Barking is normal dog behaviour that communicates play, excitement, fear, stress, territorial breaches or warnings, anxiety, aggression, or illness. While barking is normal, excessive barking can be frustrating for owners and their neighbours.
Nuisance barkers are some of the most common complaints our Animal Services team deals with.
Barking becomes a problem when it:
- Is excessive
- Annoys the neighbours
- Annoys you
- Results in our involvement
Remember that nuisance barking can be subjective. Even if you feel your dog doesn’t bark excessively, neighbouring residents might have a different tolerance level or it may be affecting them differently. Many aspects of life can change a person’s tolerance for barking:
- Young children that are easily disrupted when sleeping
- The elderly (especially with hearing aids)
- Shift workers
- People recovering from illness or caring for those who are unwell
Everyone has a right to enjoy their days and nights in peace.
Why Do Dogs Bark?
Dogs can bark because of boredom, the need for attention, anxiety or distress, excitement, pain or to alert owners of potential intruders. Understanding why your dog barks will help you put together a training and management program to reduce the nuisance. Your dog’s health, age, breed and physical and mental enrichment are all likely to contribute to nuisance barking.
Like young children seeking attention or acting out, dogs that bark consistently are often trying to alert someone that their needs are not being met – it could be attention, exercise, hunger, fatigue, pain, discomfort or they don’t feel safe. In many cases, ensuring these needs are met can help to solve barking problems.
Masterton District Council relies on assistance from yourself and other neighbours to help find and fix the issue.
The process can take three months or more and generally follows these five steps:
1. Talking about it.
If you have a barking dog in your area we encourage you to let the dog owner know. This could be a simple conversation or a note left in the mailbox. Often owners don’t know their dogs are causing a problem because they aren’t home when the dog barks. By letting the dog owner know when and/or why the dog is barking they will be able to fix the situation faster. If the problem continues, phone Animal Services on 06 370 6300 to have the issue investigated.
2. We get in touch.
When we get a barking complaint, our Animal Services team will get in touch with the owner to let them know there has been a complaint about their dog and to provide some support and guidance to help reduce the barking.
A second more thorough investigation might happen if the initial support doesn’t reduce the barking, this might include:
– Visiting the property to determine the cause of the barking and provide advice and direction on ways to reduce the barking.
– Complainants will be kept informed of Council’s actions during the process. We will also ask you to keep a log of the barking to add to our records and provide a history of the issue.
4. Further investigation.
More complaints within a 3 month period will need more input from complainants and neighbours. This involves:
- Barking logs filled in by the complainant, neighbours, and Council Officers for a set period.
- Visiting the dog owner to make sure they have made the changes that were suggested. The owner might also complete a bark log for comparison.
Nuisance and excessive barking can only be proven by Council Officers if there are reasonable grounds to believe the barking is persistent and loud. Your involvement is very important to give supporting evidence if enforcement is required.
5. The Dog Control Act.
Council will analyse the barking diaries and logs to establish if the complaint is substantiated and there has been a breach of the Dog Control Act 1996, Section 55. For substantiated complaints, an Abatement Notice may be issued that requires the owner to reduce the noise and not doing this could mean further enforcement. Where there is no evidence of a breach or where complainants fail or refuse to assist in the process as required; no further action will be taken and the case will be closed. Council will let you know the outcome of any investigation.
Behaviour Management Strategies
Below are some of the most common reasons for excessive barking and some ideas to help manage these.
Avoid getting angry at dogs that alert bark. After all, they don’t know the difference between welcome and unwelcome guests. Everyone that walks past could be a potential intruder. Dogs on patrol will often bark in response to a specific change in the environment (someone walking past or an unexpected sound) and the barks will remain at a high intensity and frequency until that change is gone (the person is out of sight or a few minutes after the sound subsides).
Further, imagine the stress involved in being responsible for chasing potential intruders away all day and night. That consistent, patrolling, high-alert state of mind is not conducive to a relaxed, healthy or happy dog. For many dogs, a measure of anxiety and stress is involved in this behaviour – normal, healthy dogs should be able to relax in their own home, sleep and ignore the normal and consistent passers-by on a busy street.
Dealing with alert barkers
When you’re home:
- Acknowledge that the dog’s job is done, and that you’ve noticed the potential ‘intruder’ by saying ‘Thank you!’, ‘All clear’, or ‘Job’s done’.
- Encourage the dog to come to you and then give them a treat. Place bowls of treats strategically around the house so you can access them easily when your dog alerts.
While this may seem counter-productive, you will not be reinforcing the barking, but instead reinforcing the dog for coming toward you and being quiet after they’ve alerted you of something of interest. It will result in a dog that self-regulates (one or two barks before choosing to check in with you and settle again after some praise). This method also works quite well for dogs that bark at the door when guests arrive.
When you’re not home:
- Change what your dog can see – shut blinds, close doors, or put up a temporary fence to limit their access to parts of the house or yard that they like to patrol from.
- Leave a radio on low volume (preferably classical music which can be calming for dogs) to help mask some of the sounds.
Dogs are busy, intelligent and sentient beings which means that like us they need love, interaction and are in fact very similar to a toddler. Regular physical and mental exercise is critical to their well-being and welfare, and excessive barking can often occur where these needs are not met. Further, dogs often develop intense and excessive ‘on patrol’ barking habits when they are bored.
Dealing with Boredom Barking
Allowing dogs to problem solve (ie. hunt) for their daily food ration and use their noses in scent games can drastically increase their ability to relax and sleep throughout the day (which is normal dog behaviour). See the enrichment section of this page for other ideas that might suit your dog.
Barking for Attention
Boredom can also significantly contribute to dogs that bark for attention. Your dog may be barking for attention from you, other household members, other household pets, neighbouring residents, or neighbourhood pets. Barking for attention (and as a sign of anxiety or stress) can often be recognised as dogs will bark for a short period before stopping and waiting to see if there’s a response.
Dealing with Attention Barking
As with boredom barkers – keeping your dog busy throughout the day with different and varied environmental enrichment options will go a long way to reduce the problem behaviour. If they’re occupied and satiated, there is less need for them to gain your attention. It is generally best to interrupt dogs that bark for attention and provide them with something else to do that is productive and interactive. Attention seeking barking is often the result of one of the dog’s needs not being met (they’re trying to interact with you). Don’t be afraid to provide that attention the instant they bark, before providing them with something else more constructive to do. The end result will be a dog that barks once or twice for attention, before waiting patiently for you to assist with what they need.
Separation Anxiety and Distress
Dogs that bark or howl when they’re alone can be suffering from separation or isolation distress. Some dogs hate being alone – it doesn’t matter who or which animal is with them they just want some company (isolation distress), and some dogs can’t cope with being separated from one owner or other household pet specifically (separation distress or anxiety). Teaching your dog to be independent (whether they’re adults or recent rescues, or most importantly – puppies) is essential to ensuring they can cope with isolation during the day while you live your life. While it’s nice to have a dog greet us eagerly at the front door when we get home, it could be a sign that your dog was stressed and anxious for the duration of your absence.
Some signs of separation/ isolation distress/ anxiety:
- Not eating the food you leave (for some dogs), or only eating it when you’re home
- Excessive salivation/ wet spots around the house or on their fur when you get home (not urination)
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
- Excessive pacing (sometimes you can notice this through the creation of tracks in the backyard)
- Exhaustion after you get home – they’ve been terrified and panicked all day and can only relax when you’re there (could also be on patrol behaviour – watch the way they interact with you to be sure)
- Destructive behaviour (could also be boredom – watch the way they interact with you to be sure)
- Self-harm – excessive licking on flanks or paws
- A dog that has to keep you in sight at all times when you’re home (even getting up from sleep to follow you, or trying to get into the bathroom with you)
- A dog that howls or barks as you leave
The best way to be sure about separation or isolation distress is to film your dog when you’re out. Boredom, on patrol, fear, excessive sound sensitivity and generalised anxiety can also be causes for several of the above symptoms. If your dog ticks some of the above boxes it will be best to contact a behavioural dog training professional for assistance. It is generally not recommended that you get a second dog to help alleviate the stress of the first dog until you have spoken with a qualified and experienced professional trainer. While in some cases it may assist, in others you are just as likely to have two dogs that are now stressed and excessively barking.
Exercise breaks up your dog’s day with both mental and physical stimulation. It provides your dog with a chance to release energy, but also investigate and explore their surroundings. Normal, healthy dogs need to go for walks and outings as often as you can take them – regardless of how big or little they are, or how big your property is; dogs are not self-exercising. Dogs who are walked frequently are less likely to exhibit problem behaviours like constant running around, excessive barking, pacing and escaping.
There are lots of different ways to exercise your dog. You don’t have to stick to just one or the other – in fact, it’s better to use a variety of different exercise types over the course of the week. But it is important to ensure your dog enjoys them. See below for a few tips to ensure your dog is receiving appropriate and adequate exercise:
Shorter walks, more frequently
Avoid increasing the length of your walk, so much as getting your dog out of the house more often. If, on a normal day you allocate 20-30min to walk your dog you can split that time into 2 x 10-15minute walks for better effect (this may also help reduce any pulling that occurs as walking is a more frequent occurrence).
Prioritise a walk before you leave
Prioritise a walk or outing prior to you leave for the day. Think of your dog’s energy levels like a battery – every day you need to use up all the energy and every night it will recharge. Walking your dog before you leave for work in the morning will help reduce some of their energy levels for the long day ahead until you get home. If your dog is a little calmer during the day because of a morning walk, they will be less likely to bark. A second shorter walk once you get home will also work wonders
Interrupt play and practice recall
Interrupt your dog’s play with other dogs, or chasing the ball, frequently with recalls and calm them down before letting them go again. Dogs that get uninterrupted, crazy play at the dog park or beach, or chase a ball obsessively, actually find it harder to relax and settle at home than others. It appears to work because they sleep when they’re exhausted, but it’s actually counterproductive as they don’t rest until that point. And that point of exhaustion will change the fitter they become.
Stop and smell the roses
Start to incorporate longer, sniffy walks as part of your routine. These can be along trails, the beach or footpaths that really encourage them to use their noses. Dog’s perceive their world predominantly through their noses – it’s imperative to their mental wellbeing that you give them an outlet for that natural behaviour. Allow your dog to stop and sniff any time they want to on their walks (as long as it’s safe). While you may feel initially that you’ll never get anywhere, you’ll find over the weeks that the time spent sniffing particular spots diminishes. Further – you take your dog on their walks for them – if they want to sniff let them! If you want to exercise, do so without your dog. For barking dogs, a relaxing outing in the morning before you leave will be more useful in reducing barking than a full-on crazy play session with other dogs at the dog park. They will come back feeling calmer and content, rather than on a high.
Below are a variety of different enrichment ideas you can use to keep your dog busy during the day (or when they are likely to bark). You can use one or a variety of them on the same or different days – do what works for you and your dog.
- Put your dog’s breakfast or dinner into food dispensing toys like Kong, treatballs, and any number of other toys available on the market. This will keep your dog busy figuring out how to access food and being reinforced for calm and quiet when they do get treats out.
- Scatter your dog’s meals out on the lawn, or in the house so that they have to spend time finding each individual piece.
- Freeze treats and chews in containers with water in summer to keep dogs busy for longer.
- Smear some dog-appropriate peanut butter or cream cheese on bark on trees, pavers, stones or tiles to create their own little treasure hunt.
- Hide small handfuls of treats around the backyard or house and on different surfaces again to encourage them to scent and explore the area.
- Give your dog your old yoghurt, peanut butter and cream cheese containers for them to clean out (just take any caps, rings, lids or labels off beforehand).
- Put dry food in old soft drink bottles (take the ring, lid and label off) or cardboard boxes – just pick up the cardboard bits at the end of the day.
- You can hide longer-lasting treats like chews or bones (depending on the recommendations from your vet) for them to hunt, find and be occupied for longer.
- Rotate any toys daily so that there’s ‘new’ things to play with.
- Invest in a clamshell – fill one half with water for drinks and swimming, and the other half with sand or dirt to encourage digging. Bury things in the digging pit to encourage digging in an appropriate area.
- Invest in or make a snuffle mat to better utilise your dog’s sniffing tendencies – this will help them both calm down and tire them out. Snuffle mats can be purchased from several different pet stores.
- Create a sensory garden. Sensory gardens provide different surfaces, heights and objects for your dogs to interact with to encourage greater exploration.