uncontrollable barking

A Barking Solution

Those who’ve been to our house know that we have a bit of an issue with barking dogs who just won’t stop. Two summers ago, we hired a wonderful positive-reinforcement trainer to help with the issue with Dusty, and we made some progress, but having two dogs who feed off one another’s barking and being able to work with only one of them at a time undid all the progress we made.

Dusty in citronella collar

Dusty in his citronella collar. When he barks, it lets out a little lemon-scented spray.

We tried citronella collars first. We were concerned mostly with Dusty’s barking because his was completely out of control. Back then, Hogan would usually stop with a diversion or a firm “no.” But Hogan eventually started trying to out-bark Dusty, so we had to buy him a citronella collar, too. The collar worked for a time with Dusty—he would bark once or twice, the collar would spray, and he’d stop. But he eventually learned the spray didn’t hurt him, and if he kept barking, the collar would stop spraying, so he’d just bark it empty. The citronella collar still works for Hogan, but we don’t like leaving it on him because he makes cute grumbly noises when he sleeps, and those grumbles set it off. More often than not, therefore, he doesn’t have it on when his imagination tells him there’s a dog walking by the house, so all hell will break loose.

We’ve also tried giving the boys time-outs (less than a minute in the bathroom), which usually works but isn’t doable in all situations.

In recent weeks, we had become so frustrated by the needless barking at any imagined change in the environment (they even start barking out of excitement when I stand up!) that my husband wanted to buy a shock collar for Dusty, which I was opposed to but did agree to investigate. After much discussion with a sales associate at PetSmart who swears by the shock collar for her beagles, I left the store with nothing because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it to Dusty, even though the sales associate said she never has to put it on her dogs anymore. I went back the next day, though, after some online investigation, and bought a vibrating collar. It worked for a few days until Dusty got used to it. I returned it. (PetSmart has a great returns policy!)

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This is one of the barking situations we don’t mind as much—at least there’s a reason for it!

Then, this past weekend, my husband bought the Sunbeam Ultrasonic Egg. It works! And it’s been four days, and it still works. And I don’t think it’ll stop working. The first night, we left the egg on overnight, and for the first time in a long time, Dusty and Hogan didn’t bark the whole way down the stairs in the morning—and they haven’t any morning since then, even though the egg has been off. They really do seem to have learned, so I think in no time at all, we may be able to pack the egg away. Just a moment ago, a car honked outside, the dogs ran from their sleeping spots to the front door all ready to bark…and they didn’t make a peep. In fact, there hasn’t been a single bark since the dogs said “Hello” and “If this fence wasn’t here, you’d feel my wrath” to the Doberman next door at 7:15 this morning. We just brought the egg outside and turned it on, and all the fence barking stopped! Exciting, indeed!

Ultrasonic Egg

The Sunbeam Ultrasonic Egg retails for $49 in Canada—not a bad price for peace and quiet.

This is a solution we wouldn’t have resorted to if Cora, our scaredy-dog, hadn’t lost her hearing because it would seriously freak her out and set back so much of the progress we’ve made with her. But Dusty and Hogan both are barkers, and they’re the only two affected by the egg.

There is a downside of the egg, however: if either of us is speaking loudly enough to be heard in a different room or if we are doing anything in the kitchen, the egg activates, instantly putting Dusty’s and Hogan’s tails between their legs. So we just leave it off unless we know a potential barking situation is looming (e.g., someone is expected at the door or we’re about to let the dogs out in the backyard, which always makes the boys noisy).

This may well be the solution we’ve been searching nearly four years to find. I thought it was one worth sharing with others!

Updates

It struck me today when I saw that someone had searched for “uncontrollable barking” and arrived at my site that I have some initial posts that don’t have follow-ups, so I’m going to make this post all about updating you on some situations I’ve blogged about before. I figure it’s a good way to wind up the year.

Hogan doesn't get the whole winter-coat thing.

Update 1: Since “Dusty’s Uncontrollable Barking” is the post that prompted this update, I’ll start with that update. A couple of weeks ago, we decided to try the citronella collar…and it really worked! We put it on Dusty first thing in the morning (around 7:15 a.m.) and took it off after our evening walk (around 6:00 p.m.). The spray didn’t come out every time he barked, but it worked often enough to make him reconsider barking. We used it for five days in a row and have put it on him only a couple of times since then. He now thinks twice about barking. When we open the door to the backyard, he still barks up a storm as he leaves the house, but we figure this is a hunting instinct, and we’ve decided more or less to let it happen since it stops once he’s hit the ground. Now that we’ve got Dusty’s barking under control, we may have to try the collar on Hogan. Hogan was super-quiet when we got him, but when Dusty was at his worst, Hogan joined the chorus, and he’s not stopping even though, most often, his is a lone voice now.

Cora in her favourite spot (on the love seat in the office).

Update 2: We initially purchased the D.A.P. collar for Cora because of her peeing in the house. It seemed to curb the peeing at first, but since the indoor urination was so sporadic, it was hard to tell if the collar was all that effective. It did seem to ease some of her anxiety, though (which I’ve detailed here). We now have another (cheaper) brand of pheromone collar on her. I think it does help with the anxiety. To address her peeing issue, the vet wanted to rule out bladder stones or other potentially dangerous medical reasons for the peeing, so yesterday Cora had an x-ray. Her innards, I’m happy to report, are picture perfect. Even her spine is in great shape, suggesting she’s got the bone structure of a young dog still. Amazing! The vet thinks the dribbling that we recently noticed may be an after-effect of Cora’s being spayed earlier this year. The peeing problem may be unrelated (and may still be anxiety related or a behavioural issue). We’re trying Cora on estrogen to see if that will reduce the dribbling in the house.

Dusty looking very handsome and completely innocent

Update 3: Dusty was diagnosed with hip dysplasia a couple of months ago. He’s also got a cruciate ligament issue, although the ligament isn’t torn. We put Dusty on Cartrophen injections to try to help rebuild the cartilage around his knee. The injections have really seemed to help. We also give him Sasha’s Blend, a glucosamine product. He often still favours his left hind leg, and I suspect surgery is inevitable, but we want to put it off as long as possible. He still runs around like a nut when he gets the chance, so his leg issues aren’t negatively affecting his quality of life—or not to any great degree anyway.

In general, the dogs are doing great—and we are loving life with the three of them!

Dusty’s Uncontrollable Barking

Dusty’s barking is getting out of control. Yes, he’s a hound, so he barks. And when he barks, even in the house, the neighbours surely can hear him. He’s THAT loud. When we first met Dusty, as regular readers know (and others can click here to read about), we walked away certain that he wasn’t the dog we wanted. And it was because of that bark. That non-stop, loud, deep, fierce bark.

However, Dusty’s foster mom, Louise, convinced us that Dusty didn’t bark in the house, and when we had our home visit with him, it seemed she was right. Not a peep. And for about six months, Dusty’s occasional bark has been manageable.

Dusty in one of his quieter moments (he's so sweet when he's like this!)

But in the past couple of weeks, Dusty has been barking both more often and more uncontrollably (i.e., once he starts, we can’t get him to stop). He barks at everything—an animal walking across the TV screen, the prospect of going outside, any other dog he sees on our walk, Hogan when Dusty wants to play but Hogan doesn’t want to, any person who is talking to him, and, most annoying, he barks at me for no apparent reason. If I stand up from sitting, he stands in front of me and barks, barks, barks, barks, and he won’t stop. And, of course, once he starts, Hogan gets in on the action. Mayhem! Tonight, Dusty even started barking when I was petting Hogan. Dusty had slept on my lap for more than an hour (he is such a sweet, cuddly dog most of the time), so afterward, I decided I’d give Hogan and Cora some attention. Dusty apparently didn’t like that.

Most of Dusty’s barking is spurred on by excitement. As Kathy at TAGS pointed out to me, quite rightly, it just doesn’t seem right to punish a dog for being happy or excited. But we can’t let it go on as it is, in large part because Wes and I both work from home, and we need a somewhat quiet atmosphere to concentrate in and to conduct business calls and the like.

What to do? I would never use a shock collar, but there are more humane options: citronella collars, vibrating collars, spray bottles, noise makers. Noise makers aren’t an option because they freak out Cora, our fearful dog. Kathy suggested teaching Dusty to take a toy when he starts so that he’ll have something in his mouth. I tried that, but he won’t focus on anything other than the thing that is holding his attention during the barking episode. Anybody out there have any ideas?