Bark management 101

barking-dog

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

Most dogs bark, and while barking can sometimes be a behavioral concern it is a natural part of doggy daily life. This is not to say that you shouldn’t worry about problem barking, or that nothing can be done to solve it. Training and management can help improve the behavior, but, unless you have a basenji, your dog may always bark.

While there are some dogs that just bark now and then, barking can become a problem when the dog barks too much, too loudly, or when the barking is accompanied by other undesirable behaviors.

Solving or troubleshooting your dog’s barking problem depends heavily on understanding just what type of barking your dog is doing. This can be done by observing the cause and characteristics of your dog’s barking.

In The Bark Stops Here, Terry Ryan groups barkers into six broad classifications:

Attention-seeking barkers: Characterized by a bark which is high in pitch and accompanied by pauses and moments when the dog looks around and listens for a response from anyone. ASBs are not picky about who they get attention from.

Territorial barkers: Characterized by a low-pitched, intense burst of barking. This kind of barking is usually startling and short lived. It is accompanied by a distinct body posture: the tail is up, the ears and the corners of the mouth are forward, the stance is tall and forward on toes, the hackles are up, and the nose is wrinkled. Territorial barkers initiate barking when a perceived threat enters into the dog’s imagined territory.  (Remember – the dog defines his territory, not you.)

Boredom barkers: Characterized by a flat boring bark with occasional howling directed at nothing. This kind of barking is repetitive in nature and is usually of medium pitch.

Fearful barkers: Characterized by sharp, high-pitched barking accompanied by a distinct body posture in which the dog’s tail is tucked between her legs, the hackles are up, the pupils are dilated, the nose is wrinkled, and the corners of the mouth are back. Barking is initiated by a perceived threat coming close to the dog. For the fearful barker, barking is designed to increase the distance between the threat and the dog. While the dog may step forward while barking, she will usually retreat as well.

Excitement barkers: Characterized by high-pitched barking, accompanied by a great deal of continuous movement, a wagging tail, and variable intensity.

Separation anxiety barkers: Characterized by high-pitched frantic barking, and accompanied by pacing, drooling, whining, scratching, chewing, and howling.

Problem solving devices and methods:

Training: a number of training options can provide help in the barking arena. You can work on “Watch me,” put barking and “Quiet” on cue (see below), and even work on certain calming signals.

Exercise: your dog might not have as much barking energy if she gets to run it off at the beach! Mental exercise is as effective as physical, so if you can’t get outside try some nosework or indoor games.

Medication: pharmaceutical intervention can be a powerful tool for helping dogs who are anxious or fearful barkers. In those cases, the barking is a symptom of something bigger, and when the bigger issue is addressed, the barking often decreases quite dramatically. If your regular vet isn’t trained in problem barking solutions, consult with a veterinary behaviorist. Look for someone who is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists; they have the training and experience to find the best solution for the issues that are causing the barking in the first place.

Debarking: I have never recommended surgical debarking, and I never will. Many vets will refuse to perform the procedure, and it has been banned in several states and many European countries. In addition to being inhumane, debarking eliminates one of the dog’s primary methods of communication. If a dog can’t give you an effective warning bark, he’s more likely to go straight to the biting. Also, a debarked dog can still make plenty of noise; my collie, Whisper, was debarked by her previous owners, and she still barks all the time – it just sounds hoarse and painful.

A note about behavior correction collars:

Citronella bark collars: In some cases, a citronella bark collar can be a helpful tool, when used in conjunction with proper training. The CBC is designed to correct the dog for barking by administering a spray of citronella every time the dog barks. This can be effective because it works on four of the dog’s senses: she hears the spray, she sees it, she smells it, and she tastes it (and she doesn’t like it). It is immediate in its response so you won’t have to worry about your own timing.

This is a “last resort” option, and is not always the best solution, especially if your dog’s barking is related to issues of fear or anxiety. Keep in mind that citronella collars tend not to work consistently throughout the lifespan of the device, which means that the collar either won’t spray at all or will spray at random intervals. This will just confuse the dog, and may end up reinforcing other undesirable behaviors. It’s especially important to consult with a behaviorist when considering a CBC, both to be certain that you’ve exhausted all other options and to make sure that you have the right treatment plan in place.

Shock collars: Don’t be fooled by language that says the dog receives a “harmless electronic stimulus” from the collar. Shock collars hurt, and the likelihood that it will end up reinforcing other, more dangerous behaviors is pretty high. If your dog receives a shock every time he barks at someone walking into the house, he will quickly learn to associate pain with visitors, which can result in aggression towards humans.  There is no guarantee that pain is going to be a deterrent, either; some dogs have a higher pain tolerance than others, and their need to bark may override the pain inflicted by the collar. In some cases the constant shocks may make the barking worse.

How to teach “Quiet” by putting barking on cue:

Some dog owners find success in managing barking by training a pair of behaviors: Speak & Quiet. Here’s how!

  1. Initiate barking by using a controlled bark trigger, like the doorbell rung by your training partner or a knock at the door. You have to be able to control this trigger and make it happen a number of times. Remember, training dogs is repetitive!
  2. When your dog starts barking say, “Bark, yes, good bark!” or “Speak, yes, good speak!”
  3. Take a tasty & smelly treat and put it in front of your dog’s nose and say “Shhh” or “Quiet.” Do not give the treat if your dog continues to bark.
  4. Most dogs will stop barking to take the treat, and when he does this say, “Yes, good quiet!” and give the treat.
  5. Repeat!

Keep the individual sessions short (10-15 minutes), and schedule several sessions throughout the day. Once your dog has learned a good, solid “Quiet”, make sure you reinforce it regularly (two or three times a week). If a new barking trigger presents itself, start over with step 1.  You can find apps with sound effects like sirens, children’s voices, or other barking dogs to use as trigger noises.

 

What is separation anxiety in dogs (and how can I fix it)?

 

separation-anxiety

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

I hear this all the time: “My dog has separation anxiety, and I don’t know what to do.” A lot of the time these cases are mild. The dog is new to the home, or something has changed in its world (e.g, the kids have started school, someone has started a job with longer hours, or a construction crew has taken up permanent residence on your block). They might not do well in a crate, or with too much freedom. Genetics can also play a role in the appearance and degree of anxiety. Every dog is different, and while this behavior can take a long time to fix, it usually has a happy ending if the owner is able to put in the work.

What is separation anxiety?

What the average person thinks of when they hear “separation anxiety” usually means that a dog presents with certain anxious behaviors when left alone. Anxious behaviors can include things like:

  • Panting and drooling
  • Incessant barking, whining, or howling
  • Extreme self-soothing behaviors (licking or chewing themselves nonstop)
  • Chewing baseboards
  • Hurting themselves trying to get out of the crate

If your dog is unable to take a nap and be calm when you leave for the day, separation anxiety might be the issue.

For extremely severe cases, such as if your dog is hurting himself or destroying the house, you will need to call a skilled trainer for help, or even a veterinary behaviorist (who will do a detailed medical/behavioral assessment and possibly prescribe medication).

For less severe cases of separation anxiety, I recommend two things:

Change your routine when leaving the house. If you always put on your shoes and then grab your keys, try putting your shoes on last or grabbing your keys when you’re watching TV.  Also, start giving your dog something to do while you are gone, like a peanut butter Kong. Your dog focuses on that while you’re leaving and has a positive association instead of a negative one. It can also help to block your dog’s view of the door, so they can’t actually see you leave. 

Ignore your dog when you get home. I know a lot of us have dogs because we want someone to be excited when we come home, so this doesn’t have to be a forever change. When you come in, put your bag down, take off your coat, go to the bathroom, etc. before engaging with your dog. Try not to speak or touch him for about 10 minutes. If your dog needs to go outside as soon as you come in, try to do as little interacting as possible. What you’re doing is making the dog realize that you coming home isn’t such a big deal, so being alone isn’t all that bad.

This can be a pretty slow process, so be patient with the dog and yourself.

Help – I Have to Leave My Dog Home Alone All Day While I’m At Work!

sad dogBy Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

I see it happen all the time – people who have worked from home for years end up getting office jobs, and immediately start stressing about how their beloved pups are going to handle being home alone for 8+ hours a day.

Before I give you some tips on helping your dog with that transition, I’ll let you in on a little secret – there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll miss your dog more than she’ll miss you. 🙂

With that having been said, here are some tips to help you acclimate your dog to lengthy absences.

Start crate training. If your dog isn’t already crate trained, or needs a refresher, now is the time to work on that. Crate training is a great tool for creating boundaries and security for both of you. I know people sometimes balk at the idea of having their dogs crated for extended periods of time, but keep in mind that the average dog sleeps 16-18 hours a day. As long as the crate is appropriately sized — allowing room to stand up, stretch, get a drink of water, and move about a bit before going back to sleep — it’s a great tool.

Keeping your dog crated while you are gone also mitigates any destructive tendencies; it also provides a safe environment for other people who may need to enter your home while you are gone, like the dog walker, maintenance personnel, housecleaners, etc.

If you are confident that your dog will accept your schedule change without needing the crate, then you can simply apply the schedule framework as outlined above and let her be free-range while you are away. Generally speaking, this isn’t an option I would recommend for puppies or younger dogs. Another option is to put your dog into a single area of the house, such as a kitchen or mudroom, that can be blocked off from the rest of the house. Just make sure you dog-proof the room by securing cabinets and putting food or hazardous substances well out of reach.

(Need some ideas on how to keep your pup’s boredom at bay? Check out this article from TAILS magazine.)

Keep a consistent schedule. Once the crate training is well underway, start working on a very consistent schedule for your dog. Make sure she gets her first walk within the same half hour every morning. Then, take her out again in the afternoon during the same time period and for the same duration that a dog walker will be walking her. Figure out the most likely time that you will get home from work, and walk her within approximately that same half hour every day. What you’re doing here is creating consistent expectations for interaction and for bladder/bowel control, which will provide a reliable framework for your dog’s days.

Extend the crate time. While you are working on the consistent walk/potty schedule, gradually start crating your dog for longer and longer periods during the day. I find that it’s easier for dogs to get used to crating if they can still see you (which is why I prefer wire crates over plastic travel crates). Then, start going out for longer blocks of time when she is crated – 10 minutes the first day, 15 minutes the second, 20 minutes the third, etc. If she is prone to separation anxiety when you leave the house, distract her with a stuffed Kong right before you leave, and have the crate positioned or partially covered so that she can’t see you walking out the door.

No fussing! Don’t make a big deal of leaving the house. Put your dog in the crate, give her the Kong if necessary, and go out. Don’t stage an emotional scene every time you leave or come back; it’s disruptive to the dog, and will set her up for failure. If it’s not a big deal to you, it won’t be a big deal to her.

Consistency is key. The key to an easy transition is consistency and calm behavior on your part. I almost always find that the humans have a much harder time in this situation than the dogs. However, if your dog doesn’t seem to be adjusting to the new situation within a reasonable amount of time (say, a couple of weeks), or if you feel that her behavior is getting worse, schedule an appointment with your vet and/or a highly regarded trainer. Some dogs just naturally have more anxiety than others, and it’s always best to consult with a professional to make sure you are aware of all of your medical and behavioral treatment options.

Service providers

Unless you have a dog that is completely trained to use indoor pee pads, you’ll want to find a good dog walker. Ask your friends and neighbors for recommendations, and set up a couple of trial walks. It’s important for your dog to have a chance to get used to this strange person, and you’ll want enough time to make sure that the walker and the company are the right fit for you as well as your dog.

If you absolutely hate the idea of leaving your dog home alone all day, then consider doggy daycare. This is another area where you’ll want to give yourself ample time to find the perfect situation for your pup. Every daycare/boarding facility has a different vibe and clientele mix, and taking your shy elderly shih tzu to a place that specializes in day-long puppy playgroups is going to backfire. Ask about their professional affiliations (such as IBPSA) and accreditations, and don’t be afraid to try out a few different places before making a commitment.

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Did you know that the best service providers are the ones that make staff training and education a priority? To see some of the things that every professional dog care specialist should know, check out the curriculum on FetchFind Monthly Pro!