There are a number of different collars available to stop barking. The most humane is the Husher®, which is a soft elastic loosely fitting muzzle, that stops your dog from opening his mouth to bark, but will allow him to pant, eat and drink. It can be left on while your dog is alone, and can be used as a training aid. If you hear your dog barking, say ‘hush’ and show him the Husher® and if he does not stop, put the Husher® on.
Punishment is generally frowned upon in the veterinary behaviour community, but at least in this case the punishment is not too traumatic and it does help your dog not to do the behaviour. In some cases where you have received noise complaints from the neighbours, it can be a quick fix. The citronella collar and shock collar are two devices that punish the bark and are unreliable and can lead to learned helplessness. They can go off randomly while the dog is not barking and even when they work correctly, the dog usually has no idea what he is receiving punishment for.
Understandably, if your dog is barking because he is anxious, this will really add to his problems. The shock collars are not legal in NSW for a reason and the citronella collars require you to buy replacement cartridges frequently, so can be much more expensive than consulting a veterinary behaviourist.
No matter why your dog is barking, some general training will help keep his mind occupied and wear him out. A tired dog is a happy dog. Regular walks in the morning can help, even just a 15 minute walk around the block is better than nothing. Two walks a day would be perfect. If you work long hours, consider a dog walker, doggy daycare, a play-date with a friend’s dog or asking a someone to visit in the middle of the day.
Chewing causes the release of happy hormones in dogs, so giving your dog something to chew as you leave the house is a good routine to get into. If your dog tends to bury things or is reluctant to chew, just give a small amount of breakfast, so your dog is hungry enough to want to chew. Use something large such as a pigs ear or Kong® stuffed with treats so it lasts for a while. You can also put dry food into an old plastic drink bottle, and let your pet work to get the food out. For some great ideas for homemade chew toys check out this article on The Bark Post.
Whenever you branch out with a new toy, please be safe, supervise your dog to ensure he is not going to end up having emergency surgery due to a broken tooth or ingesting part of a toy.
If your dog is bored, getting a companion may help. Consider fostering through a rescue organisation such as Maggies Rescue or the RSPCA. That way you are not necessarily committing, in case you end up with two problem barkers! You could also arrange a play-date with a friends dog, or think about booking your dog into doggy day-care .
TRAIN YOUR DOG TO ‘SPEAK’
Pet owners always think it is strange when I recommend teaching their dog to bark on command. This places the behaviour under stimulus control and with one more step, you can teach your dog to be ‘quiet’ on command.
First, get your dog excited by ringing the doorbell, knocking on a wall or whatever you know will start him barking. Say your command word, such as ‘speak’ and pair it with a treat. When your dog is consistently barking when you say ‘speak’, you can then say ‘quiet’ and give a treat. Your dog will have to stop barking to get the treat.
Here is a YouTube video of a trainer using a clicker to teach ‘speak’. A clicker is a noise that you pair with treats, so when you are training, your dog knows he is on the right track. You can also train this skill without a clicker and just treats.
THE KEY POINTS
While problem barking can be an annoying behaviour, it is relatively simple to stop with a few simple tools. Remember to consult a veterinarian first, and remember these key points:
- Ignore barking by not looking at or responding to a barking dog, remove yourself or eye contact.
- Keep your dog busy and tired by giving things to chew on and walking him regularly.
- Consider a playmate, play-date or dog-walker.
- Train your dog to ‘speak’ on command.
Barking can be a nuisance both for you and your neighbours. It can also be a sign that your dog is bored or anxious. There are a number of solutions for barking dogs that avoid the use of punishing anti-bark collars and will help you to achieve peace.