With no rain in the forecast, moderate temperatures and a slight breeze, we have the windows open. It feels good to have fresh air and sunshine coming into the house.
Sounds come in through the open windows, too -- birds singing, cars going down the street, lawn mowers, children playing and dogs barking.
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Dogs communicate with us by barking. Our dogs bark out of fear, as a warning, for protection and when they play. They bark to go outside or to come back in, at other dogs, at people and at other animals. My dog enjoys barking at the squirrels as they chatter at him from the trees and the telephone wires in the backyard.
The HSUS suggests a number of possible reasons our dogs make noise.
It may be for attention, out of boredom or frustration, when they are left outside day and night, are crated or confined to one room.
It also may be out of fear. They bark when they are afraid of people, objects, other animals, places, or loud noises like fireworks or thunder. A dog barking out of fear typically holds his tail low and has his ears back.
Dogs bark when being protective or territorial. My dog yips at the mailman. The protective or territorial posture accompanying the noise appears threatening, with your dog's tail held high and his ears up and forward.
Dogs howl when they are playing, excited and when greeting people.
Dogs may also bark because of health reasons. He may have Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, age-related dementia, or he may be deaf, possibly barking because he doesn't hear himself.
If your dog is deaf, he can be taught the quiet command with a hand signal or a flash of light. If your dog is barking due to dementia or age-related deafness, be patient with him, keeping his environment orderly and simple. Your vet may have suggestions about medication that may help the dementia.
Just as important as knowing why our dogs bark, is how to get them to stop. The HSUS has suggestions as to how to quiet our pets. It's all in the training. Don't expect him to change his behavior immediately. The longer he's been practicing the barking behavior, the longer it will take him to change it.
One of the important features of training your dog not to bark is to not yell at him to be quiet. Haven't we all done that? Have you noticed the louder you yell, the more excited your dog gets? We seem to think getting loud will stop the noise, but he thinks you are barking along with him.
As with all dog training, keep your sessions positive and upbeat. Be consistent; everyone in the family has to use the same training method. Also, you have to deal with the inappropriate barking each time it occurs.
The HSUS suggests our dogs get some kind of reward when they bark; otherwise, he wouldn't do it. We need to figure out what he gets out of it and then remove it. And we shouldn't give our dogs the opportunity to continue the behavior.
If your dog is barking at people or animals passing by the living room window, manage the behavior by putting the dog in another room or closing the curtains. One training technique is to ignore his barking for as long as it takes him to stop, not giving him any attention while he is doing it.
Your attention rewards him for being noisy. Don't talk to him, don't touch him and don't even look at him. When he finally quiets, even to take a breath, give a reward with a treat. The HSUS stresses, to be successful with this method, you must wait for him to stop barking. He learns if he just barks long enough, you'll give him attention. It's also about consistency: you must ignore the barking every time.
Another training technique suggested by the HSUS is to teach your dog the "quiet" command. But first you have to teach him the "speak" command. Give your dog the command to "speak" and have someone make a noise-like knocking on the door -- which is sure to make your dog bark. Let him bark two or three times and put a tasty treat in front of his nose.
When he stops barking to sniff it, praise him and give him the treat. Repeat until he starts barking as soon as you say "speak." Once he can reliably bark on command, teach the "quiet" command.
This command is taught in a calm environment with no distractions. Tell him to "speak." When he stops barking, say "quiet" and put the treat in front of his nose. Praise him for being quiet and give him the treat.
In addition to managing your dog's barking and training him not to bark, the HSUS suggests making sure your dog gets enough physical and mental exercise every day. He may need several long walks a day or a rousing game of chasing the ball. A tired dog is a good dog and not likely to bark out of boredom or frustration. This suggestion works really well in our house.
I also suggest if you need help managing your dog's barking behavior, consult a qualified dog trainer.
My dog's barking varies in intensity, speed and volume, depending on the situation. He uses a quiet, slow bark when he sees my sister coming up the sidewalk. He uses a rapid, loud, excited bark when he sees the pizza deliveryman or our mailman walking up. And he uses a short, rapid bark at the squirrels.
He's communicating a different message with different barking. Fascinating.
• The Buddy Foundation is a nonprofit (501c3), all-volunteer, no-kill animal shelter dedicated to the welfare of stray, abused and abandoned cats and dogs. For more information, call (847) 290-5806 or visit www.thebuddyfoundation.org.