Does your dog growl or bark when a stranger approaches your house or when something goes bump in the night? If so, you’re not alone. Most dogs will vocalize when they are exposed to new or different situations, including strange people or animals entering their territory; being separated from their pack, mother or even your family members; or new or alarming sounds. Dogs may also bark or growl when they see prey, such as squirrels, and they may bark for attention, food or if they are anxious.
Dogs often growl when they are fearful or trying to assert themselves in a situation. If the dog’s fear or assertiveness is alleviated by growling or barking, the dog will learn that his behavior is acceptable and the behavior may become more frequent or severe.
Some medical problems may cause growling or barking and older pets experiencing senile changes may have barking problems. Intense and continuous barking may be considered compulsive. Check with your veterinarian to evaluate your pet’s barking or growling problem. Behavior training and drug therapy may be helpful in reducing barking for pets with medical, geriatric and compulsive disorders.
Socialize Your Puppy
Acclimate your puppy to a variety of different people, environments, situations and noises to help lessen anxiety as your puppy grows. Make sure your puppy spends time alone so that he doesn’t develop separation anxiety while you are away from him (see Dogs and Separation Anxiety). Proper training is essential to preventing behavior problems, such as growling and barking. Ask you veterinarian for more information about puppy training and see Training Your Puppy).
Correcting a Barking or Growling Problem
Correcting a barking or growling problem first requires that you have effective management of your dog. Once you have achieved this, you can begin to train your dog to lessen his barking or growling behavior by using rewards for quiet behavior. The reward should be something that the dog really likes such as a favorite treat, tummy rubs, or a favorite toy. Punishment is generally ineffective in correcting barking problems. Too much punishment may even exacerbate the behavior and cause the dog to be fearful or aggressive.
Begin your training with situations that you can easily control (such as a family member making a noise that causes the dog to bark) before moving on to difficult situations (such as a strange animal in your yard). When your dog barks at the stimuli (for instance, a doorbell ring), immediately interrupt the barking. When the dog is quiet offer the dog a reward for their behavior.
Several products are available that may interrupt barking. Devices activated by owners, such as water sprayers, cans with coins or pebbles, audible alarms, citronella collars and ultrasonic trainers, are usually effective in disrupting barking and getting a quiet response from the dog. It is important when first using these devices that you are there to praise and reward the dog when it becomes quiet. Without the reward there is no incentive to remain quiet.
Bark-activated products are also effective because they will immediately respond to barking. Off-collar, bark-activated alarms or water sprayers will train your dog to stop barking in specific areas. Bark-activated collars are useful when your dog doesn’t bark in single, specific areas (the collar will respond when your dog barks, no matter where he is located at the time). Audible and ultrasonic collars are sometimes effective in stopping barking, but they are rarely a completely reliable deterrent. Citronella-spraying collars are effective with most dogs. Electronic shock collar should never be used. Make sure to discuss these options with your veterinarian to find the one that will work best for your pet.
During training, barking must be interrupted right after it begins for the training to be effective. Repeat this process until the dog no longer barks or growls at the situation, person or sound.
Reward your dog when, at your request, he has stopped barking. Only reward the dog when he is quiet and gradually increase the amount of time that the dog needs to be quiet for him to receive a reward.
As the barking or growling problem decreases, make sure to direct your dog to more appropriate behavior, such as play, and the problem should lessen over time.