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Hark, hark: dogs bark for a reason
Dear Dr. Spiegel, We have an 11 month old female Dalmatian. When we put her outside, she constantly barks. It aggravates my wife and I, and our neighbors have complained. It seems like she just wants to be where we are, because we'll put her back inside, and then she wants to go back out. What do we do? How do we control the barking? Thank You. J.B., Holly Oak, DE
Dear J.B., A dog's barking serves many functions. It's used as an attention seeking/getting tool for various purposes. It alerts owners to the presence of approaches or intruders. It alerts the intruder that the dog knows of the intruder's presence. Barking can also be accompanied by other signs to take on different meanings. Like the older pup that seems to be saying, "Look at me! Play with me!" while its tail goes excitedly and its eyes are fixed up at you. It can be used as a warning/threat to the person or animal it's directed at and serve to keep them at a distance or to send them away. Just think how well it works when the mail carrier comes around. It drives him away every time (regardless of whether or not he's scared). As an attention getting device the barks change significantly in their tone when the underlying motivational state of the animal changes. A panicked or anxious dog barks in a tone and pattern that we can clearly recognize as distress. Cats do this too. In fact, just the other day, I began hearing the sounds of a young cat repeatedly for several minutes at a time meowing in higher pitched cries. I first took a minute or so to localize the crying to a tall maple in the neighbors' back yard, and I rang the bell. My neighbor Dawn informed me that the cat, her 3 month old black and white kitten had gotten way up there almost 48 hours ago, and couldn't get down. She told us that she was going to call the fire company but didn't want to potentially pull them away from a more important call. So they waited in hopes that the kitten would get hungry enough and come down on her own. When we went around to see where exactly the kitten was, other neighbors joined us. The kitten was about 30 feet up, with the lowest branch at about 15 feet. Dawn had envisioned her husband climbing the ladder to get the cat and having a terrible fall in the process. So she waited and worried. And then along came Bill Wheeler. A small but wiry man, who came equipped with rope and bare feet, quickly set about to hoist the rope over the limb, fix a loop around his bottom and hoist himself up the tree. I hooked a canvas bag to the rope and pulleyed it up to Bill, who had just finished climbing down with one hand, the cat held close in his other. Everyone cheered. He lowered the kitten down to me, and I handed her to her overjoyed and grateful mom. People as well as animals respond naturally to distress vocalizations. They draw us near to help, and we, like animals, respond naturally. J.B., your dog is unlikely giving distress vocalizations, but I can never resist a good story. Go outside and play with your dog when she's not barking. Dalmatians have a lot of energy, and they usually enjoy nothing more than interacting with their owners. She is getting your attention because she is asking for more than you're currently giving her. Instead of letting her out, take her for walks. Find her a toy or chew-thing that she loves to chew on and give it to her when you want to let her out on her own. Stay on top of the barking. After one or two barks come out, see what she's barking at. Your presence alone is likely to stop her barking at this point, and then watch her. If she starts interacting with you, then she just wanted your attention. If she is still being watchful and barking then there is an external cause for her barks. This would then define her as territorial and/or protective, in which case you'd need to restructure her outdoor access, and modify her outdoor behavior.