Ask Jennifer Messer

Q: I have a nine-year-old adopted dog
named Herald who doesn’t respond to "Quiet!" "Stop barking!" or any
kind of shushing. He barks a lot- even right at me-but he never seems
angry. I have tried an anti-barking device that emits a loud sound, and
pop cans with coins, but noises don’t faze him. He keeps barking, like
he’s deaf. But he can hear other things, so I know he’s not deaf. Any
suggestions? -Debbie, Qualicum Beach, BC

A: There may
be more to Herald’s problem than just liking the sound of his own
voice! Many health problems can cause excessive barking, so a
veterinary check-up is needed. Deafness is possible-dogs with hearing
loss sometimes bark excessively because they don’t hear themselves
properly. Are you sure he hears well at other times? Dogs are superb at
using other senses to keep tabs on their environment.

If no
medical problems are found, the next step is to look for a behavioural
cause. Is there anything that could be setting him off- passersby,
another dog, traffic noises? Alarm barking is common, and can be tough
to control. Try allowing ten seconds of woofs then giving the warning
"enough," followed by a brief time-out in the bathroom or basement if
he continues.

Does Herald seem energized and playful when he
barks? Excitement barking can be redirected. Send him to get a fetch
toy, or ask him to show off one of his tricks for a cookie. See if the
energy burst wanes, and make sure his exercise needs are being met.

Is
there something he wants? Could he be asking for door opening service
or demanding supper (perhaps he has mistaken you for his butler)?
Request barking will stop as soon as he gets what he’s after.

If
he is attention-starved, perhaps he needs to misbehave to get time with
you. Be sure to catch him being good and give him quality time every
day. Teach him more polite ways of getting your attention, like sitting
by the door to ask to go outside or bringing a toy to ask for playtime.

Finally,
if you still can’t stop the barking, he could be suffering from a
compulsive disorder. Like people, dogs can have brain chemistry
problems that, when combined with stress, result in repetitive
behaviour such as nonstop barking. A specialized training program and
medication are usually needed to treat this condition.

Barking problems can usually be managed when the cause is known, and even deaf dogs can be trained with sign language! ■

Jennifer
Messer is a veterinarian working in small animal practice in Preston,
ON. She has a honours BA in psychology from McGill University and a DVM
from the Ontario Veterinary College, and is curriculum consultant for
Montessaurus Puppy School.