My dog barks incessantly for no apparent reason.

BARKING BLUES. My dog barks incessantly for no apparent reason (whether I’m at home or not). How can I discourage this?

If your dog was only barking when you were not at home then separation anxiety could have been a possibility. However, incessant barking irrespective of owner presence is probably not due to separation anxiety and the problem barking could have a medical cause.

The first action would be to have your dog thoroughly checked by a veterinarian. In some instances a medical issue could manifest as increased barking, especially with medical problems that cause a dog to experience a decrease in a sensory faculty, for example, geriatric dogs who progressively experience diminished hearing often become more vocal.

It is imperative to establish the cause of the barking. Excessive barking is not a condition, it is a symptom of a condition, and trying to just stop the barking doesn’t address this condition. Whenever a behaviour is suppressed one has to consider and address the root causes of the underlying behaviour condition. If this is not done then the underlying condition no longer has an outlet. The condition will generally get worse and another outlet will simply crop up, which is often worse than the original outlet. I would strongly advise against the use of any ‘anti-barking’ devices without first thoroughly examining the causes of the excessive barking.

It is also very important to consider your response when your dog barks. If your dog receives attention when he barks, the barking is reinforced. In the absence of any other problems the dog may be unstimulated in his environment and has learnt that barking not only eases his mental frustration, but also receives tangible reinforcement (such as your attention). In effect the dog has been conditioned to believe that barking solves everything, so even in your absence the dog will continue to bark. In some dogs excessive barking can be akin to a ‘self-comforter’, especially if the root condition has been overlooked and this behaviour has been allowed to occur for a long period of time.

Without a thorough case history and observation of the dog and the environment, it is very hard to pinpoint the problem here. A full behavioural analysis by an accredited behaviour consultant would go a long way to addressing and hopefully solving this problem.

Shannon McKay, senior accredited animal behaviour consultant (BSc Hons Zoology)

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