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Barking is one way dogs communicate. It is a normal behaviour, but when it is excessive or occurs at inappropriate places or times, barking becomes socially unacceptable and a behaviour problem.

Some breeds tend to bark more than others. Terriers, Beagles, Rottweilers and German Shepherds are more likely to bark than Bassett Hounds, Afghans or Basenjis. Some dogs have learnt to bark and have had years of practice. For example, the dog that barks every day at the postman has been rewarded for his behaviour regularly and consistently because every time he barks the postman leaves! Dogs that have experienced many changes of home or owners, or spent time in shelters or pounds will be predisposed to anxiety-related problems.

Dogs can be taught when it is appropriate to bark, and for how long. It is probably impossible to stop them barking completely. Here are some tips that may help reduce barking:

  • Change the way the dog sees passers-by. Put escape proof 'windows' at ground level in the fence so the dog has to get down to see out. This discourages barking.

  • Provide a platform, eg a flat-topped kennel, at a distance from the fence so the dog can see over the fence but cannot chase passers-by along the fence.

  • Prevent access to the fence or gate at the times of day when the dog barks most, eg school times, postie times.

  • Provide food, water, aerobic exercise, 'thinking' toys and basic obedience training.

  • Avoid accidentally 'rewarding' the dog for barking by talking, shouting, coming outside, grabbing the collar etc when it barks. Instead, reward the dog for not barking with food, attention or games when it is quiet.

  • Teach the dog a 'stop' command and reward the dog when it is obedient with praise, food and attention.

  • Place a radio between the dog and the barking stimulus. However, not at a volume that may disturb the neighbours!

Dogs bark for many different reasons and these may be managed in different ways. If the problem persists the dog should be examined by a veterinary surgeon. Your vet will check whether there is an underlying physical or medical problem and discuss whether a full behaviour assessment is required.

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