Does the neighborhood dog need more daily exercise? An unexercised dog will have a tendency to
bark out of frustration and boredom. Offer to help walk the dog or locate a dog walker for the owner. If Barkley is bored there are many fantastic toys on the market today to occupy dogs while owners are away from home. A Kong filled with softened kibble and frozen overnight will provide a distraction and mental stimulation when Barkley is alone.

Does Barkley have adequate shelter, food and water? A solid, warm dog house and a heated bowl
during cold weather may help. Some dogs are conditioned to happily pass the day outdoors while their owners are at work. Others suffer severe separation anxiety or simply crave being near their family at all times. If Barkley is the latter, offer to purchase a crate so he can stay safely indoors when his family is away or busy with chores such as cooking dinner. It would also be
wise to suggest that Barkley be pottied, exercised and trained on a leash to
avoid any self-reinforcing barking behaviors while outdoors.

Is the neighborhood dog, like Clarence, a Great Pyrenees? A breed that has a tendency to bark to
protect his flock & family. If so, you are working against genetics--years of ingrained behaviors, that where once or still are desirable. A working dog like a Great Pyrenees needs a job. The
Working Breed does well at cart pulling and backpacking, and it gives a sense of accomplishment and mental stimulation. And, the old adage a tired dog is a happy dog can translate to a tired
dog is a quiet dog

I have found that barking may be prompted by growth and maturation in some dogs. Clarence did
not utter a woof for the first six months that we had him. But at nine months of age he found his voice! And it seems that another pyr in our family, Zeus, began barking almost to himself around the age of two. When Clarence hit the two year mark his barking ramped up and is still going strong at three. I’m hoping he follows Zeus’ path and begins to settle in to a more quiet way around his 4th

With four dogs in a household, usually someone has something to woof about. And by this we can see some of the varied reasons dogs vocialize:

Zeus barks to tell me the “puppies”, Clarence and Bailey,
are doing something they are not allowed to do, like sitting on the couch. He also barks when he wants to walk by one of the other dogs to another location. Zeus
is a sweet teddybear who does not assert himself with his brothers. His barking signals us to “help” him walk past the other dog. Zeus also barks when outside to alert us that he wishes to come inside. All of these vocalizations from Zeus are distinct.

Bailey does not bark often. He chooses to communicate thru growling.
He and Supermax are my two alert barkers—if they are barking it’s time to check things out.

Supermax also barks when he is playful and happy—with his entire body wiggling those barks make me smile.
Clarence just simply barks for any reason.

I must admit that the work to control barking in my own home
is imperfect and ongoing. We are still working on putting bark and quiet on cue.
We work on physical and mental stimulation and eliminating self-reinforcing
barking behaviors. We remove a stimulus that contributes to barking when possible and reward for good behavior, never punishing for undesired behavior.

Since we live in a populated area with four Great Pyrenees who tend to be very vocal at night when critters are out, we insist they sleep inside and have supervised potty breaks to eliminate any late night barking that might disrupt a neighbor’s sleep.

We also try to handle and defuse the barking situation with humor toward our neighbors. Earplugs and apology notes have arrived in mailboxes. And we welcome their honest feedback.
It will not insult me to hear that my dog is bothering my neighbor—some
days he bothers me too.

As a neighbor, under absolutely no circumstances is it okay to give a dog any medication--over the counter, holistic or prescribed. You do not know Barkley’s medical history and what may seem like the perfect solution to a good night’s sleep could result in a severe adverse reaction or even death for the animal. Physical harm should never become an option either. If you are considering either of
these so called solutions it is best not to approach the dog’s owner until you have regained composure or contact your local animal control officer and calmly explain your situation. The officer is best equipped to visit the neighbor and pass on your concerns, and offer
solutions that will ease life on both sides of the fence.

There is no instant cure that will guarantee you a pleasant night’s sleep, no matter what the electric collar package promises. By using an electric correction in the form of a sound-emitting device or suggesting that your neighbor attach a shock collar or citrollena-spray collar to Barkley you will indeed have a behavioral modification. The modified behavior will not result in Barkley remaining quiet. Barkley will learn to bark “around” or through the annoyance or discomfort of such devices. If Barkley is a working dog such as a Great Pyrenees, prized for their protective attributes, he will bark no matter the pain level. Barkley may become fearful or aggressive because of such devices. If he does stop barking congratulations (sic). You have suppressed a natural behavior, a communication and a warning. The HSUS has proven that only 4 out of 8 dogs who were subjected to electric collars of all types stopped barking. Some dogs became servely fearful and aggressive, increasing the chances of a dog bite.

We should note that there is a medical procedure called “debarking” in which a dog’s vocal chords are removed or severed. This procedure has been deemed inhumane by many animal rights groups and animal advocates. By removing an animal’s vocal chords an owner may physically and
psychologically impair and harm the animal, causing more behavioral and health problems in the future. This is surgical abuse and not an option. Any vet that offers this procedure does not have the animal’s best interest at heart. Remember the veterinarian creed: Do No Harm.

A better and more humane solution to the above practices is to discuss rehoming the animal with his owner. I am certain that Barkley is a beloved member of the family but if the
owner cannot control the disruptive behavior and extreme, inhumane measures are
being considered it is best for Barkley that another loving home be located. There are many rescue organizations located through out the country. A quick internet search will locate a rescue that will safely rehome Barkley. Perhaps even a home with fenced acreage so nearby neighbors will not be bothered by his barking.

There are no quick fixes for barking dogs. It takes diligence and concern on the part of
the owner to continue training, provide exercise, mental stimulation and to
control self-reinforcing behaviors. It also takes patience on the part of neighbors and family members. Yes, we all have a right to peace of mind and a solid night’s sleep, but trying to place ourselves in the position of the frazzled dog owner may go a long way in neighborly relations and Barkley’s health.

Time to go now… Clarence is barking… again.

I am not a professional trainer or behaviorist, simply an owner (of a barking dog) who enjoys learning as much as possible about the animals I share my home with. If you are having issues with a barking dog please consult with a positive-reinforcement professional or your pet’s veterinarian.
For more information on behavioral issues such as barking please visit: Dr. Patricia McConnell Karen Pryor Jean Donaldson Turid Rugaas Dr. Stanley Coren

Sheila Rinks is the editor of Finding Fuzzybutt Four, producer of the Raising Indiana podcast and shares her home with her husband, 4 Great Pyrenees and 2 very well-fed kitties.


  1. Excellent post, Sheila! I feel for you. When "Dad" comes home at night, all four of mine bark their greetings. With tile floors, the sounds resonate and my ears ring. In our house, dogs are given three barks, then "thanked" for expressing their thoughts. Does it always work? No, but it does more often than not! Good luck - you are on the right path. And you may not be a dog trainer, but you sure will be a good one when you decide to pursue that option!