What's all the barking about?

Posted 20 Mar 2018

Although not a problem for most dog owners, local councils are increasingly receiving noise complaints about barking dogs.

As humans we need to remember that barking is a natural behaviour for dogs. Dogs actually have a lot of different barks and multiple reasons to bark. We often get calls and emails from flustered dog owners who have received a noise complaint.

Our first piece of advice is DO NOT PANIC! Take the time to speak to your neighbour’s or do a letter drop box. Begin by thanking them for bringing the problem to your attention and let them know you are taking their concerns seriously.

DO NOT reach for the aversive equipment like bark collars - including sonic (high frequency noise emitter), citronella spray or shock collars. These collars are inhumane by RSPCA Australia standards and are simply a “band aid” fix, they don’t address the underlying behaviour and true cause of the problem.

The aversive shock equipment may even can cause your dog to think that the dog/school kids walking past or cat next door is actually causing the shock. This will result in long term side effects, including redirected aggression.

Instead, you must address the issue of barking logically. Ask your neighbours to complete a barking diary. This will involve them filling out the times of day your dog is barking. You can also record your dog’s barking when you are not home on apps such as Bark n Mad. These methods will help you to find out why your dog is barking and find long term solutions.

So, what are the most common reasons behind a dog’s barking behaviour?

The first reason is boredom. The data from the barking diary and/or the apps should show peaks in barking behaviour during certain parts of the day. However, if there are no peaks and your dog is barking all day, then it is likely your dog is bored. Dogs are intelligent animals, who need physical and mental stimulation.

We often forget to give them something to occupy themselves with when we are not home. Can you imagine working in the same room all day everyday with no books, TV, phone or computer? You would literally go crazy with boredom. Dogs are no different. If we don’t provide stimulation, then they will create their own activities. This includes things like chewing, barking and escape behaviour.

To have a truly tired dog, you need to focus on mental stimulation more than physical stimulation (or ideally a combination of both).

So, how can we do this? Well, we can provide enrichment activities. Enrichment is easy. It doesn’t require too much time and you will soon notice a much happier, healthier dog! Here are some links to information sheets on pet enrichment!

If it is not boredom barking, then another common reason is guard barking. Your dog may simply be barking at people or other dogs walking past. A quick and easy solution is blocking visual access. Try putting up shade cloth or blocking access to the fence line. You could even put on some calming background music, along with providing enrichment activities.

If you have ruled out boredom and guard barking, it could be anxiety or distress barking. In these instances, dogs will typically show no interest in enrichment activities whilst you are gone. The best way to deal with separation distress is to discuss it with your vet or a vet behaviourist.

Should I use an anti-barking collar to treat my dog's barking problem?

DO NOT use aversive equipment such as bark collars, sound collars, citronella spray or shock collars. These collars are inhumane by RSPCA Australia standards and are simply a “band aid” solution. They will not address your dog’s underlying barking behaviour. They may even result in long term side effects, including redirected aggression.

RSPCA Australia is opposed to the use of any electronically activated or other devices which deliver electric shocks, such as anti-barking collars and invisible boundaries. Such devices are inhumane as they inflict pain, involve punishment and can be used to abuse animals. RSPCA Australia is also opposed to the use of collars that deliver aversive stimuli such as sound or scent, including citronella collars and high-pitched sound-emitting devices.

1. This type of training is called 'punishment' as the dog is effectively punished by the collar for every bark.  Punishment, as a method of training, is often ineffective as dogs often do not associate the punishment (the citronella spray, sound or shock) with the behaviour. Positive reinforcement is a preferable training technique as it provides an incentive for desirable behaviour. In this case, you would reward your dog when he stops barking and remains quiet, by offering her a tasty treat or play with a favourite toy. Food treats are good to start with but as training progresses your dog should recognise verbal praise and a pat as a treat.

2. Electronic anti-barking devices inflict pain and distress on the animal and therefore should not be used.

3. This type of behavioural modification does not tend to be successful because it fails to address the underlying cause of the behaviour.  Dogs bark for many reasons: play, fear, separation anxiety, frustration, environmental factors, boredom etc. These devices will not necessarily solve the underlying cause of the barking and will only temporarily mask the problem.

4. Scientific evidence shows that dogs will eventually habituate to the collar and barking will resume again.

5. Sometimes it is appropriate for dogs to bark (e.g. as a means of communication) in which case the collar punishes them for normal behaviour.  Because the collar does not discriminate between problem barking and normal canine behaviour, there is a potential for abuse if the collar is routinely left on for too long.

6. Dogs have far more sensitive noses than we do, and therefore what we may smell as a relatively nice citrus smell, can be overpowering for a dog.

The treatment of nuisance behaviours such as excessive barking should begin by determining the root cause of the problem and then attempting to address the underlying cause humanely. Talk to your veterinarian, they can provide advice and may refer you to a reputable animal behaviourist (who uses reward-based training methods) to assess the behaviour and provide advice on how best to humanely manage and address it.


Talk to your local council. Make sure you provide feedback to the council to show them you are working on this issue. They will happily keep all parties updated whilst you work through the issue.

If you would like to learn more and watch our very own barking seminar, you can watch the YouTube clip below. The presentation is a little long, but it does cover barking and enrichment in detail.

Remember do not feel defeated, this is a common issue that can easily be resolved. All you need is a small amount of effort and persistence! Find out more about our dog and puppy training classes.

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