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This blog post was originally published in September 2014; it has been updated with new information and republished.
One day, we came outside to find a note on our door from a neighbor down the road (about 150 yards away) who was complaining about our barking dogs. In the note, the person said that the little Blue Heeler (Zoey) is the worst and I can imagine because our dogs go bonkers when strangers step onto their property.
Before I tell you about the note, let me explain how our “neighborhood” looks.
About Our Neighborhood
We live in a rural town and we have 3 neighbors that are close by; one next door, one across the road, and one behind us, through the woods. Our home is on five acres and we have the small lot on our hill. The neighbor who complained lives about 150 yards away from us (that's more than a football field). But we live on a hill so I imagine that if our dogs get going, their bark echoes like crazy. I don't really know, because I'm usually at work during the day.
Why Dogs Bark
If you live with dogs, then you know that it doesn't take a lot to get many dogs going. It can be a statement (is someone here?), a sound (the cat meowing), or a leaf blowing by the window. One dog will alert and the other dogs will join in and it takes patience to get them to settle down again. Of course, there are breeds that don't bark or don't bark much; they don't live in our home.
Our dogs bark because…
- to protect their territory – whenever a stranger (human or animal) comes on our property, our dogs will bark.
- to say hello – when we come home, the dogs bark; when a friend stops by, the dogs bark. It's an all dog celebration.
- to alert to a problem – if something scary is happening (fireworks, construction, etc.), the dogs will bark.
- out of boredom or for attention – Rodrigo barks when he's bored or wants attention.
- out of excitement – when it's time for the dogs to go outside to play, to go for a walk, or for a ride – there's barking.
- due to anxiety – if a dog has separation anxiety, then s/he may bark when left alone. We experienced this with Apollo when he joined our family.
And some dogs bark excessively because they were rewarded for this behavior when they were cute puppies. Yeah, I'm pointing a finger directly at myself because I used to get a kick out of puppy barking. Grown dog barking isn't as adorable.
Why Our Dogs were Barking that Week
Besides the stranger who came on our property to leave a note threatening to prosecute us (she didn't know that my partner was a deputy – he's now retired) for having dogs who bark for more than 15 minutes, our dogs have a couple more triggers.
- That week, there was road work on our hill. It's not the influx of road vehicles that trigger our dogs, it's when they stop on the road outside our property or use our driveway to park or turn around.
- That week, there was a rabbit that would sit outside the dogs' yard that got them all riled up early in the morning. It was like the rabbit knew that the dogs couldn't get out so he (or she) would sit there watching them. What cracks me up is that this was one of the rabbits that I rescued from the dogs a month prior – talk about gratitude.
Brainstorming How to Stop the Barking
Despite the annoyance of the note, we recognized that if someone works
Move the Dog Yard
The dogs' yard used to be on the side of the house giving them an unobstructed view of the road in front of our home and our neighbor's property. We've always toyed around with the idea of moving the dog yard but it wasn't high on our list of outdoor projects until this year. Earlier this summer, we installed a 300 foot dog fencing system by PetPlaygrounds behind our house. There is a portion of their new yard that does give them a view of the front of the house, however, that will soon be blocked by growing shrubs.
Our next project is to increase the size of one of the pet doors, which will allow all of our dogs to enter and exit the house when needed; so far, only three of our dogs can do this and only one does it regularly.
Leave the Dogs in the House
There was a time when we thought about leaving the dogs in the house when there was roadwork and J would stop by once or twice to give them a potty break. The problem is that (1) he shouldn't be doing this when on duty and (2) there might be days when he can't make it. Then what? There was a time when we hired someone to help with the dogs, but they too weren't always able to make it and the cost added up quickly.
Use Citronella Bark Collars
We thought about using bark collars on our dogs, hoping that this would curb the barking. I wasn't sure about this option for three reasons.
- I'm not a fan of training collars because (1) I've never been trained to use them and (2) I feel hesitant to leave them on my dogs all day when I'm not around.
- I didn't know if citronella collars worked on dogs.
- I worried that this collar might make things worse, especially for Zoey, who is already a timid dog.
So I reached out to the dog lover community to find out if anyone had success with citronella collars and what I learned wasn't promising.
Citronella collars work great until they get wet. If you have a dog who has access to a pond, then it's a waste of money. ~ Susan Hanley
The collar may be triggered by the barks of other dogs. ~ Kathleen Puls Andrade
Smart dogs figure out a way around the collar. My mini-Aussie rolled around on the grass to move the sensor away from her throat and would bark away. ~ Lisa Gillette-Martin
Do Citronella Bark Collars Work?
After reading the feedback from others, I was left wondering if citronella bark collars were worth the expense and time training our dogs to get used to this contraption since our dogs don't currently wear collars.
After more research, the answer to my question was “maybe.”
- If you have an older dog who has been allowed to bark incessantly, then a citronella collar may not work.
- If you have a pack of dogs, a citronella collar may be counterproductive, because 1 dog is being penalized for the actions of the other dogs.
- And if you haven't discovered what's triggering the barking, then a citronella collar may work at first, but it won't work long term.
How Do We Stop Excessive Barking?
If citronella collars don't work, how do we stop excessive barking? I read several articles and the advice ranged from giving your dog a strong stare down to ignoring your dog. I found a nice balance in between these two responses. Zoey, for example, barks all the time and will keep going if left unchecked. Her primary triggers are being let in the house (she barks as I approach the gate) and going outside to play (she barks the second someone walks towards the side door). This is what works to stop her barking…
STOP REWARDING THE BARKING, KIMBERLY!!!
I used to try and get her in the house or out of the house as fast as possible to stop her barking. Now, I won't respond to barking. If I'm walking towards the gate to let the dogs in, if she starts barking, I freeze and I wait. I don't open the gate until she's silent. It took patience and consistency, but she figured it out. She still barks here and there, but it's usually one or two barks instead of the steady stream of barking that makes your head explode.
I do the same when I'm allowing the dogs outside. Everyone must be quiet with all four paws on the floor before I open the door. Again, it take patience and consistency, but all of the dogs figured it out.
Other Tips to Stop Excessive Barking
- distract the dogs – if the dogs are barking, I'll grab a bag of dog treats and wait for everyone to come to me and sit. I wait a beat until they're all settled and then I hand out treats. This does a great job interrupting their focus from the leaf blowing past the window.
- don't bark with them – a mistake I've made in the past is to start yelling at the dogs to “SETTLE DOWN!!!!” but they only bark more because, YAYYYY, MOMMY'S BARKING TOO! Today, I calmly say, “Thanks, Scout, now quiet down.” It's crazy, but it works, especially when only one or two dogs is barking.
- lots of exercise – regardless if it's physical or mental, exercise is a blessing. Our dogs don't bark excessively when they're tired.
- hire a dog trainer/behaviorist – the best way to learn why your dog is barking and what to do about it is to work with a professional. A behaviorist I follow on Facebook, Jessica L. Fisher, wrote a book that gave me loads of ideas on how to better communicate with my dogs: 7 Miracle Steps to Get Your Dog to Obey Commands Even if They've Failed Before. She stress patience and positivity, which work for all of our dogs.
Making Nice When You Have Barking Dogs
In the end, we didn't get a citronella bark collar for Zoey or any of the dogs, because it wouldn't work for them. Instead, we removed the rabbit's home (a pile of bricks on pallets we have stored for an upcoming project). And we patiently waited for the end of the road construction (a few days later) which reduced the number of strangers outside our property.
Although everyone worked out, the note stayed with me. I didn't want a neighbor to be annoyed with our dogs. So I baked some pies and and delivered them to our closest neighbors, to apologize for the noise. It turns out that no one was bothered by our dogs. Two neighbors never noticed the barking and our closest neighbor has a dog too and worried that their dog was getting our dogs started.
I couldn't take a pie to the complaining neighbor because the note was anonymous, but I gather that they noticed a difference because we didn't receive a follow-up