By Richard G. Biever
“Let sleeping dogs lie” might be good advice about not stirring things up for most situations. But it’s not the case when it comes to dogs — especially dogs that bark too much.
In that the case, the best time to give your dog attention is when it’s being calm and quiet says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Niwako Ogata, associate professor at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine. It’s almost counterintuitive.
But if you’ve already made sure all of your dog’s necessities have been met — it’s been fed, exercised and has gone potty — and it stares at you and starts barking for attention, “That doesn’t mean you have to play with the dog,” Ogata said.
“When he or she’s calm and quiet: THAT is definitely the time you need to play with the dog. That teaches the dog that to get your attention, ‘I need to be a good boy or a good girl,’” she said. “Always give attention when the dog does the thing you want to see.”
By “attention,” Ogata means eye contact, gentle talk, treats and the like.
No one should expect a dog to never bark, she noted. That’s how dogs communicate. But some dogs do bark excessively which can create problems for the owner, the neighbors and the dog itself. Ogata said the first step is to figure out what might be causing excessive barking. Once the reason is isolated, you can start to treat the problem.
Barking within the home is the dog communicating with you. Barking at external noises — traffic, other dogs — is generally territorial barking. Both are normal behaviors, Ogata said, that can be modified by lessening the external exposure and providing proper training.
A third reason dogs bark excessively may be a physical, psychological, or genetic disorder. A urinary tract infection, she said, will make your dog feel as if it has to go potty; it will bark often feeling the need to go out. And, like humans, dogs that have been abused or abandoned may be excessively fearful of common noises. Older dogs can develop canine senility which might also lead to aimless barking.
Ogata said if an owner can’t easily find a reason for the barking, the dog should be seen by a veterinarian. The vet should be able to determine if there is a medical or behavioral problem.
Much like children, dogs in the home need to feel secure and loved. They need attention and exercise. And, as with kids, with patience, practice and consistency, most will learn to respond in the ways to meet your approval.
If problems persist with any type of pet behavior, Ogata said Purdue University offers services that may help. Contact the Purdue Animal Behavior Clinic at 765-494-1107; or visit: https://vet.purdue.edu/animalbehavior/.
Richard G. Biever is senior editor of Indiana Connection.