Yesterday I decided to tag along with our RSPCA ACT Inspectors for the afternoon. They investigated seven different complaints within a two-hour period and all but one was related to what we would call a ‘nuisance’ complaint – most frequently that of dogs barking.
Barking dogs are not actually covered by the Animal Welfare Act which is the legislation that our Inspectors enforce. The majority of the time we will turn these types of calls over to the Rangers at Domestic Animals Services (DAS). However on occasion, the person lodging the complaint will describe other welfare issues which we will investigate to ensure that the animal’s needs are being met and they are not in an unsafe environment.
Yesterday, we found nothing but healthy looking dogs barking with no obvious welfare concerns. Therefore, we can only assume that the neighbours are just frustrated at having to listen to them all day.
With the constant stream of these types of complaints to our Inspectors, I thought it may be useful to share some tips from our behavioural trainers at RSPCA ACT on how you can become a better neighbour if your dog has a barking problem.
Dogs tend to bark for a few of reasons, but mainly due to boredom, excitement, anxiety or at a stimulus. Barking is a natural behaviour for dogs and one of their only ways to communicate. Excessive barking could be a sign that something may be 'wrong'. The first step in solving the problem is to determine why your dog is barking. Some breeds are also more prone to barking than others, and as a responsible pet owner it is important to identify the cause of barking as this will help you come up with a solution.
For physical stimulation, it’s critical that your dog receives the appropriate amount of exercise for its needs. Despite stereotypes, some large breeds like great Danes and Greyhounds actually need less exercise than smaller dogs like Jack Russells. When you’re adopting a dog do your research and make sure the dog you’re bringing into your home fits with your lifestyle.
If you are going to be out all day to work, make sure you take the dog out for a walk before and after you get home. Sometimes, they may even need a lunchtime walk.
Mental stimulation is just as important. Dogs that finish their meals quickly could be distracted by using an enrichment toy such as a Kong or another toy. Chewing is a natural stress-releasing activity for dogs and can lead to the release of calming hormones. Chewing makes dogs feel good and is a way for them to self-soothe. Not only will chew toys and Kongs calm your dog but they can keep them busy and divert their attention from outside stimulus.
If you can’t leave food with your dogs, you can still provide them with enrichment. Give them a sandpit to dig in, a paddling pool or doggy safe play equipment to keep them entertained during the day.
For single dog families, don’t underestimate the value of a playmate. This does not necessarily have to be another dog as other pets and children can be great companions. There are also an increasing number of doggy day care and walking businesses available for those who are time poor but have the finances to put towards their pet companion.
Sometimes, dogs are reactive to visual movement through fences and windows. Reducing visibility to high traffic areas often work wonders for reducing barking in these types of dogs - particularly if they have high anxiety to strangers.
As I said, there are many reasons why a dog may bark. If in doubt, speak to a qualified Behavioural Trainer and take your dog to training classes. By doing this you can try to find the underlining causes of the issue and replace bad habits with positive reinforcement and education.
We humans have bred dogs to be exceptionally social animals. Leaving them for eight hours a day, although often necessary, can be stressful. Try to make the dogs alone time as enjoyable for them as possible.
Be a responsible pet owner and help your dog be a good neighbour!
Tammy Ven Dange is the CEO of RSPCA ACT. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @tvendange