How to manage your dog’s howling and barking
Dogs bark a lot don’t they? It’s one of the ways they communicate. We often find it annoying and sometimes frightening. It can be difficult to understand why a dog is making so much noise. Or it can be challenging to stop them. It is a complex issue, so I will only be able to touch on some of the key points here.
This is probably the most common reason why dogs bark. Something is happening! The doorbell has rung! A bird flew past! There’s a cat in the garden! A squirrel ran along the fence! You got up! And so on. Your dog is communicating with you that something is happening they think you want to know about. Or they are just excited and reacting to that excitement.
How to react: DO NOT shout at your dog. Your dog will think you are also barking! Hurray! Let’s all carry on barking. Lol. Call them, calmly and as quietly as you can. Get their attention away from the thing that is exciting and reward the quiet. Make sure they know that whatever it is, it’s just not that interesting. The less reaction you give, the more likely they are to stop barking and generally reacting to the stimulus.
However, this is very hard for a dog to control. It’s a base instinct, which means they react without thinking. Just as we shout at our dog for being annoying! Hmm. Another word of caution – if there are likely to be lots of things to bark at, try moving the dog to a different space, where there is less stimulation. Or reduce access to windows, or the garden. It’s a bit of a losing battle, if you have a constant stream of squirrels in the garden, to try and stop your dog barking at them.
Again, this is an instinctive reaction to a stimulus, but this time it is about fear of the unknown. Who is that person? What are they doing here? I don’t know this other dog? Why is there a loud noise? Quin barks at his reflection quite a bit at the moment, bless him. We just ignore that. Or call away and reassure him.
I’m sure you can tell the difference between excited and frightened barking? Excited barking will happen alongside a wriggling, waggy, smiley dog. Fearful barking will be accompanied by hackles up and backing off. Your dog will be tense and focused on the fearful object.
You might see both these types of barking at home and whilst you are out. Understanding the difference can help you react to them. If your dog is afraid, they need reassurance. So again, shouting at your dog to be shut up is NOT the solution. Once more, quiet reassurance and distraction is a better solution.
Just be careful that you don’t reinforce the fearful response. Call away, distract, be calm. Then reward. Otherwise your dog is warning you that something might be frightening and then thinks you want them to tell you every time they see something similar. You are not saying ‘thanks for telling me about that’! You are rewarding them for stopping.
When a dog howls, they are properly distressed. Or really, really excited! Again, you need to understand the circumstances and why the behaviour is happening, in order to react to it appropriately. Busy is my main howler. She howls when she is missing out on something. If someone goes off on a walk or out to training without her, she gives a really plaintive, sad little howl.
Howling is not nice to hear. Sometimes a dog howls briefly and then stops, realising that nothing is changing. Sadly, dogs who are left alone for long periods may continue to howl, or bark pitifully, which is horrible for neighbours.
If you get a puppy when you are around ALL the time, and then suddenly leave it alone, you will make your dog sad and anxious. This is a very real problem and one that is unfortunately becoming far more common following the pandemic. It is known as ‘separation anxiety‘.
The trick is to make sure your puppy knows that being alone is fine. The earlier and more often you do this, the better your dog will cope. I do not stay with my litters of puppies all day every day and nor do their mothers. They are safe and warm, so they just sleep, or play, until we return.
When I keep a puppy from a litter, I leave it alone from day one. I put him to bed in a crate, at night. Or during the day, when I walk the other dogs. It’s only for an hour or so during the day, but I go out little and often. Or I go into a different room (including the toilet!) and make sure that the puppy can’t follow. Building confidence is the key to tackling this issue.
I always make sure my dogs are safe and have things to chew, such as Kongs, if needed. You can also try giving a dog something to distract them, such as a ‘Lickimat‘. Whatever you do, as always with your dog, make sure you are:
Your dog will thank you!
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NB: I am not a dog trainer, or a dog behaviourist, just a dog breeder and owner. I can only offer my opinion, based on my experience.