Some breeds such as Cocker Spaniels will bark repeatedly, and studies have revealed that this behavior is far more common in dogs than in their ancestor, the grey wolf. This is perhaps not surprising since from the earliest stages of domestication, dogs have been kept for guarding purposes. A bark alerts their owner to a likely disturbance, enabling them to take effective action.
Today’s breeds have been largely developed with this trait in mind, with the notable exception of the Basenji which, rather misleadingly, is sometimes described as the barkless dog, although it does have a reasonably extensive vocal range. Evolved for hunting in Africa, the quiet nature of this breed was essential so as not to alert game to the presence of dogs and hunters nearby.
The size of the dog is not necessarily an accurate reflection of its barking abilities. Some small breeds such as the Dachshunds have a relatively deep and loud bark. In today’s domestic environment, persistent barking by a dog is a frequent cause of complaint. The problem in such cases can often be traced back to the actions of the owner. Instead of allowing the dog to bark just. when a doorbell rings, for instance, such behavior is tolerated throughout the day and at night, whenever the dog demands attention. It soon comes to realize that to receive human company, barking for a bit should be sufficient. Then, by way of habit, if you leave the dog alone it will continue barking, and this noise may carry over a considerable distance.
You need to train the dog to desist from barking excessively. This is best achieved from an early age, by telling it to be ‘quiet’ once you are aware, say, that the front doorbell has been rung. If the dog continues, then place it in another room on its own, re-emphasizing the word ‘quiet’. The dog may start to scratch at the door to be let out. Further action will probably be necessary to prevent damage to the door. A firm tap on the hindquarters, accompanied by ‘no’ and ‘bed’ if appropriate, depending on the room, should put a stop to this destructive behavior before it becomes a serious problem. Only when the dog has stopped barking should you allow it to come out to join you.
Other typical situations where barking can be a problem are when a dog wants to come indoors or resents being left in a car on its own. Similar action should be taken, so that the dog is told to be quiet, and you disappear until it has stopped barking for a few moments. Try not to respond the moment it ceases as this suggests to the dog that it can get its own way by behaving in this fashion.
Special collars which give a small yet painful electric shock to deter barking are permitted to be sold in some countries, but really have no part in training a dog properly. There is a particular problem associated with some designs in that they are activated simply by the sound of barking. They do not distinguish between individual dogs, and so the sound of a neighbor’s dog may cause yours to receive a punishment shock when it has not actually been barking. Clearly, this is not a desirable state of affairs, and apart from being unfair, will also prove upsetting to your dog.
Desperate owners sometimes ask their vet if it is possible to prevent a dog barking by surgical means. Although there is an operation for this purpose, called ventriculocordectomy, it is generally considered to be undesirable. It was developed and used primarily during the First World War as a means of preventing dogs, used in the trenches as messengers and for other activities, from betraying their positions by a casual bark.
Under normal domestic circumstances barking can be controlled without such mutilation being necessary. If you do suspect that your dog does bark excessively in certain situations, while waiting in the car for example, it may be worthwhile speaking with your vet. Often in such circumstances. it may have been that the dog was teased in the past, by a stranger who encouraged it to bark by tapping repeatedly on the window, for example.
Although you may not be able to track down the precise cause under such circumstances, it can be possible to devise a means of overcoming the problem in most cases of this type. It may mean having to park in a car park, for example, rather than in a busy street where there are a lot of people passing by. Here the dog should be relatively quiet, because it will not feel threatened.