Dogs bark. Some are naturally more vocal than others, depending on breed type, personality, and their environment. Every bark is a communication of some type. Barks can communicate many things including fear, concern, and boredom. Sometimes, barking can become compulsive or excessive to an owner’s (or neighbors!) ears. Although there often is no “quick fix” for excessive barking, learning how to properly and humanely manage your dog’s barking can be a simple process and can keep you and your dog in your neighbor’s good graces.
Excessive barking can be a real nuisance and owners often try to correct the act of barking WITHOUT addressing the underlying causes. Using an aversive method to reduce barking is a “no win” strategy, particularly if the barking is at all stress related. Yelling at a dog for barking can actually bring the dog more attention or teach the dog to simply bark when you are not around.
Using so-called “anti-bark” shock or spray collars are never effective in the long term and can actually do more harm than good. Dogs who are shocked for barking tend to be the same dogs that develop cautiousness or aggressive behaviors towards things that make them bark. Even the citronella discharge collars are ineffective at resolving barking issues over the long term. I’ve even heard of dogs barking continuously to discharge the entire citronella pack in short order. As much as these things seem like a good idea, none of them address what is really causing the dog to bark in the first place.
Sometimes the easiest underlying causes of excessive barking to address are overall stress and/or arousal. Being bored, lonely, or frustrated for some dogs is torture and excessive barking can be an outlet for them. Applying a ThundershirtTM pressure wrap can be highly effective with dogs that are stressed or over-aroused. Thundershirt’s gentle pressure on the dog’s torso calms the dog and brings attention away from the environment. Also, make sure that you are providing your dog with enough physical and mental activities to keep their bodies and minds healthy. Long walks, games, running around, and healthy things to chew are essential outlets for every dog’s well being.
The next step to bark reduction is figuring out why the dog is barking in the first place. Is your dog barking at you for attention? Barking at a stranger walking past your home? Barking at the cat when it enters the room? Barking because they are in the yard outside all day long? Once you narrow down why the barking is occurring, we can take steps to reduce it.
Many dogs learn that barking gets them attention from their humans, as a way to initiate a game or simple acknowledgement. The best strategy for eliminating this type of barking is to make sure that your dog learns that barking at you turns attention off. If your dog barks at you, you look away, don’t say a word, walk out of the room and when they are quiet for even a short period time, then you pay attention to them. You may need to repeat this many, many times before your dog learns the new rules.
Many dogs are barking at something or stimulated by their environment to bark. This is not a situation where we want to completely eliminate the barking, just reduce it. After all, if someone is standing outside your house, don’t you want to know? There are several strategies worth trying. First, teach your dog that every time they bark at something, you acknowledge it and then distract them with another activity. “Oh yes, I see that man passing the house. Thank you for letting me know. Let’s go over here and get your ball. That was so great that you stopped barking.” Interrupting the barking at just the right time can help take the dog “off duty”.
Also, it is easy enough to reduce the visual stimulation with a barrier or blinds. I’ve worked with several dogs that would stand on top of a piece of furniture that was placed next to a window, creating a prime location for over-aroused, barking fits at passersby. By simply moving the furniture away from the windows, we were able to reduce the behavior. If your dog is outside barking at people, bring them inside or give them something else to do in the yard. Being outside with nothing to do can be a recipe for excessive barking. Changing the environment can make a big difference.
Teaching your dog to react differently to situations that stimulate them to bark is a process. You must be consistent over time and not give up if your dog doesn’t respond immediately. Be patient and help your dog understand what you do want them to do. If your dog’s barking continues to be a problem, enlist the help of a reward based, professional dog trainer. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers has a listing of professionals in your area at www.apdt.com.
Jenn Merritt, CPDT-KA
Certified Professional Dog Trainer
Tellington TTouch Companion Animal Practitioner
APDT Professional Member
Blue Dog Creature Coaching
Although dogs have been around humans for many generations, not all dogs are comfortable with strangers. As puppies, dogs should be socialized carefully and thoroughly during their impressionable stage. This helps ensure the dog will be as comfortable and well behaved as possible for the rest of her life. Sometimes, though, things don’t quite work out that way. You may get a dog as an adult, after that socialization window has closed. What to do then, if your dog is not sure of new people?
Many dogs are nervous of new people, and they will each react in a different way. Some will simply avoid people. Other dogs may bark in alarm, while still others may cower or hide behind their owners. Often, once the person has passed out a few cookies and bent down low to the ground, the dog is much more willing to approach. But what about when that isn’t enough?
When I encounter a dog who is worried about strangers, I do a few things:
The Thundershirt really seems to calm the dogs with gentle pressure over the body. The dog is able to think and learn faster and better with the Thundershirt than without, and therefore, owners see results faster, and are happier. I haven’t seen any side effects, and for dogs who don’t mind having it on, it’s almost maintenance free. It is a low risk, high benefit tool, and the Thundershirt has proven a great addition to a stranger-nervous dog’s protocol.
Courtenay Watson, AHT & RLATp
For the past couple years I have volunteered at my local shelter providing Tellington TTouch® to dogs in need.
I have found the Thundershirts to be an invaluable tool.
Some of the many situations where I’ve used the Thundershirt:
Tellington TTouch CAPiT
Does this sound familiar? Your dog is really very sweet. He knows how to walk nicely on a leash (although sometimes he takes you for a walk when he sees another dog/cat/bird/squirrel) and he greets people nicely as well. But as soon as you arrive at class he turns into a completely different animal. He drags you through the door, he stares at the other dogs and barks and lunges at them whenever he gets close enough to do so. You have become the class outcast and must sit far away from everyone else to have some peace and quiet, or you spend the entire class stuck behind a barrier. You are embarrassed and frustrated by your dog’s behavior and don’t know what to do.
Chances are that your dog is not a bully, he is afraid. Maybe it is the building; there are too many strange sights and smells to take in at once. Maybe it is the number of other dogs; he can deal with one or two at a time, but 5 or 6 is asking way too much. Or maybe there is this other dog who is sending signals to him that he finds threatening and he is lashing out before the other dog can. Whatever the reason, your dog is uncomfortable and trying to protect himself.
Many trainers manage this kind of behavior by placing the disruptive dog behind a barrier. And that works very nicely. It brings calm back to the class and everyone can learn their lessons, including the disruptive dog, although, he cannot participate in exercises as a member of the group. But management does not solve your problem with your dog. He has not learned how to deal with a classroom situation calmly and confidently.
While this is not the answer for every situation, boosting your dog’s confidence will often go a long way towards being able to safely integrate your dog into a group. The Thundershirt is a useful, easy to use tool for doing this. The Thundershirt should be put on before the dog leaves the car at class, or better still, before he leaves home. Try to arrive at class early and wait outside for his classmates to arrive. Allow him to greet each one before they go inside. If possible have him approach the other dog’s rear first and sniff for a few seconds. Keep the greetings short and reward your dog as you move away from the greeting for being calm and polite. Make it fun. You must stay calm and positive. He will pick up on your attitude and mirror it.
Once inside, it may take a few classes to really become a part of the group. Don’t be in a hurry to be in the center of activity. Keep his attention more on you than on the other dogs by giving him simple things to do that you can reward. Remember to bring a favorite chew toy with you so he has something to do during any down time. That way he won’t be so ready to look around and get into trouble. Make sure your toy is quiet (no squeaky toy please) so he doesn’t disrupt the class or unduly attract the attention of the other dogs.
Each successful class will help build your dog’s confidence and make training classes more effective and fun.
Joan Morse CPDT-KA
A Touch of Calm
Behavior and Obedience Training
Tellington TTouch Practitioner I
AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator
Working with dogs that are not comfortable being touched can be quite a challenge for both owners and professionals. It is not uncommon for dogs that have spent time in rescue or shelter environments to exhibit defensiveness to touch and handling as a result of stress or prior experiences. Touch sensitivity can also manifest as a result of inadequate socialization, and some dogs simply perceive touch as aversive without any history of improper handling. For both social and practical reasons, a dog should be comfortable being handled in a reasonable manner. Grooming, toenail trimming, and Veterinary examinations are just a few situations that come to mind, and of course dogs that are difficult to handle often are turned in to shelters.
The word restraint refers to forcefully holding a dog or restricting movement with the leash. Fearful animals typically respond to restraint with attempts at escape and increased anxiety. Think of yourself being tied down in the dentist chair and it likely changes the experience! Containment is a more gentle technique of keeping an animal close to you by providing encouragement, reward, and more subtle boundaries. The first step in helping a dog overcome resistance to being touched is to avoid any type of restraint. Encourage the dog to approach for a treat, allowing the dog to move away as needed. Once a dog realizes they are not trapped and have the choice to move away, they are often much more willing to approach.
The first step when introducing something new to a dog is to break it down into smaller, manageable steps. Changing the context of the new item can also be helpful. Start by placing some yummy treats on the folded Thundershirt and allow the dog to eat from it. A dinner plate is familiar and usually not scary! Next, unfold the Thundershirt halfway and simply lay it across the dogs back for just a few moments, offering a treat while the dog experiences this new sensation. The next step is to place the Thundershirt fully open on the dog’s back, closing the front connection, but leaving the side panels open. The last step is to close the panels so the Thundershirt is snugly on the dog. At this point, it is very important to allow the dog to move around. This allows the dog to know he is not trapped, and also allows him to integrate the sensations of the Thundershirt against his body as he moves. Remove the Thundershirt after a few minutes. The next session may not require the step by step introduction, but keep the sessions of wearing the Thundershirt fairly short (5 to 10 minutes) for the first few experiences.
Once the dog is comfortable wearing the Thundershirt, it is time to introduce short sessions of touch. Employing gentle containment, start by touching the dog over the Thundershirt. Use a slightly slower, quiet form of stroking, rather than any vigorous petting. Initially using the back of your hand is much less threatening. A specific form of bodywork known as Tellington TTouch is a very effective tool in this process. Work for just a few moments at a time, giving the dog several short breaks, allowing the dog to move around if needed. Once the dog is comfortable being touched around the shoulder region over the Thundershirt, move toward the hindquarters and begin touching in areas where the Thundershirt is not covering the body. You can stroke down the legs with the back of your hand over the feet as a preparation for handling the feet and eventual toenail cutting. Sometimes the use of a tool such as a sheepskin mit or paint brush can also be used to help the dog become accustomed to different textures and sensations.
The Thundershirt is very helpful in reducing anxiety and calming the dog through the use of gentle pressure. Once the dog is comfortable wearing the Thundershirt, it is much easier to begin direct contact with the hands. Avoiding restraint while giving the dog a choice to approach and retreat also reduces fear and helps to build confidence. And finally, using a slower more rhythmical form of touching reduces arousal and allows the dog to feel safe. The most important consideration is to be patient, keeping the sessions short and build on each successful experience.
Kathy Cascade, PT, Tellington TTouch Instructor
Cascade Animal Connection
Separation anxiety can be a very challenging problem emotionally for both dogs and their owners. When owners are absent, some dogs experience anxiety that may manifest as barking, howling, pacing, or destruction. Some will drool, tremble, and may even defecate. In extreme cases, dogs can injure themselves by clawing at doorways, trying to jump through windows, or self-mutilating when crated.
Here are some tips:
1. If your dog must be left alone while you’re at work, make it a habit to take him for a long walk before you leave. The more pleasantly tired out your dog is, the less likely there is to be anxiety.
2. Leave something with your scent on it, such as a sweatshirt you’ve been wearing or a towel rubbed under your arms, in your dog’s resting area. Your scent will provide comfort. (This is one reason so many dogs get into the laundry when their owners are gone!)
3. Be sure your dog has something to chew on or engage in that will keep him busy for at least thirty to forty-five minutes after you leave. Excavating a well-stuffed ThunderToy, for example, will keep your dog busy and by the time he’s done, he’ll be tired out and will hopefully take a nap.
4. Teach your dog to settle and relax on a mat. A Thundershirt can be very helpful! Place the Thundershirt on your dog approximately five minutes before you begin a training session. Practice stays with your dog him on the mat in a relaxed position (it needn’t be a formal down-stay), working from very brief periods to longer ones. The goal is for you to be able to be elsewhere in the house as your dog relaxes on his own.
5. A trainer who specializes in behavior or a veterinary behaviorist can help you with specific protocols to help your dog feel calm when you leave.
For more in depth information on treating separation anxiety and other fear issues, please see “Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety” and “Help for Your Fearful Dog” by Nicole Wilde (www.phantompub.com)
I often work with clients who have dogs recently adopted from rescue groups and shelters. While the change to a loving home is wonderful for the dog, the transition is still stressful. It can be helpful for owners to set aside some quiet relaxation time for their new dog to help during the adjustment period.
What is more relaxing than going to a spa? To help relax a newly adopted dog, I encourage my clients to set aside some “doggie spa time” at home. I recommend that my clients combine the use of several different relaxation strategies at the same time. The strategies I suggest typically include:
Just as a spa is a multi-sensory experience, combining several strategies at once impacting several senses can help the dog relax quickly. The Thundershirt’s gentle pressure can help by providing a relaxing tactile experience for the dog. During the quiet time, the dog also learns to associate the owner’s presence with being calm. This is very important as the dog develops a positive relationship with the new owner.
The owner can incorporate the quiet relaxation time once a day for 30 minutes or so. Every dog is a unique individual, so sometimes a longer period is appropriate. Owners of more energetic dog may need to start with several shorter periods. For young dogs it often works best if the owner has provided an exercise outlet or active play session just prior to the quiet time. Each dog is different so the relaxation activities and strategies do need to be adjusted to meet the needs of the individual dog.
As well as incorporating quiet time in the dog’s daily routine, owners need to remember to proceed slowly with their new dog. While many times new dog owners are so excited about their pet that they want to jump right into many dog-friendly activities, this risks overwhelming and stressing the dog further. I suggest that owners keep activities low-key initially. It can take from a few weeks to several months to get to know a newly adopted dog’s temperament and behavior.
Owners need to be aware of indications of stress in a dog that may include wide eyes with whites showing, rapid panting, pacing, repeated yawning, refusing food treats or just seeming “shut down” (not moving much, not playing). Owners should be ready to remove their dog from stressful situations and be proactive in seeking qualified, professional help if their dog shows any worrisome behaviors.
Although slowing down a bit and taking a few measures to create a quiet, calming time and space for a newly adopted dog can take some effort, it is worth it in getting started on the path to a long term happy relationship!
Veronica Sanchez M.Ed. CPDT-KA, CABC
Trainer and Behavior Consultant
Cooperative Paws LLC
Shaking, panting, drooling, nausea, hyper-arousal with lunging at cars, or bikes or people. Sound like a fun car trip? Unfortunately, all are symptoms of travel anxiety, a common problem for dogs. Some dogs develop travel anxieties over time, while others have them from puppyhood. But with just a little time and effort, and the right tools, you can bring the joys of travel to your dog.
If you are preparing to bring a new puppy into your home, see the section below on positive prevention. But if you are reading this article, you likely already have a dog that suffers from travel anxiety. First off, if the issues have been going on for some time, it is likely going to take some time to alter your dog’s responses to travel. But here are some simple steps to calmer, gentler travel. And you may very well see at least some improvement very quickly!
It is important to learn to recognize when your dog is becoming stressed. Most of us know that vocalizations and vomiting can be common occurrences when dogs become stressed in a vehicle. But more subtle signs of stress can include yawning, shaking off, lip licking, dilated pupils, panting, lifting a front paw and excessive salivation. Identifying stress signs early can help the process of helping your dog overcome her stress.
The first step is to help your dog feel safe and reduce her overall anxiety/arousal levels while being around and in the car. Try a pressure wrap like the Thundershirt which can instantly reduce arousal, nervousness and anxiety by applying constant, gentle pressure on the dog’s body. This pressure has a calming effect on a dog’s nervous system, and can refocus a dog to concentrate on their bodies instead of their environment. Apply the Thundershirt at varying intervals prior to and/or during the below exercises, sometimes 5 minutes prior to a car experience, sometimes more and less.
The goal is to get your dog to associate positive experiences with being around, inside, and while riding in the car. If the only time your dog goes for a car ride is to go to the vet, she will likely associate the car ride with not-so-pleasant experiences (and understandably so!). Below are just a few of the simple things you can do linking the car to something positive (food!). How your dog responds to food can tell you how your dog is feeling. Most dogs that are feeling stress will refuse food, so if your dog is eating, she is OK. If all goes well, you can progress through the steps as your dog demonstrates she is comfortable, which may be just a few sessions over several days. If you are seeing stress signs, you may need to take a step backward until your dog relaxes:
Regardless of your dog’s travel related behavior issue, every dog should ride while safely contained. The type of containment can play a role in your dog’s travel related behaviors. For over-aroused dogs, try a plastic travel crate instead of a wire crate. This blocks some of the dog’s visual field, giving them less to look at and less to be aroused by. Nervous dogs may also benefit from a plastic vs. wire kennel.
If you are bringing a new puppy into your home, following some simple steps can go a long way to avoiding travel-related anxieties. When puppies are exposed to repeated positive associations from a very early age, many car-related behavior issues can be avoided all together. Beginning with the very first time you bring your puppy home, make car rides pleasant, calm experiences. If you are lucky to be adopting your puppy from a conscientious breeder, then your puppy likely will have already been exposed to pleasant car rides. But the first car ride home with a new family can be stressful for any puppy, so plan on making it a positive trip. Have someone gently hold the puppy (not the person driving!) and feed a few high-value treats (e.g. XXXX) or introduce a toy, such as a stuffed Kong, so your puppy can concentrate on something other than the car ride. After you arrive home, make a habit of feeding your new puppy some of her meals in the car from a stuffed Kong or other puzzle toy with the car parked in the driveway. If all goes well, start the car and drive around the block. Introduce your puppy to a travel crate, puppy seat belt or other containment so she can ride safely in the car. Make riding in the car something that happens all the time.
Jenn Merritt, CPDT-KA
Certified Professional Dog Trainer
Tellington TTouch Companion Animal Practitioner
APDT Professional Member
Blue Dog Creature Coaching
As the owner/care-giver of a dog who has experienced seizures since 2004, I am very familiar with the medical and emotional challenges presented by this complex condition. While a caregiverʼs primary focus is controlling the frequency of seizures, a second yet equally important focus is reducing the overall stress and anxiety of our epileptic pets. Maintaining overall health is still another important focus since many epileptic animals take high doses of anti-seizure medication(s) on a daily basis and usually do so for the rest of their life.
In addition to the seizures themselves, many epileptic dogs exhibit stress and anxiety behaviors such as general restlessness, periods of pacing, interrupted sleep during the night, a constant search for things to eat, and periods of neediness, staying “extra close” to their care-giver. Unfortunately, and similar to the seizures, these stress behaviors often persist and/or re-appear even after a dog begins a regimen of anti-seizure medication(s).
Given that many epileptic dogs are on high doses of anti-seizure medication and/or already take a combination of two or more drugs, the identification of safe, effective, stand-alone or supplemental care-giving methods that do not require additional medication is highly desired. The following approach to reduce epilepsy- and seizure-related stress and anxiety is drug-free
and involves use of a Thundershirt either by itself or with an engaging food toy. This information comes directly from my experience in helping my epileptic Golden, GingerPeach, and has successfully reduced the intensity and duration of her:
At the first signs of stress behavior, seizure activity, or after a grand mal seizure - place the Thundershirt on your dog (details on Thundershirt packaging) and keep it on him until the stress behavior or symptoms diminish (e.g., 30 minutes to overnight).
Please remember YOUR energy and mood affects your dog. Please do your best to stay calm and relaxed during your dogʼs seizures and stress behaviors. Also, be sure your dog is already accustomed to and enjoys wearing his Thundershirt. For tips, see Thundershirt packaging and www.Thundershirt.com.
For post-ictal phase, and for mild seizure symptoms or mild stress behavior (e.g., twitching of ears, eyes, minor panting, minor pacing) – simply wrapping your dog in his Thundershirt will often suffice. Within several minutes, your dog should settle and might also take a nap.
For restlessness during the night - have your dog wear his Thundershirt to bed at night (doggie pajamas!). Experiment to see how many nights a week work best for your dog.
For prolonged post-ictal phase, and for moderate to intense seizure symptoms or stress behavior (e.g., loss of balance, stumbling, odd gait, jerking movements of the head, limbs, jaws, crouching, prolonged pacing) – place the Thundershirt on your dog, and help him become engaged with a treat-filled2 food toy. My current choice is Kongʼs Wobbler3, its movements are very engaging, the treats dispense with relative ease, and the “jingling” sounds of the dry treats inside seem to really capture the dogʼs attention.
To see real-time before and after effects of a Thundershirt and a Kong Wobbler on GingerPeachʼs moderate seizure symptoms, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGKjY5ukFMM. (youtube channel “plumwoodposse”, video “Focal Seizure GingerPeach Thundershirt, Kong Wobbler”).
~ Best Wishes to you and your Dog ~
About the Author
Mary A. Gilbreth, PhD, CPDT, is passionate about improving the relationships and communication between humans and their canine companions. The owner of SMART DOGS Dog Training in Van Buren, Arkansas, Mary specializes in the modification of reactive and fearful behavior but also teaches a range of dog training topics. Mary is an active member of many organizations including Association of Animal Behavior Professionals, Association of Pet Dog Trainers (State Greeter for Arkansas), Therapy Dogs International, and Dog Scouts of America (Troop Leader). She currently shares her home with five clicker-trained rescue dogs and one northern diamondback terrapin who patiently awaits his first clicker training lesson. SMART DOGS offers group classes, private sessions and seminars, and is the first clicker training facility in the Van Buren/Ft Smith AR area.
SMART DOGS Dog Training & Behavior Consultation
NOTE: the present information is not intended to be, nor should it replace, medical advice from a Veterinarian. If your Veterinarian has instructed you to give medication to your dog during any of the situations described above, please continue to do so. Do not modify any of your Veterinarianʼs instructions without his consultation and consent.
* There are many excellent food toys and puzzles on the market and you may need to try a few to find the one that works best for your dog in these situations. Introduce it to your dog when he is not already stressed or anxious.