Dog talk with Uncle Matty: He’s all bark

By From page A8 | January 24, 2014

Barking is as natural as breathing. Triggered by a state of excitement, barking is a dog’s means of communicating anger, loneliness, fear, playfulness or a need for something.

Excessive barking is barking’s obnoxious cousin. It’s an exaggeration of natural canine behavior that can only be eliminated by either giving in to the dog’s demand or reconditioning the dog. I’d advise the latter — quick.

The excessive barking of an overindulged or neglected dog has ruined friendships, destroyed relationships and added to the overwhelm of courts already jammed with frivolous concerns that are largely solvable without the aid of lawyers and judges. Time and money are wasted. Friends and credibility are lost. And if you’re a renter, you may come home to find yourself staring at a notice to vacate.

Don’t ignore complaints about your dog’s excessive barking. Instead, first find out whether you have a dog problem or a neighbor problem. Do a little sleuthing. Leave the dog with a friend or relative, or board him at a local kennel for a few days. During that time, ask your neighbor whether the barking has been a problem. If he complains even when the dog isn’t there, you have a neighbor problem. But if the dog turns out to be the culprit, there are adjustments that can and should be made to your behavior, the dog’s environment or the dog’s temperament.

Possible reasons behind excessive barking: tethering, improper confinement (e.g., in a room behind a closed door), outside distractions (e.g., construction, stray animals, lawnmowers, a steady stream of strangers), bad weather, separation anxiety, heightened territorialism, lack of exercise, genetics, temperament, hunger…

There’s a cartoon that features an impatient pup sitting next to an empty food bowl at the feet of his master, an artist consumed with the masterpiece-in-the-making on the easel before him.

The caption: “And how about some dinner? One of the great masters, indeed.”

Some problems come with simple solutions:

• Don’t tether your dog to a tree in the yard. Instead, invest in a dog run or fence the yard.
• Ensure he gets sufficient exercise: two or three vigorous walks every day, with some spirited games of fetch thrown in for good measure. The amount of exercise required depends on the breed of dog.
• Don’t close your dog off in a room by himself. Dogs are social animals. When inside, keep him confined to one area of the house with a baby gate so he can see his world.
• Before you leave the house without him, close window blinds and drapes, and play soothing music or low-level talk-radio to ease the pain of separation and mask exterior distractions.
• Give him a Nylabone toy to while away the hours until you return. Boredom can lead to mindless barking.
• Don’t make a big fuss out of every goodbye. This only heightens his anxiety when you leave, which can result in a long tedious barking session on the heels of every departure.
• Don’t forget dinner and water. A satisfied dog is a quiet dog.

Barking problems that are more a matter of DNA are less likely but more complex, and require a reconditioning of the dog. This demands patience and persistence on the part of the dog owner. Considering the problems brought on by excessive barking, the effort is worthwhile.


Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is the co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and the host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at, and visit him at Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.

Matthew Margolis

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