Excessive barking? Your dog could be bored or under-exercised

Lake Mills veterinarian shares his tips on how to help your canine quiet down

Alan Levine (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Dogs bark to communicate how they feel or raise alarm. But while a vocal canine is natural, excessive barking can signify a deeper problem, said Bill Stork, the owner and operator of the Lake Mills Veterinary Clinic.

“A dog that barks obsessively at everything that happens outside of their house is probably also a dog that’s mentally or physically underemployed,” Stork said. 

Stork joined WPR’s “The Larry Meiller Show” to explain what to do if your dog is barking too much. 

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The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Larry Meiller: What are some reasons why a dog might be barking a lot?

Bill Stork: Well, there’s a different reason for every dog that barks a lot. It could be that they are looking for attention more than anything else. We see a lot of “alarm barkers” in the practice. I say these dogs bark at oxygen.

If you don’t want your dog to bark at oxygen and everything it sees, then don’t bark at your dog.

What do we do when the dog barks at the UPS man, the person riding their bike past (the house) or the squirrel outside? Instinctively, we’ll tell them to be quiet and try and get their attention. Sometimes, people will even give them treats after they have stopped barking.

If they have already started to bark, you lost that round.

LM: There is a normal amount of barking, I guess, that a dog does. 

BS: Yeah, there absolutely is. And that’s maybe my second recommendation in regard to dogs like this. A normal amount of barking is not unusual, in which case, your reaction will be their reaction. So the calmer you are, the calmer they will be.

If your dog is barking at something that’s walking by, go make a meatloaf or check an email and stone cold ignore the dog. If they don’t get any attention out of the situation, there’s a really good chance that it will diffuse to behavior.

There’s tremendous value on the front end for folks to use crates to train their dogs. That means their dog can be comfortable in a crate. If your dog is not comfortable in a crate, then surely you have a laundry room or somewhere else that you can take them. When they start to bark at something that’s going on outside, show no fanfare, give no correction, don’t talk to them. You put them on a leash, you walk them to the crate, you shut the door. 

Some might say, “My goodness, I don’t want them to perceive that the crate or the laundry room or bathroom is punishment.” We’re not throwing them in there. We’re not reprimanding them. God forbid, we’re not yelling at them. We’re just taking them from something that they want to do to something that they don’t want to do. And once again, you reward the silence. The quiet dog gets to come out of the crate, the bathroom or the laundry room.

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LM: If you’ve got a dog that’s barking all the time,  there’s gotta be some health effect there. 

BS: A dog that barks obsessively at everything that happens outside of their house is probably also a dog that’s mentally or physically underemployed.

As you know, there are so many dogs that are purpose-driven. Lots of people have healers, border collies, shelties, labs and retrievers. They’re meant to hunt, hurt or have a job. Now you’re living in a 2,200 foot house or a thousand square foot apartment and the dog is underemployed. 

Before you bring a dog home, make some plans for how you’re going to walk, socialize, engage and keep the dog busy. That will prevent stress from building up, which will manifest as a dog that barks at everything that walks by the house.

LM: We’ve been talking a lot about dogs. What about cats? What if your cat is being very vocal?

BS: Well, if your cat is being very vocal, the first thing I would do is look for underlying medical issues. We start breaking that down by age and by environment and appetite. We go by system. Are they eating? Are they drinking well? Are they toileting well, or straining in the litter box, whether to make urine or to make stool? Are they maintaining their weight? Is their mobility excellent? So, we go system-wise to make sure there aren’t any underlying medical issues that could cause excess vocalization.

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