Dog barking: a breakdown in communication
Many people consider barking to be simply an annoying habit that the dog has or that perhaps it’s a sign of aggression. When discussing barking the very first thing we should do is realise that barking is simply a form of communication in just the same way that body language is also communication. Therefore if we are to address barking we need to understand and interpret what the dog is trying to say. Take a moment to consider problematic behaviour in human relationships and how often cited is a breakdown in communication.
I’ll bark louder, maybe you’ll listen
Excessive barking can often occur when the dog feels frustrated at the failure of other attempts at communication so they simply shout louder and particularly when we have failed to recognise and understand earlier signals and signs. Having an understanding of canine body language and recognising early signs of stress is a valuable skill and can avoid excessive barking in the first place. Rather than simply reacting inappropriately to a barking dog it’s important to listen to what the dog is telling us.
My dog barks at everything that passes by
Barking is a natural part of dog communication; therefore it’s unethical to expect a dog to never bark. However, excessive and exaggerated barking is stressful to dogs and humans alike and we need to recognise at which point barking goes beyond the realms of day to day communication and instead becomes problematic.
What is causing my dog to bark excessively?
There are steps you can take to deal with barking but first you will need to identify the circumstances around it and remove whatever is causing it. This could be a visual or audible signal or something that is worrying or scaring the dog. We should not be attempting to deprive the dog of the ability to bark but rather to reduce the barking to an acceptable level but one that still allows the dog this natural form of expression.
Consider too how people around the dog are responding to the barking. Are people shouting at the dog and thus ‘joining in’ with the barking? Or perhaps they are attempting to ‘punish’ the dog verbally or physically. None of which will address the emotional causes of the behaviour.
There are different types of barking
Identifying the type of barking will help to understand the cause and reason for it. Dogs will bark for various reasons such as excitement or perhaps as warning or because of a perceived fear. They may also be barking in attempt to guard something or simply through frustration or boredom.
Keep notes on your dog’s barking habits
The prospect of keeping records and measuring behaviour may seem daunting but it need not be a hugely complex affair. Keeping basic records will allow you to notice any changes in the behaviour over time while making brief notes on the circumstances will help you gain an understanding of the causes of the barking. This information will allow you to choose the best training and management programme.
Owners are often surprised, when checking the data, that the barking may not actually be as bad as they may have imagined. We often think that we know why a particular behaviour is happening but often the perception we have is subjective and can be misleading.
How often, how long and how intense is my dog’s barking?
There are essentially three basic things to measure.
The first one is frequency or rather how often does the behaviour happen? Then duration – how long did the barking last? Finally we measure intensity for example by simply give a mark out of 5 based on previous experiences. Don’t forget to add a few brief notes on the circumstances and what was happening in the dog’s environment at the time of the barking (or rather just before the barking started).
As you can see, these records do not need to be hugely complicated documents and neither do they require lots of time to complete. They will give you a much clearer picture and a greater understanding of the behaviour and the causes, they will also draw owners away from using labels to describe the barking such as stubborn, rude, dominant, and naughty and so on. Instead, they will focus on the behaviour itself, thus allowing you to better address the problem with a proper behaviour change and management programme.
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