Thursday, August 18, 2011

I have more pet rescue stickers!

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I have a stack of pet rescue window stickers that I got from the ASPCA. If you would like one, please email me with your name and address and I will be happy to mail you one at no charge.

I think these are great to have for police, fire, or other emergency personnel to let them know there are pets in the home.

Limit 2 per address, please.

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Friday, August 5, 2011

I'm barking, but maybe I CAN shut up!

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What do you do when your dog truly is “barking and he can’t shut up”? I have stated before that you cannot expect a dog never to bark. That is like asking a small child not to talk. Like any behavior, though, there should be limits and controls.

A dog that barks excessively can be annoying to not only you, but to neighbors as well. This can lead to complaints, and is one of the reasons a lot of dogs end up at shelters. The behavior can be corrected, though. Solving a barking problem takes time and effort, not to mention patience and understanding. It can be frustrating and difficult at times.

In one of my recent articles, we learned that there are many reasons why a dog barks. If possible, determine why your dog is barking. Are there particular situations where he barks excessively? Are there particular locations? Particular people or objects he likes to bark at? Or does he seem to be just barking at air? If you can figure out what it is that triggers the excessive barking, you can begin to work to correct the problem.

Let me start by saying what NEVER to do. Never yell at your dog to stop barking. Trust me, it doesn’t work. Yelling actually encourages your dog to bark more since he thinks you are “joining in”. I have a hard time with this one myself. With most of us, our first reaction to non-stop barking is to yell “SHUT UP” at the offender…..who looks at you, wiggles happily because he thinks you’re barking, too, and just barks even more. Besides, barking gets your attention, which is typically what your dog is looking for. He barks, you pay attention to him. So he barks more. ARGH! Take a deep breath, count to ten…..then we can start to work on the issue.

NEVER hit, spank or beat your dog for barking. Yes, I know…but there are people out there who still try to use those methods of brute force in dog training. You will do nothing but create fear in your dog. Your dog will learn to stop barking when it sees you to avoid being hit, but will more than likely start barking again as soon as you are gone. Remember, negative attention is still attention. For a needy or bored dog, any attention will do in a pinch.

“Shut up” doesn’t mean anything to a dog. You are speaking a foreign language to him. One method that seems to be effective is teaching your dog the word “quiet”. While your dog is barking, do not shout. Simply say “quiet” in a calm but firm voice. When your dog stops barking (and he will eventually, even if it’s just to catch his breath), tell him “good dog” and give him a treat or pat on the head, repeating the word quiet. Never offer him the treat or pat while he is barking. The dog will eventually figure out that when he stops barking at the word “quiet”, he gets a treat. You can add a hand signal of putting a finger to your lips after saying the word. Many dogs seem to learn more quickly from hand signals than words alone.

If your dog is outside and barking non-stop, don’t just let him in the house. All that does is teach the dog that barking will get him what he wants (in this case, back in the house). The same is true for dogs that bark to be let out of their crate, or bark because they want you to feed them or give them a treat. If you give in and do what they want you to do (which is hard not to do when you just want them to shut up and leave you alone for while), the dog has essentially trained YOU. Good owner! Good!

One way to help stop your dog from barking for attention is to simply ignore your dog. Your dog will no doubt become frustrated and bark a whole lot initially, but once he realizes that it is not getting him anywhere, he will stop. Warning - this training method can be hard on the ears for a while! Ignoring your loudly barking pup may make you want to run screaming from the room, or threaten to glue your dog’s lips together (which I admit to saying to my pups in the past). Remember that if a dog's behavior is not rewarded and reinforced, he will eventually figure out that it doesn’t work and will, hopefully, stop or greatly reduce the behavior. Remember, though, the key word here is EVENTUALLY. It takes time and lots of patience to do this method.

Being alone all day, whether in the house or outside, is BORING. Many dogs will bark constantly out of boredom. A lot of people, myself included, leave the TV or a radio on for their pups. This gives them some semblance of normalcy (since the TV is most likely on when you are home), and it can also mask some outside noises that may trigger more barking.

Dogs are intelligent and social creatures. For dogs that are alone for long periods of time, make sure they have something to do. Treat or food-filled toys are available that will keep your dog occupied. Provide safe toys and chews for your dog to play with while you are gone. If possible, have a friend or family member stop by and let the dog out to play for a short time during the day. There are even doggie daycare centers for people who don’t want their pups left alone all day.

A tired dog is a quiet dog, as a rule. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. Exercise relieves stress, and will make your dog want to nap when he is done playing. Try to play with your dog or walk him before you leave for work or any time you will be gone for more than an hour or two.

Many dogs will launch into a barking frenzy when you get home. It doesn’t seem to matter if you’ve been gone 10 minutes or 10 hours. They are still so excited to see you that they can’t stop barking. This is relatively easy to fix, but again requires the patience of a saint at times. When you get home and your dog starts his frenzied “welcome home” barking, IGNORE him. Any attention you give him while he is barking just reinforces the behavior since he is getting exactly what he wants….your attention. Avoid even making eye contact with your dog if possible. Once he finally settles down, and he will eventually, then go to him and pet and praise him for being a good dog and sitting quietly.

It may also help to alter our behavior when we leave the house as well. If we make a big deal out of leaving, fussing over our poor pup for having to stay home by himself, your dog will pick up on your anxiety and the change in your mood. He will learn to associate your tone of voice and words with the fact that he will be left alone, which we already know he doesn’t like. Dogs pick up on our emotions. Your dog will end up feeling anxious himself, and that may aggravate a barking or behavioral problem. Make an effort to avoid paying attention to your dog when you are getting ready to leave. Do not pet the dog or, worse yet, engage in that baby talk that most of us tend to do when we are afraid our pups will be upset or afraid. Go about your business like you normally would. Just before you leave, gather a few of your dog’s favorite toys or treats and place them in a room away from the door. Then quietly leave without speaking to your dog. I know, I have a hard time with this one myself. This way, though, your dog will not be upset by changes in your behavior, and will accept the fact you are gone and stay relaxed and quiet.

If your dog barks excessively when someone comes to the door, walks down the sidewalk, brings the mail, etc., we need to address those behaviors as well. Some people close the blinds so the dog cannot see the mailman when he brings the mail, or the kids playing in the street. If possible, keep your dog in a room that is not near the street. Put empty boxes or something similar on the chair or couch to keep your dog from jumping up there and looking out the window. If your dog goes bananas about anything outside while you are home, try different distraction techniques. Try to direct your dog’s attention away from whatever is triggering his barking. If you can use the “quiet” command, that’s great. Often that will not work in this situation because the dog’s adrenaline is up and he tends to ignore the more subtle commands. Anything to break his attention will help. I have heard of filling a can with rocks, and shaking it to make a loud noise when your dog starts his barking fit. I personally keep a spray bottle filled with water in my living room. If they start up at something outside, or each other, I squirt them in the nose with water and say “no” firmly. That is usually enough to put an end to it, as they don’t care much for being squirted with water. It is unpleasant for them, but does not hurt them in any way.

There are a number of products available that promise to put an end to unwanted barking behavior. There are ultrasonic collars or devices that emit a sound that is unpleasant to dogs when it detects barking. I have used some of these sound-activated collars in the past with mixed results. One of my female goldens hated the high-pitched sound the collar made when she barked (and she barked a lot). As soon as the collar made the sound, she would stop barking and try to run and hide from the noise…usually in the bathroom. I felt a little mean doing that, but it did have the desired effect. It stopped her excessive barking. Other than being unpleasant to her ears, it was not harmful to her and did not require any negative attention from me.

One of my other dogs, however, didn’t seem to care either way about the tone the collar made. Once his adrenaline was up, it didn’t phase him at all. Some dogs, like Sam for example, are very reactive and territorial. Once that adrenaline level is up, not much will get their attention. The squirt bottle of water seems to work better than anything with him. He flat out does not like water in his face.

There are collars that emit a spritz of citronella, or some other substance that the dog does not like, that are meant to deter barking. I have not personally used any of these, but I would image it is a similar method to my squirt bottle of water.

There are collars that apply varying levels of electric shock when the dog barks. I am not a fan of these, but then again I am not a fan of any method that requires brute force or inflicts pain on an animal. As with the ultrasonic collars, once a dog’s adrenaline level is up they will often not even feel the shock. I realize that that there are extreme situations where they might be used, but I believe it should be a last resort only.

Before resorting to such a harsh method of training, have your dog examined by his vet. There are certain medical or neurological conditions that could be responsible for excessive barking in a dog. Pain or discomfort can make a dog bark, as well as cognitive issues. Older dogs can develop a form of canine senility that can lead to excessive vocalizations. If your dog is in pain, barking may make him feel better (by relieving stress and raising adrenaline), plus it is a way to get your attention. If nothing you have tried is working, it is a good idea to make sure your dog isn’t sick or trying to tell you that something is wrong.

Lastly, I will mention a practice that I find totally inhumane and just plain reprehensible. There is a surgery that can be done to “de-bark” a dog. In this procedure, the folds of tissue on either side of the dog’s larynx are removed. This leaves the dog with a raspy bark rather than a full sound bark. It does nothing to correct the behavior. It simply makes the barking quieter, sort of like a person with laryngitis. Complications to this surgery are common, and can be life threatening. Breathing difficulties, chronic pain, and higher risk of choking are often seen. A few cases have been seen where the dog eventually regained their “voice” after the surgery. This procedure does nothing to change the behavior of the dog or address any underlying problems. Just to stress….this surgery does not stop the barking…it simply makes it sound different. My personal feeling on this is that the de-barking surgery is inhumane and should be outlawed. There are efforts being made to ban this horrific procedure.

As you can see, getting your dog’s barking under control can be a long and complicated process that requires consistency and patience on your part. With a bit of homework, effort, and behavior modifications on the part of your dog, AND you….the problem can be solved. The results are a quieter household and a better relationship with your pet. Don’t give up!

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