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What You Should do to Keep Your Dogs From Barking Non-Stop

The bark stops here

By: Steve Duno

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Header photo: Zanna Pesnina/bigstock.com

Two doors down lives a neighbor with a gaggle of dogs—bigs, mediums, squeakers—a lot of dogs in a big dog yard, the whole outside fenced in, gravel and dirt, trails worn down into the earth like primeval bison paths chiseled into the Great Plains.  Outside dogs, 20 hours a day, brought inside later than I bed down and put out earlier than I rise, probably not full-on house dogs eight months out of the year due to the wet Seattle falls, winters, springs, early summers, mud and dog stink, probably a dog “mud” room in the house, smells like petting zoo, looks like petting zoo, ripped up beds and blankets, and long, outdoor dog nails tap dancing across linoleum.

They’re kept healthy, and even get walked, in shifts. Decent dogs, but for one issue: they fricking BARK.

Morning, noon, night. Squirrel changes its branch, they bark.  Wind changes direction, they bark.  Young dog surprises old sleeping dog, they bark.  Mail carrier, bark.  Band saw ten blocks away, bark.  Hummingbird utters avian haiku, bark.  Luminosity of a neutron star in the Andromeda galaxy changes, they bark.

Barking for them is acknowledgement of existence.  It’s the default response to any stimuli.  They wake with a bark, fall asleep with a bark, will likely pass on to the great mystery with a bark, and greet St. Peter in the same fashion.  Maybe it’s St. Bernard for them- I don’t know.

I can tell you that most neighbors on the block have at some point gone temporarily insane because of these dogs, who regularly bay, howl, or chug away at the drop of a pine cone.  And when one barks, it’s open season for all of them to join in.  When that happens, it’s as if a middle school band on crack suddenly began playing the William Tell Overture.  You want to pull out your eye teeth (whichever teeth those are).  You want to rain fire down from the skies, submerge the dogs in amber, appeal to the heavens for aural justice.  It’s… pretty annoying.

Why do dogs bark?  Because they’re programmed to.  Barking is a way to alert the pack that trouble is coming, or for one dog to tell another to back off of a food dish, or that he wants to play.  It’s a way to alert to a scent, or to say “I am bored,” or “when are you going to feed me,” or “it’s raining out, let me in.”  It’s a voice, a language.

But just as some people talk too much, so too can dogs.  And we can, without knowing it, encourage them to do so.  The neighbor’s dogs?  They basically live outside, and are a self-governing body, with little direction, training, mentorship, or discipline.  They have little to do other than interact with themselves, or their environment.  So when one of them sees a kid on a bike coast by up front, he barks, and, when the kid disappears down the road, proudly thinks he’s made the kid go away.  He reinforces himself over and over again each day, when the kid bikes by, when the mail carrier comes and goes, when the guy with the leaf blower approaches and moves on.

This is how an unsupervised barker is born.  Add to the mix five other dogs, maybe one or two predisposed to barking (Beagles, Jack Russells, etc.) and you get a wild chorus of “Amens” happening, day in and day out.  With no one there to modify the behavior, it becomes a comfort, a mantra, a raison d’être. Despite the occasional complaint, what really are we neighbors to do?  The owner is a decent person, and the dogs are okay too, at least when not howling away together.  Calling animal control or the police could result in fines, or in one or more of the dogs being taken.  Though we lose sleep, we aren’t that callous. Yet.

young dog standing and barking outside

Photo: Kisa_Markiza/bigstock.com

Here’s what you should do to keep your dogs from barking non-stop. 

First, don’t get more than two dogs, especially if you are a neophyte to dog ownership.  Owning four, five or six dogs almost guarantees that one or more will at some point pick up a barking habit, which will spread to the others like fleas.  And, if you do want multiple dogs, get them one at a time.  Train your first dog well, and make sure she has great housetraining skills, eliminating the need to keep her outside all day.  Train her to be happy and content IN the home, which is where you want your dogs anyway when gone, to protect the homestead.  A dog in a yard can’t do anything except yell at a burglar.  Keep blinds closed so she can’t see people walking by.  Leave a radio on talk radio, or classical music.  Dog proof the home so she doesn’t rip things up.  Make her a good indoor dog.  Then, after two or three years, get a puppy, who can then model after the resident dog’s proper behavior.  And so on and so forth.

A big key to minimizing barking is training.  If your dog is well trained and obedient, he will be more confident, lessening the need to bark out his worry or fear.  Another key is to be out in the yard with him as often as possible, to let him see that the yard too is your territory, and that he has no business yowling his head off out there (unless a raccoon, bear or Sasquatch pops in).

If you need to keep him outside because of your schedule, build a fenced, concrete-floored dog run in the back, with little visual access to neighbors, or other activity.  But, know that, the more your dog feels at home in the yard without you being around, the higher the likelihood of him barking.  If you are not there to modify the behavior, it will self-reinforce, and that’ll be that.

I’m not a big fan of bark collars.  I have actually tried on the old school shock collars and barked, just to see what it felt like, and, well—when set on high, it’s not pleasant.  Some of the newer, low static charge collars aren’t that bad- like getting a mischievous carpet shock from a friend—but it still isn’t all that pleasant.

I have had some luck with the spray bark collars—a spritz of citronella in the schnozz each time the dog barks- but they don’t work well on the big barkers, and can break easily.  And forget de-barking—it’s mutilation, and doesn’t even work to stop the drive.  There is nothing worse than a debarked dog huffing out that muffled, pitiful, de-barked hack, day and night.

The best advice is to prevent barking in the first place.  Don’t keep your dogs outside all day.  Teach them good house skills.  Train them, train them, train them.  Teach them to respect, and trust in, your abilities.  Socialize and walk, to raise confidence.  Avoid having more than two pooches.  If your dog starts barking in your presence, look her in the eye and say NO, QUIET, and, if need be, use a plant sprayer bottle to spray her with a shot of water in the schnozz.

And if all else fails, pray that the luminosity of that neutron star doesn’t change.

Last Updated:

By: Steve Duno
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