All dogs bark occasionally but some bark incessantly. If your dog is prone to barking, you could find yourself in serious trouble. Barking dogs could be deemed to be what is called a statutory nuisance. There is no definitive definition of a statutory nuisance regarding dogs but a dog could be considered a significant nuisance if its barking interferes with a neighbour's ability to enjoy living in their home.
What is nuisance barking?
So, to be declared a statutory nuisance, the barking would have to be excessive and unreasonable in the prevailing circumstances and interfere significantly with how someone uses and enjoys their home. Barking for prolonged periods, frequent excessive barking and barking late at night or early in the morning could all land you in hot water. Dogs barking when someone knocks at the door or when playing would not be considered unreasonable as this is normal behaviour and the noise stops quickly.
Does your dog bark when you are out?
Unfortunately, you could be genuinely unaware that your dog's barking is causing a disturbance because the problem occurs when you aren't at home. Many dogs do not cope well with being left for long periods and so will start barking. They may never bark when their owner is with them but could make enough noise to wake the dead when their owner goes out.
What happens when you annoy your neighbours?
Neighbours who are being disturbed can take private action through the courts under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Alternatively, if the local authority is satisfied that barking is causing a nuisance, the owner of the dog could be served with a notice under the same act requiring them to stop the barking. Failure to stop your dog barking could lead to a fine up to £5, 000.
If you leave your dog for long periods, it could be worth asking your neighbours if the dog barks when you are out. This will alert you to the issue before someone takes action against you, giving you more time to address the problem. But how do you stop your dog from barking?
It is important to note that it is natural for dogs to bark. You can't expect a dog to be silent all the time without being allowed to do what comes natural to them. However, a lot of dog owners struggle with excess barking. Some dogs will bark at anything, or sit at home barking all day long which isn't good news for your neighbours. In some cases something needs to be done about a dog's barking.
Why do dogs bark?
Dogs bark for a variety of different reasons. Dogs use barking to communicate with other dogs and humans. Different types of barking include attention seeking barking, territorial barking, compulsive barking and barking out of frustration.
If your dog is barking a lot they could be doing it because they are bored, scared, excited, frustrated, guarding something or simply trying to get your attention. Sometimes owners accidentally encourage their dog to bark more without even realising it. Dogs have learn't that in certain situations if they bark, they get a reward.
Find out what they are barking at
If you want to try and stop your dog barking so much one of the first things you should do is try and find out what they are barking at. What is their reason for barking? In some cases the reason is very obvious, such as barking at people or dogs walking by the window.
Why Your Dog Seems to be Barking at Nothing
If your dog has a tendency to bark then this can prove useful if you have an intruder. However, it is not so useful when they disturb the neighbours or interrupt what you are doing. Barking can be particularly infuriating when there appears to be no reason for it. The truth is that there might be a reason, you just don't understand what it is. If your dog sometimes seems to be barking at nothing then here are the possible reasons why.
Like small children, dogs can become restless and irritable when they are bored and they will be keen to let you know about it! They will become agitated and this can mean that they start to bark. You can cure the problem by walking them for longer each day and giving them more attention. More fun will equal less barking in the long run.
When you get a fright you probably cry out or scream. Dogs can't do either and so they bark instead. You may not be able to see what is troubling them as it could be a noise which is inaudible to the human ear. Comforting your dog will help as will removing anything from the room which might be the cause of their anxiety.
Your dog cannot tell you when they are experiencing pain and so could bark instead. If your dog is barking and there is no obvious reason then observe their behaviour to see if pain could be behind it. If they bark when they jump, sit down or move in a certain way then they may be experiencing pain. You should then get your dog checked over by your vet.
Excessive barking can be truly maddening and is most likely when your dog is feeling excited. This could be when a mealtime is approaching, when it is time for a walk or for a period after you return home. Think about the times when you usually feed them, walk them or arrive home and see if you have diverged from the usual routine. Your dog might be a better time keeper than you are! If you stick to a routine they may be less likely to start barking as they won't feel the need to give you a reminder
Dogs can quickly learn that their barking gains your attention. If it is rewarded with a fuss or treats then this can reinforce the behaviour. If attention seeking could be the likely explanation for their barking then make it clear with your voice and your actions that it will not be rewarded again.
In rare cases dogs will bark for the sake of barking. If there is no apparent reason for their habit then monitor their barking for a period to see if you can detect a reason that you hadn't previously considered. If not, then take your pet to the vet or to a behavioural expert who will be able to advise you as to the techniques that you can employ to resolve the problem.
Take the stimulus away
Once you have figured out what it is they are barking at try and stop your dog from seeing it. For example, if they bark at dogs that walk past your house put them into a different room where they can't see them or shut the curtains. If it is a noise they are reacting to put the television on so that they can't hear it. Taking the stimulus away is not always possible, read on to discover more tips.
Give them a distraction
Some trainers suggest distracting your dog when they bark. This includes doing things like throwing them their favourite ball or getting them to do a command such as 'paw' or 'touch' for a treat.
The licking a lid trick
Licking can be self-soothing for dogs, it immediately calms them down. It also releases pleasurable endorphins which help with stress release. If your dog is continuously barking put something really tasty on an ice cream tub lid (not ice cream!) such as cheese and get them to lick it off. This doesn't work with all dogs but it distracts some dogs and helps them to calm down.
Don't encourage the barking in any way
If you want your dog to stop barking then you need to make sure you are not encouraging it in any way. When your dog barks for attention don't go over and stroke them, ignore them until they are quiet. Pay attention to when they are barking and be aware of your reactions.
Reward your dog when they stop barking
One technique to help reduce barking is to reward your dog when they stop. If they are barking non stop wait until they eventually get tired or bored and as soon as they are silent reward them. You can reward them by simply throwing a treat over every time they go quiet.
If your dog is barking at something in particular, such as a piece of furniture, a specific person or dog then try desensitisation. This is where you get them to gradually confront the stimulus. Start off by placing your dog a fair distance from the stimulus. Then as you get closer reward them when they don't show any reaction. You should eventually be able to get very close to the stimulus without your dog reacting. However, it is important to only do this if it is safe to do so. If your dog shows any signs of aggression consult a dog behaviourist.
Teach them to the 'quiet' trick
If you can teach your dog to bark on command then you should be able to teach them to be quiet on demand. You can do this by rewarding them when they are quiet and when they get the hang of it mark it as they 'quiet' command by saying quiet and rewarding them if they do not bark.
Is your dog bored?
Some dogs bark because they are bored. They might be left at home all day with nothing to do or want more attention from their owner. If your dog barks a lot it is worth checking whether they are getting enough exercise. If they have a lot of energy built up they are more likely to bark. Dogs also need a certain amount of mental stimulation to keep them happy. Make sure your dog is not barking because they are simply bored. Get them some new toys to play with such as that will engage their brain. Spend more time playing with them as well as doing some extra training to test their mind. This should help reduce the barking.
Don't join in by shouting at them
Lots of people will shout at their dog as soon as they start barking. What they don't realise is this only encouraging their dog to bark even more. It's like when someone is shouting at you, your instant reaction is to shout back at them. You are just having a barking match with your dog. Also, the more agitated you get, the more your dog will feed off your energy and continue to bark. So stay calm and don't shout when giving your dog instructions.
Here's some extra tactics you can use if your dog's barking is becoming a nuisance:
- You could try a Dog Food ball or a Kong. These help to combat boredom as the dog is occupied and distracted by trying to get at the food out of these simple but clever toys.
- Ask a friend or relative to check on the dog and to spend some time with it each day.
- Leave a TV or radio on to mask other noises and provide a distraction. TV and radio can have a soothing effect on dogs. You can even get your hands on videos for dogs!
- Consider putting the dog into kennels while you are out or using a dog walking service. There should be a dog walker in your area who can collect your dog and keep it entertained.
- Read up on separation anxiety and employ the recommended techniques to sooth your dog. If you don't make any headway, it could be worth investing in the services of an expert.
- Think about whether your lifestyle is really suited to having a dog. You may be forced to conclude that you must change your lifestyle, work from home more often or give up your pet.