Barking is the way dogs express an emotion of some kind. In order to be able to reduce it, we need to know why the dog is barking. – Turid Rugaas, Barking: The Sound of A Language, Dogwise Publishing, 2008
OBJECTIVE: To resolve issues with a dog whose barking is disruptive.
Barking is one of many forms of communication for dogs. Some breeds of dogs have a tendency to bark more frequently than others. Barking is a complex behavior, meaning there are several reasons that your dog may bark. He may be barking to alert you that something or someone is approaching. He also may bark in order to obtain something such as a treat or attention. He may bark to tell you that he needs to go outside to go to the bathroom. Many dogs bark simply because they have been left alone and are frustrated, bored or anxious.
Like any behavior, a dog barks because they find the result of their barking to be rewarding. For example, your dog may bark repeatedly if they get anxious or upset when strangers enter their territory; like the postal carrier delivering the daily mail or children gathering at the end of the drive as they wait for the school bus. The dog barks and barks. “Intruder!!!” “Go away!!” Shortly thereafter the postal carrier and children leave, not because of your dogs barking, but that’s not how your dog sees it. From the dogs perspective he has just driven away the invaders in his territory. That is a huge reward! And if it is repeated 5 to 6 times a week, as it would be in the above example, it becomes even stronger every time it occurs. Lastly, some dogs can also bark for the pure joy of it. In this case, the behavior is self-reinforcing and can be even more difficult to control.
NOTE: Do NOT get into a barking contest with your dog. All too often we inadvertently contribute to our dogs barking by yelling (barking) back at them. If your dog does not stop barking and you yell louder, your dog gets more excited and thus barks more. It will rapidly become a vicious circle.
Punishing your dog for barking; yelling at them, throwing something at them, using a shake can or an anti-barking collar, or anything else that the dog may perceive as aversive, typically will not resolve the barking and will often make it worse. Aversives cause fear and anxiety, which are a common cause of excessive barking in dogs. Green Acres Kennel Shop as well as the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) all strongly recommend against the use of aversives for training or behavior modification.
“This Task Force opposes training methods that use aversive techniques. Aversive training has been associated with detrimental effects on the human–animal bond, problem solving ability, and the physical and behavioral health of the patient. It causes problem behaviors in normal animals and hastens progression of behavioral disorders in distressed animals. Aversive techniques are especially injurious to fearful and aggressive patients and often suppress signals of impending aggression, rendering any aggressive dog more dangerous. Aversive techniques include prong (pinch) or choke collars, cattle prods, alpha rolls, dominance downs, electronic shock collars, lunge whips, starving or withholding food, entrapment, and beating. None of those tools and methods should be used to either teach or alter behavior. Non aversive techniques rely on the identification and reward of desirable behaviors and on the appropriate use of head collars, harnesses, toys, remote treat devices, wraps, and other force-free methods of restraint. This Task Force strongly endorses techniques that focus on rewarding correct behaviors and removing rewards for unwanted behaviors.” – from the AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines, published August 2015
As behaviorist Turid Rugaas so aptly noted in the quote at the beginning of this article, before we can deal with a dogs barking we first need to understand why they are barking. In her book Barking: The Sound of A Language, she recommends that the first step in getting your dogs barking under control is to keep a chart of your dogs barking so that you can better determine the cause. Such a chart might look like this:
Many people find it helpful to work with a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) in developing a behavior modification plan to reduce excessive barking. Barking is the result of an emotional response so training the dog a new behavior will seldom be sufficient to resolve the barking unless we also help the dog to have a positive emotional response. Barking is complex and having a thorough understanding of normal and abnormal canine behaviors is often necessary to determine why the barking is reinforcing to the dog. You can learn more about Green Acres Behavior Consulting services at our website <click here> or by calling us at 207-945-6841.
This material is from Best Friends for Life by Don Hanson>
Even though dogs do not ‘talk’ in the same way that we do, they do manage to communicate with other dogs’ quite well. Dogs use some forms of vocal communication (whine, bark, growl, howl, etc.) as well as a variety of body postures and movements to indicate their messages. Puppies learn these communication skills while with their litter and mother. Puppies separated from their litter before eight weeks of age run the risk of not having enough exposure to this process and may exhibit behavioral problems.
If you spend some time learning canine as a second language, you will be rewarded with a much better understanding of your pet and his behavior. With study and practice, you can learn to understand what your dog is trying to communicate.
Barking, whining and growling are all means of vocal communication. Whining is an indication of stress or anxiety. A dog may whine when he is doing something that he dislikes or that frightens him. Punishing a dog for whining will only make the problem worse. You need to determine the cause of the stress and find a way to remove it.
Growling can take two different forms. A ‘play’ growl can be heard when dogs are engaged in roughhousing or mock fighting. It is usually low and rumbly, but soft. A warning growl is different. This dog means business. A warning growl usually increases in volume as it continues and is accompanied by a menacing body posture (this will be discussed further below).
Never punish your dog for growling. A growl is a very useful warning signal. A dog that is punished for growling will stop the growling but it will not remove the reason for the growl. A dog that no longer growls, no longer gives a warning before taking more drastic action. As a trainer who sometimes deals with aggressive dogs, I much prefer a dog that gives me a warning.
Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to barking than are others. A bark can convey many different kinds of information. If you listen closely, you can probably tell an “I’m bored” bark from a “somebody is at the door!” bark. Some dogs are recreational barkers and just love to hear the sound of their own voices. They bark and bark and bark. Since this behavior is self-reinforcing, it can be difficult to deal with.
People have gone to extremes to remedy a barking problem, everything from electronic shock collars to having the dog’s vocal cords cut. However, even these extreme methods do not stop many dogs and do not change the dogs emotional state which is often one of anxiety and fear. While a shock collar or removal of the dogs vocal cords may make us feel better, it usually makes the dog feel worse.
Barking is a very complex behavior. If you have a barking problem, I suggest you work with a qualified trainer or behaviorist.
While dogs do vocalize, most of their communication with one another, and even us, is done through their body language. Canine body language is very subtle, yet also very sophisticated. Research by Dr. Patricia McConnell has indicated that “Important signals may last only a tenth of a second and be no bigger than a quarter of an inch.” For Example: Leaning forward ½ an inch can stop a dog from coming while leaning back ½ an inch encourages the dog to come.
Dogs manage to convey an enormous amount of information by small changes in posture and demeanor. For example, many people believe that a wagging tail signals a happy dog. If the tail is low and relaxed, this is probably true. However, if the tail is held high and is quickly switching back and forth, the dog is signaling agitation or the possible intention to attack. In addition to the tail, there are other cues such as whether or not the hackles (hair along the back of the neck) are raised. This little trick actually serves to make the dog look bigger and more frightening, and usually occurs when the dog feels threatened. However, the hackles may simply be up because the dog is in a high state of arousal or excitement. We often see this when dogs are simply playing.
Other signs of aggression can include a dog that takes a stance with most of its weight over its front legs, almost leaning forward on its toes. Ears may be back or up, depending upon the breed. Along with a low growl, the dog may snarl and show teeth. A dog that intends to attack will probably stare hard at its victim.
A submissive dog, displays a whole different set of postures. The submissive dog will keep its head down, and may lower itself to the ground. A really submissive dog may go ‘belly up’ or urinate when approached. These are indications that the dog is trying to avoid conflict and does not want to fight. The submissive dog will not usually look directly into your eyes. A dog that has panicked and is very frightened may stare at you.
Aside from tail wagging, a happy dog usually displays other signs. Some even go beyond tail wagging to whole body wagging! A happy dog’s mouth is usually slightly open and relaxed. They often look as though they are laughing. The entire body seems at ease when the dog is happy.
When two dogs are together, people often have a hard time telling whether the dogs intend to play or fight. One sure sign of intention to play is a play bow. In a play bow, the dog rests its front legs and chest on the ground and leaves its hindquarters in the air. This is accompanied by frenzied tail wagging and jumping from side to side. A play bow is an invitation to romp. Try getting a play bow from your dog by getting down on the floor and doing one first.
Dogs who intend to fight have a much stiffer body posture and their movements are sharper and more deliberate.
Verbal versus Visual Communication
When you bring your pet to us for boarding or grooming, you let us know your pet’s needs and requirements by talking to us. As humans, our primary method of communicating with one another is the spoken word. More simply, we make noises that other humans are able to understand. People are so accustomed to communicating with our own species by talking, that we presume it is the most efficient method of communicating with other species such as our dogs. That is not the case.
While our dogs offer many vocalizations (barking, whining, howling, etc.) their primary method of communicating with one another and with us is visual. They observe body language. When with one another they look at how they stand, what they do with their tails, ears, eyes, and lips. This is why most dogs will learn a hand signal easier and quicker than they learn a verbal cue for a behavior.
To demonstrate this, Dr. Patricia McConnell, a canine behaviorist at the University of Wisconsin, conducted a simple experiment. She selected 24 puppies, six and a half weeks old, four each from litters of Australian Shepherds, Beagles, Border Collies, Dalmatians, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Miniature Schnauzers. She and her graduate students then spent four days training the puppies to “sit” upon presentation of both an audible and a visual signal. The trainer presented a sound at the same time they scooped their hand up over the puppy’s head. On the fifth day the trainers presented the puppies with one signal at a time so they could determine whether the audible or visual signal resulted in more correct responses. Twenty-three of the 24 puppies responded better to the visual signal than the sound. One of the puppies responded equally well to both. Eight of the puppies did not respond to the audible signal at all. The following table indicates correct responses to audible and visual signals by breed.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
This simple study suggests that when training our dogs we can make it easier for them and ourselves by teaching a visual cue first.
We also need to be aware of everything we are doing with our bodies when training our dogs. Just because we think the visual cue for sit is scooping our hands, does NOT mean that is what the dog is really cueing on. For example, one year one of our students commented his dog was inconsistently responding to a visual cue for sit. After watching them for a few exercises I quickly determined the problem. While the student usually scooped his hand for a sit, occasionally he would scoop his hand and then rest his hand on his stomach. The dog sat every time the student scooped and then rested his hand on his stomach. The dog had a visual cue for SIT; it just was not the cue the student intended.
Spend some time watching your dog interact with you and other living things. The better you learn their language, the happier you both can be.
When dogs interact with one another and with us, they often use body language to cutoff perceived aggression or other threats. Turid Rugaas, a canine behaviorist from Norway, calls this type of body language “Calming Signals.” These signals are used to prevent aggression, and for calming down nervousness in others. Dogs use these signals to communicate with one another, us, and even other species of animals. They are a dog’s primary method of resolving a potential conflict.
By learning, understanding and using these calming signals, you can communicate better with your dog. I have outlined some of these calming signals below. If you would like to learn more about them, I suggest you read Ms. Rugaas’ book, On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals and watch her video, Calming Signals: What Your Dog Tells You.
Averting the Eyes
Breaking eye contact, by averting the eyes is often the first sign of stress observed in a dog.
Turning of the Head
If your dog becomes nervous about the approach of another dog or person, he may turn his head from side-to-side, or may just turn away. This signals the other dog that they are approaching too quickly or too directly.
This is an extension of turning your head. If a group of dogs are playing and some of them get too rough, other dogs may turn their side or back to them in order to get the dogs settled down. We often saw this behavior with our dogs when playing. If our Border collieX Shed felt play was “getting too wild,” she would turn away from the other dogs. If your dog is jumping or whining at you, turning away from them may help calm them.
Rapid flicking of the tongue over the nose is also a common calming signal. It is often seen with dogs at the veterinarians or when the dog is at the groomers.
Sniffing as a calming signal must be reviewed within the context in which it appears. Obviously, dogs sniff for other reasons than to just indicate stress.
Dogs may yawn when in stressful situations such as at the vet’s office or during a quarrel among its family. If your dog is feeling stressed, standing still and yawning may help them relax. They need to see you yawn though, so even though it is impolite, you do not want to cover your mouth if this is to work.
Dogs will use a “play bow” (front legs and chest on the ground with hind quarters in the air) to initiate play or to calm another animal down that they are unsure about. You can do a play bow to initiate play or to help relax a dog.
You can learn much about your dog by just sitting back and watching them interact with you, other family members, other dogs and other animals. If you spend the time to do this, it will greatly increase your ability to communicate with your dog
Distance Increasing Signals
These signals are meant to increase the distance between two individuals. They are a way of saying “you are invading my comfort zone” and by paying attention to them, one is often able to avoid being bitten. These signals are:
Body weight forward
Head/Neck is lowered
Increase in Height
Tail up high, “flagging”
Freezing in Place
Hackles Up (Piloerection)
How We Communicate With Our Dogs – Dog Handling Skills
Just as you can learn a great deal from your dog’s body language, your dog reads a lot about you from your body language. Some body language you can use to your advantage is:
Do not bend over your dog. Squat next to them or stand straight. When you bend over the dog, you are putting them in a defensive position.
When training the recall, stand straight or squat with your arms outstretched. Stooping over the dog will cause him to avoid you.
Smile. Your face says a great deal about your attitude.
When petting a dog for the first time, touch them on the sides of their body and on their chest. Never pat them on the top of the head.
Avoid hugging your dog. No matter how much pleasure you get from hugs, your dog does not enjoy it.
On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, Turid Rugaas, Dogwise Publishing, 2006
Calming Signals: What Your Dog Tells You– DVD – Turid Rugaas,
The Other End of the Leash – Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs, Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D, Ballantine Books, 2002
Stress in Dogs, Martina Scholz and Clarissa von Reinhardt, Dogwise Publishing, 2007
The Language of Dogs – Understanding Canine Body Language and Other Signals- DVD’s – Sarah Kalnajs, Blue Dog Training and Behavior, 2006
OFF-LEASH Dog Play, Robin Bennett, CPDT and Susan Briggs, CKO, C&R Publishing, 2008
This article first appeared in the April 2015 edition of the Downeast Dog News.
<You can listen to a companion podcast to this article, first broadcast on The Woof Meow Show on the Voice of Maine on April 11, 2015, by clicking here>
Leaving your dog at a boarding kennel, doggie daycare, grooming salon, training facility, veterinary clinic or even leaving them at home with a pet sitter is not a decision you should make lightly. The question you need to ask yourself is: what happens once you are gone? How will your pet be treated? Will your pet be comfortable and relaxed during their stay with their caregivers? While there are many wonderful facilities that could easily and honestly answer that your furry companion is in great hands; this is not true for all. However, it is with great relief that I can say with some confidence that we are beginning to see a trend toward kinder and gentler professional pet care. Today, the terms “pet friendly,” “force-free,” and “fear-free” are becoming much more commonplace in our industry.
In 2012, the Pet Professional Guild was founded in an effort to “provide educational resources to pet trainers and professional pet care providers and advocates for mutually agreed guiding principles for the pet care industry. PPG partners, members and affiliates focus on each pet’s physical, mental, environmental and nutritional well-being adhering to a holistic approach to the care and training of family pets.” In a nut shell, the ultimate goal of the PPG is to be “The Association for a Force-Free Pet Industry.” At the same time, thanks to the efforts of the late Dr. Sophia Yin and Dr. Marty Becker, veterinarians are learning how they too can make your pet’s visit to their office a fear-free experience.
Nevertheless, the reality is that the terms “pet friendly,” “force-free” and “fear-free” have no legally binding definition. These standards are voluntary and not mandated by any regulatory agency so it is still a case of “buyer beware.” Even though many facilities are licensed by the state, nothing in the law requires staff training or that a facility focus on minimizing stress and anxiety for the animals in their care. Nor do these laws restrict facilities from using aversives such as squirt bottles, citronella collars or other confrontational techniques. It is in your pet’s best interest that you have a discussion with any prospective pet care provider before leaving your pets in their care. The following are some questions that you should ask:
Is your staff trained in canine behavior, body language and stress signals?
How will you handle the situation if my pet is scared or fearful?
What do you do if my dog barks while they stay with you?
How does your staff respond if a pet growls?
How is the staff trained to respond if my dog jumps on them?
Will my pet interact with other pets that are not part of their family? If so, how will these interactions be supervised?
Are punishers, such as squirt bottles, ever used?
Will my pet ever wear a shock, citronella, choke or prong collar while with you?
Would your staff ever attempt to dominate or alpha-roll my dog?
During peak times, do you overbook? Is there a chance my pet will be boarded in a crate instead of an indoor/outdoor run?
At what point do you stop a nail trim or a grooming if the dog is showing signs of stress and discomfort? How and when do you decide if an animal will be muzzled?
Are you and your staff members of The Pet Professional Guild and do you follow their “Force-Free” philosophies?
The following is a recent example of how we worked with a dog boarding at Green Acres for the first time:
A new dog arrived for its first boarding stay. It was placed in its indoor/outdoor kennel. Immediately the dog began to back away and growl at staff when they attempted to approach it to take it outside. The pet care technician on duty contacted the manager who then came to assess the situation. Very slowly, and allowing the dog to do all the approaching, the manager was able to hook the dog to its own leash and the dog was taken for a walk to get an opportunity to assess the environment. The dog was walked on leash several times the first couple of days, by multiple staff members, until it reached a point where it was very relaxed and comfortable in the kennel. In addition, a DAP/Adaptil (dog appeasing pheromone) diffuser was plugged in near this dog’s kennel.
On this dog’s final day, it was scheduled to have a grooming. The dog was very good for the bath, but when it was time for the nail trim, it immediately tensed and became agitated. The decision was made to not to do the nails. The dog in question had progressed so far, from being absolutely terrified on day one to having a good stay, and we did not want to undo that progress. It was imperative for this dog’s future kenneling experiences that this first visit end on a good note, and forcing a nail trim would not have been beneficial to the mental health of the pet.
While we understand, and even expect, that a trip to the boarding kennel, groomer or veterinarian will have some associated stress for your animal, the onus is on those of us in the industry to make these visits as relaxing and fear free as possible. These changes need to happen system wide and here at Green Acres we call upon all other facilities to join the movement and become pet friendly facilities and we also call upon you, the consumer, to see that it happens.
Next month, we will go into a discussion about the Force-Free philosophy of The Pet Professional Guild and their efforts to educate pet guardians and the pet care services industry about force-free pet care. In addition, we will explore what veterinary clinics are doing to make your pet’s visit to the vet fear-free.
Links to the other two parts of this series can be found below.
Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – The PPG – Part 2 – <Click Here>
Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – A Veterinary Perspective – Part 3- <Click Here>
Green Acres’ First Statement on Being A Pet Friendly-Facility – <Click Here>
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.