Behavioural problems in dogs may be divided into two main categories: actions such as barking or digging that are normal but problematic because they disturb owners or neighbors, and actions such as shadow chasing and tail biting that are not normal but rather arise from abnormalities in the brain. The division between normal and abnormal behaviour is not always clear. A dog, for example, may be barking at neighbours or birds during the day because it feels like it and is blissfully unaware that its owners or neighbours find the behaviour irritating; or it may be barking because it is suffering from separation anxiety. Evaluation by an expert is required to differentiate between normal and abnormal behaviour. Common problems that arise from normal behaviour include barking, digging, destructive behaviour, guarding, house soiling, mounting and wandering.
Barking is normal behaviour for dogs. It is a means of self expression and communication. Dogs will bark to ward off intruders, to communicate with other dogs, to express excitement and pleasure during a ball game, when their owners arrive home, or prior to a walk. This is all perfectly normal and neighbours should accept this in moderation just as they accept that children will scream and shout when playing in the street after school.
Barking becomes a problem when it is excessive. It is probably the behaviour least tolerated by people, especially in urban areas. Excessive barking in a normal dog usually results from boredom or territorial (guarding) behaviour. Dogs that are left at home for long periods of time with nothing to do and are not walked daily will become extremely bored. Even if their backyard is huge, they know every inch of it and it simply isn’t exciting anymore.
When dogs are bored they become hyper-reactive, and will then bark at the slightest stimulus. Birds in the trees are a favorite, and any faint noise may easily provoke them.
These dogs need to have more exercise. They should be taken out twice daily for 30 to 60 minutes. They should also have interactive play sessions as well as some good obedience training. A sandpit in which they may dig provides good interactive play. Remember also to rotate toys on a daily basis to stimulate their interest.
Providing a canine companion for a bored or lonely dog may decrease its motivation to bark as the animals can play together and keep each other company.
Some dogs are excessively territorial and will probably bark frequently during the day in defence of heir territory particularly if their owner’s property looks out onto a busy pavement. These dogs are to be differentiated, however, from those that bark incessantly in a monotone during the day from the moment their owners leave the house as they may be suffering from separation anxiety. These dogs need professional help. In fact, all problem barking needs to be properly evaluated, and behaviour modification, in addition to novel stimuli, needs to be implemented. Note that anti-bark collars should not be used as a quick-fix treatment.
The case of Ronnie the barking Border Collie is a good example of how nuisance-barking may be treated.
Ronnie was a seven year old Border Collie whose owner contacted the behaviour clinic because the neighbours complained about the dog barking during the day.