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Barking Solutions

The following column appeared in the online newsletter, GOOD OWNERS, GREAT PETS, a GreatPets.com newsletter by and for dog and cat lovers. It's reprinted with the permission of author Sarah Wilson


Q. "Hi Sarah! I love your newsletter! Here's our problem. We have a 7-month-old Irish setter named Maverick. In the past few months he has become quite barky at everything in the back yard. It is not a constant problem, but he does not listen to our verbal commands and quit barking when we want him to. He is out in the fenced in back yard most of the day, and comes in at night. My husband wants to get a bark collar, but I am not sure. I don't want to teach him to NEVER bark. If we do get a bark collar, I would prefer to get the citronella, rather than the shock collar, but I am not sure they actually work. What do you think the best way to handle this problem is?"


When approaching a barking problem with a client, I look at several things:

* How much exercise does the dog get daily?

Meaning walking, swimming, jogging, ball chasing or playing with another dog. Solo time in the yard does not count. A young Irish Setter often needs an hour or more of daily exercise.

* What is his diet?

A name brand food is a given. When to stop puppy food is a matter of some debate in the training field. If this dog was at a good weight (some adolescent males have a hard time keeping weight on), I'd talk to the dog's veterinarian about possibly moving him to an adult food.

* Is he neutered?

At 7 months old, now is the time.

* How much direction and structure does this dog get?

I'd institute several short, fun training sessions a day. I find that engaging a dog's brain is an excellent way to tire the dog out. Also, this will help with the dog's boredom levels, which may be responsible for at least some of his barking.

Certainly a small, fun class would benefit this dog and I would encourage the owners to consider things like agility as well.

* What does he have to do?

What sort of interactive toys are available to this dog? I'd be sure to get a sterilized bone and/or Kongs in there and have them stuffed each morning. Feeding this dog from stuffed, frozen Kongs might be one way to go.

* Must he be left outside?

Left outside, dogs bark [and can get into trouble and get hurt, too!]. If the outside barking bothers, bring them in. Crating/confining the dog inside during the day -- if the exercise and training elements are in place -- may be the easiest solution to this type of problem.

* Review what has been done.

Often what has been tried actually is reinforcing the problem. Dog barks. Owner appears and bellows. Dog looks and wags. Owner disappears. Dog barks. Owner appears. The dog will take the bellow as long as the owner keeps appearing. Sort of an owner-recall. By looking at what direction the dog is facing when he barks, you can determine if this is the case. If the dog barks facing the backdoor, then the barking is calling the owner. If he barks toward the fence line, then it is generally something else.

Another common scenario is: Dog barks. Owner bellows. Dog shuts up and looks to owner. Owner, pleased the dog is not barking, goes back inside. So, when did the dog get rewarded? How is the dog supposed to know what was wanted? Inserting some rewards into that process can quickly get you a dog who quiets himself on cue.

* Bark collar?

Since this sounds like a normal, bored puppy, I would not be looking at bark collars of any kind. First, change the things the puppy needs changed to succeed, then revisit the situation in a few weeks. If there is still a problem, then we'd chat further.

Copyright by Sarah Wilson 2001
Used here with author's permission


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Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport