Nothing upsets the delicate balance in closely-packed urban and suburban neighborhoods like nuisance dog barking. If you live in a city chances are you’ve either been disturbed by a neighbor’s dog that won’t stop barking, or your own dog has been the offender.
What we’re talking about today is excessive dog barking that happens when you’re not at home. Even dogs that have been trained to be quiet on command or that generally stay quiet when their owners are around will bark when left alone all day.
We’re talking about barking that is caused by some outside stimuli, sounds of yelling children, the mailman, bikes passing, etc. We’re not talking about barking caused by separation anxiety or other internal stimuli.
We’re talking about solutions for barking in dogs that live inside the home as pets and are kept indoors during the day. We’re not talking about working dogs living in kennel runs or neglected dogs that are left outdoors unattended most of the time.
Why Do Dogs Bark Excessively?
The nuisance barkers I’m referring to today are actually enjoying themselves while they’re engaging in this activity. They may go from one window to the next joyfully alerting the entire neighborhood to the presence of the mailman. It’s self-reinforcing behavior. It feels good to bark and so they bark more.
If you have more than one dog, you’ll note that when one dog kicks up, usually the second one joins in. He doesn’t know why he’s barking but he’s adding his voice. Why? It’s fun!
Dealing with the Complaining Neighbor
If you’ve ever gotten the dreaded neighbor note, the one that reads “Dear Neighbor your dog’s excessive barking is disturbing me all day”, you definitely want to deal with the issue proactively lest it get escalated to Animal Control or become a situation where you or your dog is physically threatened.
If the neighbor has identified themselves, I recommend either going over and speaking to them in person or leaving a return note indicating that you plan on taking steps to address the issue and provide your email address to open a more convenient line of communication (and paper trail, should you need one). One thing that can immediately put an edgy neighbor at ease and keep the issue from escalating quickly is knowing that their complaint was heard and steps are being taken to resolve the issue.
If you speak in person, plan to apologize and otherwise behave in a contrite manner. If you’re angry or feeling defensive, wait until you’ve calmed down.
You will want to check in with them in the coming weeks to determine if the issue has been addressed to their satisfaction, and there may be some additional insights they can provide to help you find the right solution. Getting them to commit to some specific facts is a necessary first step in finding the right solution and protecting yourself.
Should they not want to engage with you after they leave the note, then at least you’ve taken a step in good faith to respond and the additional steps you take will ensure that you aren’t the target of harassment should they not be operating in good faith.
If you live in a neighborhood like mine where there are a lot of dogs on the block, you also want to make sure you’re not being accidentally targeted. The following solutions will not only address the barking problem (if there is one) but provide some ways for your to collect information should you need it to make your case on your dog’s behalf.
Get Eyes on Your Dog
While not necessary for resolving the issue, lots of people understandably want to confirm with their own eyes and ears that their dog is engaging in excessive barking. One way to find out how bad your dog’s barking is and to get proof to refute unsubstantiated claims should you need it is to use a webcam. Get a Dropcam with cloud recording. You can monitor your dog for barking while you’re not at home, even get alerts sent to your email when barking is detected.
I recommend Dropcam because it’s what I have experience with and use. It is reasonably priced, easy to setup and has a really intuitive user interface – you can get it up and running within about 10 minutes of getting it out of the box. Bonus: it multi-purposes as home security, nanny-cam, and/or baby monitor.
Monitor your dog for a solid week. You may see that your dog kicks up for a minute or two a few times during the day. That’s pretty normal and doesn’t justify a neighbor complaint. Once you’ve seen the problem in action, you can take steps to address it if necessary.
Reduce External Stimuli That Causes Barking
If it turns out your dog IS joyfully barking his head off during the day, one way to reduce barking is to reduce the stimuli causing it:
- Close blinds or otherwise keep your dog away from windows
- Play background music or other white noise to camouflage outside noises
- Baby gate your dog in the basement where there’s less external stimuli and any barking will be muffled
- Get bottom-up blinds to block your dog’s line of sight but still allow for sunlight
- Even in nice weather, close your windows to muffle barking.
Since you’re not home to correct your dog, managing his environment so he’s less likely to bark in the first place is your first option, but not your only option. If you’re averse to using e-collar technology (aka bark collars), managing your dog’s environment may be your only option and it may be costly, i.e., installing bottom-up blinds throughout your home or running the AC to keep your home cool because you have to close all your windows.
If you’re amenable to static collar technology, then there’s a $99.99 solution that is 99% guaranteed to be effective for your dog.
The 99% Effective $99.99 Solution – Use a Bark Collar
Bark collar technology has advanced in the last decade or so, along with all electronic training collar systems.
While employing aversive static stimulation, these collars are highly humane and effective. They are supposed to take the joy out of barking (recall how much fun it is for your dog to bark?). The uncomfortable static stim. paired with the barking convinces your dog barking is causing his discomfort and it’s not worth it to continue to do so.
Does a bark collar teach your dog not to bark? Not necessarily. Most dogs realize that when the collar is off they can bark comfortably because they will inevitably still have these opportunities.
Get a Garmin/Tritonics Bark Limiter Deluxe No Bark Collar ($99.99). Gun Dog Supply is a great place to buy bark collars – great customer service and a really helpful website with all the videos, reviews, and user manuals they publish.
The Garmin/Tritronics Bark Limiter has a couple of features that set it apart and make it particularly useful for nuisance barking:
The bark odometer counts the number of barks. This feature is used when using the manual mode to set the stim. level on the collar. Eventually you find the level that results in reasonably few number of barks. However, the odometer is also handy in providing insights should you not opt for the webcam. If your collar is registering a few barks per day and your neighbor insists the excessive barking is continuing, you know you either have a problem-neighbor on your hands or it’s someone else’s dog they’re hearing and this gives you some solid information to support your claim.
Rechargeable battery – don’t underestimate the inconvenience and expense of having to manually change out the batteries if you opt for a cheaper unit with replaceable batteries. These collars generally last a long time on a charge because they go into sleep mode when they don’t detect motion (like when your dog is sleeping the other 6 hours out of the day when he’s not barking). Because the devices are well-made, your bark collar should remain functional for many years, so you’ll either go through several sets of batteries in that time or you can just recharge your unit.
Autorise mode makes using the collar foolproof. Instead of manually finding the best level for your dog through trial and error over several days (which you can still do with this collar), you can use Autorise mode. It starts at level 1 and increases throughout a barking session as long as the dog continues to bark. It then dials back down over a period of quiet. If your dog maintains quiet long enough it will start back at 1 again the next time he barks.
Autorise is great for people that don’t feel comfortable using the collar on manual settings or as a little extra insurance for dogs that would otherwise be on a 1 if using the collar in manual mode. If you have a dog that is relatively sensitive to the stim and that doesn’t get into extended barking sessions, autorise can be a good option.
For dogs that put a lot of energy and commitment into their barking, it will still work but they’ll be getting more opportunity to bark than they would if the collar was just set at a higher level via the manual settings. They’ll quickly learn that they can get out several solid barks before it gets too uncomfortable, and they’ll exploit that. It’s the difference between reducing barking and almost eliminating it – it’s up to you and your neighbor to decide what is a reasonable expectation.
Other Bark Limiter Deluxe Features
The collar also has a vibration mode – but I don’t necessarily count this as a benefit. It’s not possible to adjust the vibration level – so if it’s not effective for your dog then this mode won’t do anything for you. Alternatively, if it’s an over-correction it isn’t a humane option for your dog.
The vibration mode on most e-collars is there for the comfort of the humans since we’re the ones that attribute “humaneness” to vibration and “punishment” to static shock. In reality, for your dog the quality of “vibrate” isn’t that different from “stim” and for many dogs when the entire unit vibrates it can be more startling than a static stim. delivered between two contact points. When determining which mode is best for your dog, leave your bias out of it and use what works and is as minimally “invasive” as possible, meaning you get the desired outcome without unnecessarily stressing your dog.
What you Should Not Do to Stop Barking
I’ve made some very specific and concise recommendations for a reason. Most of the other options out there are junk and a waste of time. They’re either ineffective or inhumane. Here’s what you shouldn’t do:
Do not muzzle your dog to try to stop barking. You cannot use a muzzle that will shut his mouth for an entire day as it prevents your dog from being able to pant or drink. I’m referring here to the fabric muzzles used at vet’s offices. Basket muzzles, which are appropriate for extended wear, will not stop barking.
Do not debark your dog. Removing your dog’s vocal chords is inhumane and he will still be able to vocalize. The strangled chortle vocalization of a debarked dog is actually worse than the sound of a bark.
Do not drug your dog. In a few instances of severe separation anxiety, drugs may be a last resort that you opt for if other training and management doesn’t work. You should not use these drugs on a dog that is nuisance barking – a bark collar is a far safer and more humane option.
Don’t be fooled by gimmicks like those ultrasonic devices that claim to detect barking and send out a high frequency tone to deter it. Most of these devices don’t work as advertised, and if it does work and you have multiple dogs or other pets (like cats), they get needlessly and unfairly punished for behavior they’re not engaging in.
Don’t use citronella type collars. Again, the scent dispersion may unfairly affect animals that had nothing to do with the barking in the first place. Additionally while a static stim. happens precisely as your dog is barking and stops the moment your dog ceases barking, the smell of citronella will hang in the air for many minutes or longer bothering your dog. He may not know why he’s being punished several minutes after he stopped barking. Some dogs get used to the smell or aren’t bothered by it at all, rendering the collar ineffective.
So there you have it – clear options and solutions to stop your dog from barking. What works and what doesn’t work, and what to do when a neighbor complains.
Have you tried something else that works? Do you have a suggestion for dealing with a complaining neighbor? Share your thoughts below!