Why Is My Dog Barking And Growling?

Dogs can bark and growl for all kinds of reasons.  Sometimes it’s hard to figure out why they’re barking and growling.  It could be because a stranger is approaching or because they hear an unexpected noise.  Dave Barry, the columnist, once said that dogs bark because a dog satellite passes over the earth and dogs have to check in with it.  It does seem sometimes that dogs bark for no good reason.

Dogs can bark for reasons known only to them but there is usually some reason for it, even if it’s a squirrel on the fence, a possum on the roof or because they can’t find you in the house.  They can also bark for attention, for food or if they are simply anxious.  At other times their barking may be related to medical problems or old age.  As dogs grow older they may have “senior moments” and bark in the dark or bark for help.  Some dogs can develop a compulsive barking problem which involves intense and continuous barking.  In these cases you may need to check with your vet for help with behavior training or with drug therapy to reduce barking.

Growling, like barking, can also have medical, geriatric or compulsive causes.  Dogs can growl when they are fearful or when they are trying to assert themselves in some situation.  Consulting with your vet can help you find ways to handle the problem.

There are some things you can do to address barking and growling at home.

The ideal time to stop nuisance barking is when your dog is still a puppy.  Socializing your puppy can prevent excessive barking later on.  Get your puppy used to lots of different people, places, and things.  Introduce him to people, take him places and let him see all kinds of strange things and noises.  All of these things will help to reduce his overall level of anxiety in life.

When he is an adult he won’t be startled by unexpected sounds or by someone walking past your house. You will have an adult dog who barks much less than a unsocialised dog.  This kind of socialization will also help prevent separation anxiety later on, as well as many other behavior problems.  You can also take your puppy to puppy kindergarten classes or other puppy training classes to learn basic obedience.  The more early training you do with your puppy the better behaved your adult dog will be. That means a dog that will not have problems with excessive barking or growling.

If your dog is already at the stage where he barks or growls you can still correct the behavior.  To teach corrections you need to have effective management of your dog.  After you have effective management of him, then you can train him to bark and growl less by giving rewards for quiet behavior.  Rewards should be something that your dog loves, such as his favorite treat or toy.  It doesn’t usually do any good to punish your dog for barking or growling. In fact, punishing your dog for barking or growling can even make him bark and growl more or teach him to be fearful or aggressive.  That’s not what you want to do.

The easiest way to train your dog not to bark is to set up a situation that you can control.  Ask a family member or friend to make a noise that will cause your dog to bark, such as ringing the doorbell.  When your dog barks, as expected, do something to immediately interrupt your dog’s barking, such as using a water sprayer or shaking a can with pennies.  As soon as the dog stops barking, reward your dog for stopping barking.  You want to make sure your dog associates the reward with not barking. It may take several tries before your dog learns to associate the reward with not barking.

There are products available that do the same thing as a water sprayer or can of pennies — things like a citronella collar or an ultrasonic training system.  These can be used to disrupt barking and to help your dog give you the quiet response so you can reward him.  But remember that without the reward these devices are merely punishment and they will not be effective in the long-term.

There are other products that are off-collar, bark-activated devices.  These products are placed in specific areas and react when your dog barks near them.  You could set up an alarm or water sprayer in one corner of your yard to prevent your dog from barking near a neighbor’s yard.  A bark-activated collar, on the other hand, is worn by the dog.  It reacts when the dog barks, no matter where he happens to be.  Citronella-spray collars work with many dogs.  The collar sprays a citronella mixture into the dog’s facial area when he barks.  Please discuss these options with your vet or trainer before using any of them since they could affect your dog’s health.

Remember that when you are training your dog not to bark you must interrupt him during barking and reward him for not barking in order for the training to be effective.  You are teaching him that it is good to be quiet.  You can vary the training to include not barking or growling in different situations or with different people or sounds.

The reward is very important.  Make sure you reward him when he has stopped barking.  You can increase the amount of time you ask him to be quiet before you reward him.  As his barking problem lessens don’t forget to substitute more positive behavior for his old barking behavior.  Play with your dog; give him chews and toys when he would have been barking previously.  Gradually his barking behavior should be eliminated and the problem should disappear.

Mark Mansfield

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