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Dealing with Problem Barking

Excessive barking is one problem that often puts dogs on the road to the shelter. What's more, it also puts them at risk from the people in your neighborhood: The poisoning of a nuisance barker is all too common. Even if your neighbors aren't the kind to take things into their own hands, a barking dog can run you afoul of the law, and not dealing with the situation marks you as an irresponsible and inconsiderate dog owner.

Vicious dogs may be what you read about in the papers, but the barking dog is truly the bane of urban and suburban life.

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Dogs bark to express a variety of emotions: anxiety, boredom, territoriality, aggression, playfulness, and hunger, to name a few. In addition, barking sessions can be triggered by certain conditions in the dog's environment. A dog that barks a warning when strangers are near will bark constantly and frantically if one side of a fence separates his area in his yard from a well-traveled public sidewalk. Likewise, an intelligent, high-energy dog, neglected and bored in a lonely back yard, often rids himself of that excess energy by indulging in barking sessions that can last for hours, day or night.

Breed characteristics factor in, as well. Expecting an arctic breed or mix not to engage in an occasional howl — or a hound not to give voice when on the trail of a squirrel or rabbit — is unrealistic. Some herding dogs drive livestock by nipping and barking at their heels, and even their suburban relations, many generations removed from the farm, may still yap joyfully at the heels of the family's children at play.

Figure out the kind of barking your dog indulges in. Is he a fence-runner, trading insults with the dog on the other side of the back fence? Consider reworking the yard to deny him access to that activity. Is he a bored outside dog? Make him a part of your life, bring him in the house, and make sure that his needs for physical and mental stimulation are being met. Another advantage of having him in the house: Many of the sounds that trigger barking are masked inside. (You can help this masking even further by leaving a radio on when you leave.)

Train him not to bark by teaching him the "Quiet" or "Enough" command. Allow him a bark or two — let him get his point across — and then say "Enough" and put your hand over his muzzle. Praise him for stopping. If he's loose, you can also get the point across with a shot from a spray bottle: Allow him a bark or two, say "Enough," squirt, and then praise him for stopping.

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It's not a quick fix — you still have to address the underlying problems of boredom, stress, and inactivity — but one kind of training collar offers real promise in fighting the battle of the bark. The ABS Anti-Barking System is a collar that releases a mist of harmless yet annoying citronella spray when the dog barks. This device is a good alternative to an electric collar, which is really not a product that should be used without the guidance of a trainer or behaviorist.

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