In every neighborhood there's at least one chronic barker, carrying on night and day, rain or shine, weekday afternoons and Sunday mornings, too.
Is this dog yours? The owners of problem barkers seem to develop an ability to ignore the noise that has their neighbors thinking of legal action -- or maybe murder. But a dog who's barking constantly isn't having any more fun than the neighbors are, and you owe it to both your pet and those who can hear him to fix this problem.
The first step is to figure out why your dog's sounding off so much. Dogs bark to express a variety of emotions: anxiety, boredom, territoriality, aggression, playfulness and hunger. Certain conditions in a dog's environment can trigger these emotions -- and barking fits -- more frequently.
The typical neighborhood nuisance is an outdoor dog who isn't getting the exercise and attention he needs. Dogs are social animals: They need to be part of a family. If your dog's outside because of poor manners or because he isn't house-trained, give him another chance. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist and arrange for an in-home consultation to fix the underlying problems.
Once you've brought him into your life, keep him busy with regular outings. Exercise, both of the body and of the mind, works wonders for all dogs, especially those who bark from boredom or to release excess energy. You'll be a amazed at how much calmer, happier -- and quieter -- your dog will be!
For the barking that remains -- some dogs are just naturally yappy -- your task is to train your dog to be quiet on command when you're home and to reduce the barking triggers when you're not.
Teach your dog to be quiet by distracting him from barking, saying the word "Quiet" or "Enough," and then praising him for "minding" -- he'll make the connection soon enough, with repetition and lots of praise. Rattling a can filled with pennies is a commonly recommended distraction, and it works well. Shouting at your dog does nothing except make you feel temporarily better.
Work to minimize barking cues to keep your dog quiet when you're not home. If your dog barks while looking through a window that faces the street, keep him out of that room while you're gone. Many dogs fire up when they hear car doors slam; other dogs bark at the mail carrier's steps on the walk. Muffle these sounds by leaving a radio playing while you're not home, and your pet is more likely to sleep than bark. Giving your dog something special to chew on, such as a Kong toy or hollow bone stuffed with a little peanut butter, will help to keep him occupied and quiet while he's awake.
For the most persistent barkers, there is a new product on the market that's well worth investigating. The ABS Anti-Bark System is a battery-operated collar that releases a spray of citronella mist each time a dog barks. The mist is harmless to the dog -- the citrus tang smells good to humans, but dogs hate it. The hiss of the mist releasing from the canister and the smell itself are annoying enough to distract the dog and correct him for barking. The product has been in short supply since being mentioned on an "Oprah" show last year, but is now showing up in pet-supply catalogs and stores.
The ABS collar is an effective alternative to electric shock collars or to surgical debarking.
Chances are if you bring your dog into your home and train him, you'll not even need to consider an anti-bark collar or surgery of any kind. In any case, working on this problem is well worth the effort: You, your dog and you neighbors will all be happier.
CYBERLINKS: If you're tired of thinking about barking dogs, why not take a break and learn more about the barkless breed, the basenji. The Basenji Club of America notes on its home page (http://www.basenji.org) that while basenjis do not bark and are generally quiet, they can and do yodel, chortle, howl and growl. The site even has sound files so you can listen to these interesting noises yourself.
Gina Spadafori, the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," is affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international on-line service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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