I am often surprised at the number of owners that have barking and destructive dogs. How do they manage to put up with all that the noise for so long? Perhaps after a while, we manage to turn a deaf ear to the racket the dog is making. In many instances, nothing is done about the dog barking until a neighbour complains.
Most neighbours will tolerate a great deal before actually confronting you about the problem, so you can usually be sure that if your neighbour is saying that the dog is barking a lot then the dog really is barking excessively. Do you live next door to a barking dog? Or are you that neighbour from hell with the dog that barks all day and night?
Many barking and destructive dogs are given the label 'Separation Anxiety'. Once a vet hears of this type of behaviour he might prescribe the latest drug Clomicalm manufactured by Norvartis. However this drug should only be used in combination with behavioural therapy techniques, which very few vets are aware of.
The University of Warwick have recently carried out a survey into the causes of separation anxiety to try to identify any common factors. The survey showed almost seventy five per cent of vets reported seeing up to five cases per month with the other twenty five percent seeing more than this. That totals to one case every single week for every vet in the country! Barking dogs are definitely a problem!
Separation disorder is rarely the reason that a pet dog owner will take the dog to the vet, since most owners do not understand the problem. One of the worrying aspects of the survey is that fifty seven percent of owners stated they could not keep their pets because of the barking or destruction.
Male dogs between one and three years of age from the working or terrier breeds were most prone to these problems. This does not mean that you will never encounter barking or destruction if you have a female collie aged 4!
The survey has so far shown that in many cases, a change in family life or the home led to the onset of barking and destruction. Forty three per cent were due to a change in the owners working hours, followed by twenty three per cent from house moving, a new member of the family showed a nineteen per cent change, and thirteen per cent from the death of a member of the family.
Of course all surveys will produce different results. I personally find that questions prepared by companies with a commercial interest and asked by vets who know little if anything about triggers, which cause behavioural problems, can be very misleading.
Analyse with Video
As a behaviourist I would be seeking other ways to analyse barking and destructive behaviour to see if particular animals are suitable for Clomicalm or any other drug. I would install a video camera in the owner's home to enable me to study the dog's behaviour when left on its own. This would enable me to study the dog's emotional state and decide whether the medication may help and what type of behaviour therapy may be needed. All too often the owner primes the dog before leaving the house. An emotional farewell of "Don't worry, Mummy won't be long!" will make the dog believe there is something to worry about. And then a prolonged welcome and greeting could reinforce the separation to the dog, further adding to the anxiety when next left alone.
There are a number of new devices on the market to stop dogs barking one being the Citronella squirting bark-activated collar. The other known as the MasterPlus allows the release of an odourless spray, which is controlled by the owner at a distance by remote control. Roger Mugford markets both products.
Peter Neville recently wrote, that being punished for barking is not he answer. In the case of the citronella-squirting collars, there is an added disadvantage that even if the dog is quiet after getting a nose full of unpleasant scent, that scent remains in his environment, still punishing him when he is silent. The whole house becomes associated with the possibility of being punished by these collars and the dog may become even more disturbed by the prospect of being left. Other dogs soon learn that they only need to stop barking whilst they are wearing a certain collar - the one that makes the nasty smell.
Here what to do
So, what should you do if you own a barking dog? First of all, teach the dog a "Shush!" command. This can be done quite easily by allowing the dog two or three barks, then hold a piece of tasty food under his nose - the dog will not be able to sniff and bark at the same time. This gives you several seconds of quietness that you can praise before allowing him to get the treat. Try making a chart of when the dog barks. Most neighbours will be happy to help out here! This could show that the dog starts to bark when the post arrives - a remote post box may be all that is needed to stop the barking. One dog I know of started to bark when the central heating boiler fired up, about an hour before the owners got home for the evening.
Whilst your out of the house
It is generally reckoned that most barking and destructive chewing happens within half an hour of the dog being left alone. Think of ways to entertain your dog for that critical half hour. Offering a tasty bone, or Kong toy stuffed with something nice tasting, just as you are about to leave the house will keep the dog amused for some time. Hiding dog biscuits around the house will keep many dogs happily searching for hours.
But most of all, cut out the dramatics! No big leaving or arriving acts. Try to ignore the dog for at least 15 minutes before you leave the house, and also ignore him for the same time when you return home. Ignore means do no look at the dog, do not speak to the dog and do not touch the dog. You could even try saying "Hello" to all your houseplants before speaking to the dog! And if you are living next door - offering help can be a much better tactic than calling the cops!
Commitment, Firmness, but kindness.
Barking and Destruction
by David the Dogman
David is a Canine Behaviourist who works and lives in Marbella, Spain. Tel/Fax (00345) 2883388. His web site is located at: www.thedogman.net. David has his own radio and TV shows, and writes for many newspapers and magazines. David has been working with dogs for many years and started his career in Israel, working on the Border Police. He has been involved in all forms of training, including air sea rescue, air scent work, and has trained dogs for finding drugs. David has devoted the past 10 years to studying behaviour and the very passive approach. He does not use choke chains, check chains, or any form of aggression.