Dealing With Chronic Barking

Plus, what causes anxious urinating.

(Problem) I need some help. I have a four-year-old male German shorthair that has a barking problem'┬Žno, a barking obsession. I have tried several solutions, including the bark collar (he just barks through it), and spraying him down with water, which works as long as I am standing in front of the pen with the hose in my hand. But as soon as I walk inside and shut the door he starts in again.


I'm not into hitting my dog but I've tried a rolled up newspaper with the same result as spraying water. I've tried moving my dad's dog in with him thinking he might be lonely; that only worked for a day.

He doesn't just bark once in a while; it's non-stop when someone is home. (I've talked to the neighbors and he barks sporadically when we're gone.)


When I try one of the solutions I do it consistently for about a week and he still doesn't catch on. I am 30 and just starting my family so I don't have a lot of money to spend on gadgets, especially when they don't work. I've been around bird hunting my whole life and since I was a kid we have had shorthairs.


My father and I have trained all but one of our shorthairs, and Mac has actually been the easiest to train as far as hunting is concerned, but I just have not been able to get him to stop barking.

Mac has been introduced to an e-collar, which, as far as hunting is concerned, he responds to well, but not so well for the barking. Then there is the issue of only being able to leave it on him for 12 hours.

I've thought about having him debarked but I know dogs can still make some noise afterwards. Up until the last year Mac had been at my dad's place, outside the city limits with neighbors who are not as close as mine. So up until last year Mac got away with the barking.

I've built a nice concrete pen and doghouse for him but my wife is not as understanding about the barking, nor do I think my neighbors are.

Any suggestions or solutions to this problem would be greatly appreciated.

(Solution) You are right; debarking would still leave a residual noise and it sounds worse than the original bark, not quite as loud but more hoarse, like a kid with whooping cough or someone with chronic bronchitis.

The reason Mac barks is to get your attention. He has learned that if he barks long enough you or someone will eventually come out and pay some attention to him.

It is a kind of superstitious behavior. It is an extremely strong behavior pattern and very difficult to correct because the reinforcement can come any time if he does it long enough. It is like someone obsessed with gambling. The next bark will bring you outside; the next pull of the lever will bring the jackpot; the next card will total you to 21 or give you the royal flush.

It is always the next one that is the important one, so he keeps it up. When there is an eclipse of the sun, if you beat a drum long enough, the sun comes out again, and that is evidence that is hard to refute. Whole religions are based on this type of evidence. So it is with Mac's barking that always brings you out.

The only way to absolutely cure it is to never go out when he barks, but go out when he is quiet. You must start with a short time of silence, like maybe 30 seconds or so, then go out and reward him, telling him he is a good dog and then go in.

He will start barking right away. Wait until he quits for 45 seconds, then go out. Repeat and each time get longer by very short increments. It is a slow-down schedule of reinforcement. You must keep going until you can get him up to about 15 minutes of quiet before going out to reward him. That should be long enough to have him over it.

This will take a tremendous amount of patience and time but it will work and it is the only thing that will give you a permanent cure for not barking when you are not there to shock him or spray him or whack him on the rump with a rolled up newspaper. What you are doing is rewarding him for not baking just as you have been rewarding him for barking by paying attention.

If you have a full-time job it will require a two- or three-week vacation dedicated to the dog.

Your wife might not be too understanding about that, either. But if your wife is not working full time, let her do the training for quiet. Women generally have more patience anyway so she would do a good job of it. But you would owe her big time. I am sure you would have to forgo a new shotgun for a few years.

The other alternative is to bring the dog into the house on a permanent basis. It is probably what the dog wants anyway and I would bet that might have been the original trigger for barking.

Ask your father what he did when Mac barked. Bringing him in might not be a functional solution, either. The best idea is still to reward the dog for not barking.

(Problem) I have a seven-year-old male Brittany who has lived in the house with us for his entire life. He has never had any problems or accidents in the house until we moved into my parents' house last May. He was in the new house every day as I took care of my parents and he would come with me. He never had any problems while in the house while my parents were there.

The problem started this summer when he urinated on a new carpet in the basement playroom.

The carpet cleaner told me that the urine was so strong he must have an infection so off to the vet's we went. All x-rays proved negative and the urine sample was fine. The second urine sample was sent out to a different lab for further testing. It came back as a drug resistant bacterial infection and he was given an antibiotic.

After two weeks on it and one week off they said to start him up again for two weeks. The accidents continued but were not very regular. I walk him five to seven times per day and he is not left alone in the house for very long periods of time.

We do take him to a kennel when we need to leave him for a day or longer and he seems to be treated fine there.

The accidents usually happen when he comes home from the kennel or shortly thereafter. He has not been to the kennel in three weeks and the accidents have happened three times since his return.

He is a very smart dog and an excellent hunter but his household behavior is starting to wear out his welcome in this family. It seems his accidents are due to spite when we leave him alone or take him to the kennel.

He has not been neutered. I have p

ut his nose on the spot and scolded him but to no avail. Do you have any comments or suggestions?

(Questions) Do you know if there was ever a dog or a cat living in the house before your dog?

The rug might have been new but the floor under it wasn't and urine soaks right through into the wood underneath. The odor is detectable to a dog for years.

Does he urinate in the same general area each time or is it just anywhere at all, a random pattern?

Does he lift his leg on vertical surfaces like a doorframe or a chair or table leg?

Or does he squat frequently and urinate primarily on the rug?

And again, is it only on the rug?

You are doing a great job of exercising him so I don't think it is because of lack of walking or exercise. And he is not being spiteful or getting revenge for some reason. Dogs don't do things that way. Spite and revenge are reserved for people. Dogs are above that stuff.

Please get back to me so I can try to figure out what, if anything, is wrong and how to fix it.

(Follow-Up) Maybe I should first give a brief history of his life. We purchased him from a reputable kennel in 2000. He was a very shy puppy in that when we looked at him he would not even come out of the puppy box that had been set up. I had to push away his playmates so I could pull him out of the kennel just to look at him.

I know I should not have bought such a timid dog but he looked just like the female we had just put down and my daughter fell in love with him on the spot.

We brought him home for about five months (he was four months old when we bought him) and then sent him back to the kennel for training. He is an excellent hunter.

He is very well behaved when in the field and dead serious about his job.

If you were to meet him he would most likely back away and act like he is terrified of you. He will sit and put his paw up to shake after a bit of time. He has never bitten anyone. He thinks he owns the house and property. He is very aggressive toward other dogs in general but very friendly with some, male or female; it makes no difference.

We put him in a boarding kennel so we can travel to my daughter's softball and basketball games. He does very well there.

The owner told me this morning that he never urinates in his kennel there and will hold it a very long time before he is walked. We usually put him there one day at a time and it is usually from one morning to the next. The owner reiterated that he is one of the best-behaved dogs there.

He was living in a 4x12 outdoor kennel for the first four years of his life until the neighbors put the fear of firecrackers in him on the 4th of July. He actually bit his way out of his chain link kennel.

He was always afraid to go back in the kennel after that so we moved him inside with us.

He is not gunshy but when he hears loud noises in the neighborhood he is very uneasy. He loves to ride in the back of our Suburban, either in or out of his wire crate. He will ride for hours without any problems.

We moved to my parents' house in May of this year. He had been in that house every day of his life. He was close to my dad until Dad passed away in September, 2006. The dog still was behaving fine through August 2007.

He had free run of the new house and he slept wherever he wanted to but mostly in the corner of our bedroom. He never had any urinating incidents up until recently. It always seems like it is when we leave him that he does it.

He is very attached to my daughter. He pushes and bumps her all the time in fun. He is very excited when she is around. He never has mounted anybody or anything like that. He is not neutered, but he has no sexual experience.

I wonder if the crate being in the basement near the furnace has anything to do with his problem of not wanting to stay in it. His food and water are located near the crate. I notice sometimes he won't go in the basement to eat or drink unless we are near or a light is on. He did go down there during the night to urinate.

He did not just mark his territory but he really let loose. I am at my last straw with this dog.

I say again it seems like he does it for spite when we leave him alone and especially when we all leave together.

(Solution) Partly, I think you have a case of separation anxiety on your hands. He is not being vindictive. In separation anxiety, a variety of things are often done, from dirtying the place to tearing it to pieces to simply sitting and barking or pacing and drooling. My reasoning is that he only does it when you go away and he is all alone. He has learned to urinate. That is what brings you home. Whatever the dog does, most of it is done in the first half hour to an hour of being alone.

But there are really two things going on here. First, there is the physical aspect of an infection in the urinary tract. And I still think that started it.

He also has separation anxiety, which is often the case of a dog that is very attached to his people. He is a sensitive dog. This is not a bad thing. I prefer it to a hardheaded, non-feeling dog every time. Sensitive dogs are easier to train, easier to have around and far easier to hunt with in a relaxed way.

What I think could have happened is that he doesn't like to be excluded, likes to be with you and especially your daughter. He got an infection and couldn't hold his urine so he let it go. Right after that happened, you came home. He put it together to mean urinating brought you home. Now when he gets left behind and he has a lot of anxiety, he lets go and sooner or later you come home.

I think it is a learned thing and so can be unlearned. First, however, the infection has to be cured. I think you are almost there with it but not quite. I expect it is a fast reproducing bug, probably a virus, that is mutating very fast so antibiotics are only useful on a temporary basis. So keep after it. Until it is cured, the urinating during separation is going to keep resurfacing.

When he is cured, use the planned exit technique. First crate train him more fully so that he learns to love his crate. All the best stuff like sleeping, eating and chewing on his bone should happen in the crate. It also has to become his favorite place and his safest place.

When he is thoroughly trained to his crate, get a Nylabone type thing, drill holes in it and stuff cheese in the holes. Give it to him in his crate at least 10 minutes before you plan to leave. When he is slurping out the cheese, go out

side, stay for a few seconds and then come back. Repeat after about 20 minutes, but this time, stay out a few seconds longer. Keep working until you have gradually gotten up to being out of sight for 15 minutes.

Make these planned departures as real as you can, eventually putting on your coat, rattling keys, and saying a simple good bye. The next thing to do is get into the car, close the door, and then return. Then start the car. Next back it up a few feet, return and come back in again. Eventually drive around the block and get home again quickly. Then spend more time between going and returning.

Each time he should be in the crate when you leave. Later you will be able to have the crate door open. Always be sure he has the distraction of a nylon bone stuffed with cheese. If you want to speed things along a bit, you can get Clomicalm or Elavil from your vet to help mellow him out. The drugs don't cure anything; they just make the dog easier to handle and they speed up the process a bit.

You still need to go through the desensitization outlined above, but it will be quicker. Either way it will take time and patience to get him over it completely.

One thing more--when you come home, don't make a big deal of it. If he is in the house, crated, let him sit for a few minutes before letting him out. If he isn't crated, simply walk on by, say "Hi" and keep on walking.

Don't pay attention to him for a full five minutes. Then greet him more affectionately when he has calmed down. Also, when leaving, don't make a big deal out of it. Keep all excitement completely out of it.

For solutions to your dog's behavior problems or behavior-related training problems, you can contact Dr. Ed Bailey at edbailey@uoguelph.ca.

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