When Dogs Bark Too Much

No one objects to a little barking, but some dogs have an awful lot to say. They bark at everything -- bicyclists, cats, or the sound of moving drapes. Or they'll bark by the hour, apparently for no other reason than to hear themselves speak.

Barking is one of the most common behavior problems. It's also among the most serious, not only because it drives owners crazy but because neighbors who run out of patience may wind up contacting local law enforcement authorities. Yelling doesn't help because dogs often think you're barking back, Kovary says.

Barking can be an intractable problem, not only because it's a natural behavior but because dogs have a lot of different reasons for doing it. Here's what they may be saying.

"Someone's coming!" Like their owners, dogs are territorial -- but instead of building fences, they bark. This can be helpful when you want to know if someone's on your property, but it can be a real nuisance when it's directed at everything from cats to the postal carrier.

If your dog's definition of intruders is too inclusive, you may want to resort to diversionary tactics, says Shirley Sullivan, president of PR Dog, a training and dog day care center in Falls Church, Virginia. For example, when you see the postal carrier coming, keep your dog busy and focused on you by having her repeatedly sit and lie down, a practice trainers refer to as "puppy pushups." The idea is to keep your dog busy until the distraction goes away.

"Don't forget I'm here." Some dogs rev up their barking when their owners are on the telephone or engaged in another activity that shuts them out of the field of attention. Again, this is an easy problem to correct. Sullivan recommends snapping the leash on your dog when you're about to get busy. If she starts barking, tug on the leash to get her attention and quiet her down. Most dogs will get the hint fairly quickly. Eventually, just putting on the leash before you make a telephone call will guarantee you a little peace.

"Listen to me." Dogs get bothered by all sorts of things, and they respond by calling their owners the only way they know -- by barking. This type of barking is normal and you don't want to stop it, Kovary says. Take a moment to check out what's going on. Once your dog sees you're on the scene, she'll feel less responsible and will probably stop barking on her own.

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