Managing barking by being #DogKind

Barking is one sign that your dog is suffering when left alone. The RSPCA fear dogs, especially those bought during the pandemic, may suffer separation anxiety as people return to work and social activities. Carrie Stones, Behaviour Change Campaign Manager at RSPCA, examines the issue.

Many of us relate to the issues caused by barking dogs – as dog owners or neighbours of a dog that barks. At the RSPCA we often receive reports of barking dogs from the public, as well as questions on what can be done about barking dogs. Our #DogKind campaign is helping owners understand their dog’s behaviour.

Dog barking is one of the main causes of noise complaints across UK towns and cities. If you’ve been disturbed at home during the day or trying to sleep at night and heard continuous dog barking, it can be distressing. Many of the messages we receive via our social media platforms and National Call Centre come when people are extremely concerned and at their wits end. Why is this dog barking? Why won’t it stop? Are they OK? Do they need help?

Health impacts of barking on people – and dogs

Our response to noise, especially sudden loud noises like barking causes us distress because our bodies produce adrenaline and other stress hormones which bring on physiological changes, including a spike in heart rate and blood pressure. These physical and psychological changes are often accompanied by concern. Until the barking is managed, our chronic exposure to noise keeps this stress response continuously activated. And of course, if stress is causing the dog to vocalise – the animal is suffering as well!

This #NoiseActionWeek21, we are sharing #DogKind information on why dogs may bark, and what can be done if you are owner of a barking dog or a neighbour of one.

Why do dogs bark?

Dogs bark for many reasons – including when in distress, bored or scared. For example, they may be feeling threatened and barking to tell somebody to stay away or leave. Dogs can also bark to express other emotions – for example, excitement or frustration. My own dog, Rufus, is as quiet as a mouse at home, but when he’s out on the lead and sees the beach and seaside he barks to tell us what he wants, and that’s generally his ball and to run and play.

Barking is a form of communication and a completely normal dog behaviour. However, if the amount your dog barks increases or becomes excessive it can be a sign something isn’t right, and it may cause problems for other people. If this happens, it’s important to address any underlying problems which could be causing your dog to bark more.

There are also times when dogs bark because they have been left alone. Research suggests around eight in ten dogs find being left home alone difficult.

Helping your dog to adjust to a life post lockdown

The last 12 months have been difficult for us all and this concern extends to our dogs. Dogs love routine, in fact they thrive upon it, and in the last year or so as routines have gone astray. And while we have struggled to adjust to this new world, many dogs have too, impacting their mental health as well as our own.

We fear dogs bought during the pandemic may suffer from separation anxiety as people return to work and social activities leaving the dog alone.

During lockdown, many dogs and puppies will have spent little or no time by themselves and may now be used to busy households. As we return to work and school we are concerned that pets may struggle to adjust, leading to separation related behaviours. The tell tale behaviours of an unhappy dog, suffering from separation-related behaviours, include but are not limited to, unwanted toileting in the house or reports of howling/barking.

Unfortunately, apart from the obvious signs, a torn cushion or redecorated carpet, it’s not always easy to tell if your furry friend is suffering from separation-related behaviours. But if barking is reported to you by your neighbours or witnessed on your doggy cam, don’t worry as there are things that you can do to be #DogKind, helping your dog to adjust to feeling more comfortable being alone for short periods.

What to do if bothered by barking

If you are a long-suffering neighbour, listening to Pink’s Greatest Hits on repeat or burying your head in cushions, we would always encourage you to first of all talk to your neighbours to understand the situation if you feel safe to do so. Why not share with them information about #DogKind for guidance and support. However, if this is not an option, perhaps communication is strained due to the noise issue, contact your local authority for advice.

Lastly, remember that dogs bark for many reasons, and part of being a responsible dog owner is to be #DogKind, patient and understanding. If the situation seems like it’s getting outside of your control, do seek support from dog behaviour experts to help you to address the cause of the barking.

Find out more about becoming #DogKind from the RSPCA.

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