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Barking is a perfectly natural canine behavior - if you have a dog, expect some barking, whining, and howling. It is unrealistic to think that you can train your dog to stop barking altogether

Handling a barking dog

The first step in obtaining peace and quiet is to realize that a lonely, bored, frustrated, or frightened dog can cause a lot of barking. Dogs that are socially isolated or confined for long periods without supervised exercise need an outlet for their pent-up energy. Your dog may be barking excessively because you unintentionally trained him to do so. "Woof" and you open the door to let the dog out or in. "Woof" and the dog gets a treat. "Woof" and the dog gets a tummy-rub. Your dog has learned to get attention through barking. All of these situations can be alleviated.

Barking and Walking

A well-exercised, happy dog is more likely to sleep while you are not home. Spend time playing with your dog, training your dog, and exercising your dog. Obedience training is a great mental exercise. Thinking is a tiring activity for dogs as it is for humans. Most dogs really enjoy a rapidly paced game of "come, sit, heel, down, stay" -- don't allow training to be a boring, tedious routine.

If your dog mostly lives in the backyard, then he probably needs "social exercise." He needs walks around the neighborhood so that he can investigate all the sounds and smells that tantalize him while he is in the yard. Bring him into the house when you are home because he needs to feel that he is a part of your family. Dogs are social animals; they need friends and companionship. Take your dog to the same dog park daily or weekly and let him make doggy friends. Dogs playing together tire rapidly and sleep happily while recovering from a good play-session.

Having a large yard is not equal to having a well-exercised dog. You may see your dog dashing madly around your yard, but he is not exercising. He is doing the doggy equivalent of pacing, fidgeting, or other human forms of nervous activity. Provide your dog with fun things with which to occupy time, such as a digging pit or special chew toys.

Nuisance Barking

Until you have re-trained your dog's barking habits, he should be confined to a place where he will cause the least disturbance. Closing the drapes will help muffle the noise for the neighbors. In addition, confining the dog to the back of the house (i.e. away from the street) will keep disturbances to a minimum. Turn on the radio or the television to mask noises from the street.

The Quiet Command

It is no wonder that people have barking problems with their dogs; most have no clue as to whether barking is "good" or "bad." Sometimes, a dog is ignored when he is barking, while the owner is in a jolly mood. Other times, a dog is encouraged when the owner sees suspicious stranger outside the house. Still, other times, a dog is yelled at when the owner has a headache. Humans are consistently inconsistent.

In order to help your dog know your rules, you must teach him what they are. Here is a good rule to start with: Barking is OK until the dog is told to "be quiet." Think of "quiet" as an obedience command rather than simply an unpredictable reprimand. Each time your dog barks, after two or three woofs, praise him for sounding the alarm. Then tell him "quiet." Simultaneously, present a treat in front of his nose; most dogs will stop barking to sniff the treat. The next time he barks, tell him "quiet." If he succeeds, reward him.

If he barks, even one little woof after you've given the command, tell him "quiet" immediately. Timing is everything! As training proceeds, the required period of silence is increased gradually. At first "quiet" means no barking for the next 3 seconds, then increase it to 5 seconds, then 10 seconds, and so on. Within a single training session, you can teach your dog to stop barking for up to 1 to 2 minutes. Whatever set off his barking will be long gone, and he is likely to be quiet until the next disturbance.

Using toys for a barking dog

Many of your dog's toys should be interactive. By focusing on a specific task, like repeatedly returning a ball, Kong, or frisbee, your dog can expel pent-up mental and physical energy in a limited amount of time and space. This greatly reduces stress due to confinement. Play also offers an opportunity for socialization and helps them learn about appropriate and inappropriate behavior with people and with other animals.

There are many factors that contribute to the safety or danger of a toy. Many of those factors are completely dependent upon your dog's size, activity level, and personal preference. Another factor to consider is the environment in which your dog spends his time. Although we cannot guarantee your dog's enthusiasm or safety with any toy, we can offer the following guidelines.

Be Cautious

The things that are usually the most attractive to dogs are often the very things that are the most dangerous. Dog-proof your home by checking for string, ribbon, rubber bands, children's toys, pantyhose, or anything else that could be ingested. Do not leave them laying out for the dog to get. Take note of any toy that contains a squeaker buried in its center. Your dog may feel that he must find and destroy the source of the squeaking and could ingest it, in which case squeaking objects should be supervision-only toys.

Toys should be appropriate for your dog's current size. Balls and other toys that are too small can easily be swallowed or become lodged in your dog's mouth or throat. Avoid or alter any toys that are not dog-proof by removing ribbons, strings, eyes, or other parts that could be chewed and/or ingested. Avoid any toy that starts to break into pieces or have pieces torn off. You should also avoid tug-of-war toys, unless they will be used between dogs, not between people and dogs.

Ask your veterinarian about which rawhide toys are safe and which are not. Unless your veterinarian says otherwise, chewies like hooves, pig's ears, and rawhides, should be supervision-only goodies. Very hard rubber toys are safer and last longer.

Check labels for child safety, as a stuffed toy that's labeled as "safe for children under 3 years old", does not contain dangerous fillings. Problem fillings include things like nutshells and polystyrene beads, but even a "safe" stuffing is not truly digestible.

Remember that soft toys are not indestructible, but some are sturdier than others. Soft toys should be machine washable.

Distraction Toys
  • Kong-type toys, especially when filled with broken-up treats or, even better, a mixture of broken-up treats and peanut butter. The right size Kong can keep a puppy or dog busy for hours. Only by chewing diligently can your dog access the treats, and then only in small bits - very rewarding! Double-check with your veterinarian about whether or not you should give peanut butter to your dog.

  • Busy-box toys are large rubber cubes with hiding places for treats. Only by moving the cube around with nose, mouth, and paws can your dog access the goodies.

  • Soft-stuffed toys are good for several purposes but are not appropriate for all dogs. For some dogs, the stuffed toy should be small enough to carry around. For dogs that want to shake or kill the toy, it should be the size that "prey" would be for that size dog (mouse-size, rabbit-size, or duck-size).

  • Dirty laundry, such as an old t-shirt, pillowcase, towel, or blanket, can be very comforting to a dog, especially if it smells like you! Be forewarned that the item could be destroyed by industrious fluffing, carrying, and nosing.

Recommended Toys
  • Very hard rubber toys, like Nylabone-type products and Kong-type products. These are available in a variety of shapes and sizes and are fun for chewing and for carrying around.

  • Rope toys that are usually available in a bone shape with knotted ends.

  • Tennis balls make great dog toys, but keep an eye out for any that could be chewed through. If that is the case, then they must be discarded.

Get The Most Out of Toys
  • Rotate your dog's toys weekly by making only four or five toys available at a time. Keep a variety of types easily accessible. If your dog has a huge favorite, like a soft "baby", you should probably leave it out all of the time, or risk the wrath of your dog.

  • Provide toys that offer a variety of uses - at least one toy to carry, one to "kill", one to roll and one to "baby".

  • Hide-and-seek is a fun game for dogs to play. "Found" toys are often much more attractive than a toy which is blatantly introduced. Making an interactive game out of finding toys or treats is a good rainy-day activity for your dog, using up energy without the need for a lot of space.