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March 20, 2007 > Feel like biting your neighbor's dog?

Feel like biting your neighbor's dog?

By Nancy Lyon

It's 3 a.m. and your neighbor's dog has been barking incessantly for hours and you're angry at him and the dog. You don't know why it's happening but you just want it to stop and you've got a long day tomorrow. And to top it happens often, too often, night and day.

So why do dogs bark? Barking, in addition to whining, howling and growling, is a dog's natural means of communication. Barking is characterized by a series of short, sharp sounds that tend to vary little in tone or pitch. A dog's bark can signify territorial protection, exertion of dominance, or expression of some need. Typically, barking is a means of communication triggered by a state of excitement or stress. Being a natural trait, barking is not considered a behavioral problem until it becomes a continuous and irritating nuisance.

Over the thousands of years since man and dog came together for their mutual benefit, many canine traits have been encouraged. Barking is an example of a natural behavior in terms of guarding but it becomes a problem in present day society when the behavior is excessive and neighbors are close-by.

The key is understanding what triggers prolonged or inappropriate barking. Excessive or problem barking can exist in any breed of dog although certain breeds such as terriers and hounds are more prone to it. Leading factors aside from breed inclination are isolation from pack - his human family, loneliness, boredom and lack of proper exercise that causes pent-up energy that is released through barking. An over-aggressive animal may bark at the smallest provocation and a strongly territorial dog may bark at any stranger, invited or uninvited, entering your property, or other animals perceived as either prey or intruder.

Also, improper confinement can include leaving a dog alone in a locked room or too long in a dog crate (a tool used for housebreaking and other behavioral modifications). Illegal restricted tethering outdoors, or even an enclosed yard without proper shelter from the elements are problem barking factors. Such inhumane confinement can cause frustration in a dog and cause it to bark.

Environmental sounds can also trigger barking: barking of other dogs, the sound of passing cars, strange voices, thunder, and mechanical noises such as the ringing of the phone. Noises can initiate barking at different times of the day. A dog may not bark at accustomed sounds during the day, but at night may be incited to a volley of barking by the slightest of noises - much to the annoyance of the neighbors.

This may lead neighbors to a point where they can no longer tolerate the barking. In fact, a recent health insurance investigation revealed that the sound of a continually barking dog was cited as the most disruptive and stress-inducing noise for humans.
So we have stressed humans and dogs - how do you go about solving the problem for both? Animal service agencies, often called in to settle barking problems, recommend that if you are experiencing a problem caused by a barking dog, notify the dog owner of the nuisance in person, by telephone, or by letter. Be polite and as specific as possible about the dates and times of the problem; they may be unaware that their dog(s) are creating a problem while they are away from home.

As neighbors, try pinpointing the reason for the barking and work together to find solutions to the problem. If that doesn't work, at your request, Animal Services will send a letter to the dog owner, including tips on how to stop the barking problem. If the barking continues, an Animal Services Officer will be sent to the dog owner's home to make suggestions on humanely solving the barking.

The key is to understand what causes this behavior. When you discover the cause, there is a greater chance of choosing an effective change to solve the problem. If it is a simple solution such as more exercise, a doggie door into the house when you're away, better companionship or being inside with the family at night. it's worth the that change. If it's a matter of using humane behavioral modification it can be more difficult, requiring considerable patience on everyone's part, time, and hard work. It can also save the dog from being surrendered to the animal shelter and facing an unknown future. But either solution is well worth the effort - if you're the guardian, just ask your neighbor and especially your dog.

Recommended reading: Don't Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training (Paperback) by Karen Pryor

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