Excessive barking is a problem that many dog owners have to deal with at some point in their dog’s development. Luckily, providing enrichment to a dog can help stimulate their brain, keep them entertained, and reduce the amount of nuisance barking they do.
Enrichment helps prevent bored barking by decreasing stress and giving dogs a sense of environmental control. Enrichment activities like providing games for stimulation and puzzles or increasing the amount of exercise a dog gets can reduce nuisance barking.
Enrichment for dogs doesn’t just help with excess barking. It can also have a positive effect on several other negative behaviours. Keep reading to learn more about how enrichment can help your dog stave off boredom and prevent barking.
The Causes of Nuisance Barking
There are several reasons that a dog might become prone to excessive barking during the day, especially if they’re left alone for long periods of time when their owners go to work or school. One of the root causes of nuisance barking is boredom. Dogs need mental stimulation for a variety of reasons:
- Dogs have evolved to use their minds. As one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, dogs can become frustrated if they are left in a yard or crate alone with nothing to occupy themselves. Being smart leaves dogs more susceptible to boredom from lack of environmental stimulation. (Source: Yale University)
- Some breeds of dogs are bred to work. For example, border collies have been bred for hundreds of years to herd sheep by barking at them. This can make them more prone to vocalising when they haven’t had enough exercise, or they’re trying to use attention-seeking behaviour. (Source: Tufts University)
- Dogs can become scared when left alone. Dog owners need to remember that dogs are pack animals and that to a dog, it isn’t natural for their owners to go off to work and leave them alone for eight hours a day. This can trigger phobia disorders like separation anxiety in some high-strung dogs that can display as excess barking.
Excess barking can become deeply ingrained in a dog’s behaviour if it’s allowed to go on too long, and this can make it more difficult to train the dog out of it. But enrichment is a proven way of increasing a dog’s mental stimulation, which in turn can have a positive impact on reducing their problem barking or eliminating it altogether.
Ideas for Reducing Boredom-Based Barking
Even though boredom barking is a common problem among dog owners, there are plenty of solutions that you can try if your dog has gotten into a habit of barking incessantly throughout the day while you’re gone. Below you’ll find some of the best ideas to reduce or eliminate boredom-based barking in dogs.
Increase Physical Exercise
Of the many things you can do to help decrease a dog’s sense of boredom and frustration, increasing physical exercise is one of the biggest positive influences on a dog’s behaviour.
Veterinary science has shown that dogs who are provided with enough exercise as part of their daily enrichment are less likely to engage in a number of problem behaviours related to boredom and stress, including the following (Source: Purdue University):
- Excessive barking
- Excessive licking or chewing of their feet
- Escaping or testing fences
- Problem digging
- Stereotypic movements such as circling or pacing
- Eating faeces (coprophagia)
How Much Exercise Does a Dog Need?
On average, dogs need roughly thirty minutes to two hours of exercise a day for mental stability, with high-energy working breeds on the higher end of the spectrum. Some breeds such as bulldogs may not be able to tolerate exercise as well as others, but all breeds of dogs need daily exercise to prevent boredom. Dogs with health complications like heart murmurs will also need to moderate their exercise.
Step- Up Obedience Training
Another problem that leads to boredom-based barking, especially in high-intelligence breeds like collies and poodles, is the lack of obedience training. Learning a wide variety of commands helps increase your dog’s mental stimulation and makes their life less boring. It also increases your ability to communicate effectively with your dog.
One of the other unsung benefits of teaching advanced obedience training and commands to a dog is that it is easier to teach the dog not to bark when you already have a framework that you’ve used to teach the dog language. Teaching a dog to stop barking on command is much easier once you’ve taught the dog to bark on command. (Source: VCA Hospitals)
Provide More Socialisation
Along with being bored, another reason that many dogs may excessively bark during the day is loneliness or lack of socialisation. This is especially true if the dog doesn’t get much socialisation even after its owner has returned from work.
There are multiple ways you can increase a dog’s socialisation to help decrease boredom and boredom-based barking. Here are a few ways you can provide more socialisation for your dog:
- Take your dog to a dog park. Dog parks provide a unique outlet for dogs to get to interact face-to-face with other dogs. As part of their most natural behaviours, this makes dog-on-dog socialisation very enriching and engaging for most dogs.
- Get your dog a companion. If you spend long hours away from home and your dog is lonely, it may be more humane to get them another canine companion to keep them company. Dogs are naturally more relaxed in a group and less likely to engage in boredom behaviours.
- Play interactive games with your dog. Dogs enjoy playing with games and puzzles, but even more than they enjoy playing hide-and-seek or find-it with you. There are many games you can teach your dog to help keep them entertained.
If you’re worried your dog is barking because they’re lonely, increasing their levels of daily socialisation can help alleviate their feelings of being left out of the loop.
Let Dogs Use Their Nose
Sensory enrichment is a big part of environmental enrichment. Many dog owners forget that for dogs, their sense of smell is more important to them than any other sense they have. A dog’s nose is much more sensitive than a humans, and they effectively use it to “see” the world.
Using scent-based enrichment activities like placing high-value smelly treats in hiding spots can help dogs get the most engagement out of their sense of smell. Another way to allow your dog to use their nose more is to give them plenty of time to walk around and sniff on walks rather than hurrying them along.
Leave Dogs Puzzles, Chews, and Toys
One method of environmental enrichment that you can use to decrease barking in your dog while they’re left at home is to leave them objects that they can manipulate without barking. Treat puzzles, easy-to-digest chews, and comfort objects like stuffed squeaky toys can give dogs something to self-stimulate with when they start to feel bored.
Items like these are some of the best items you can provide for a dog that’s left alone for long periods, especially for dogs that are confined to a crate. Without the ability to move around freely, dogs are restricted in their ability to seek out sensory enrichment.
Here are a few good puzzles, chews, and toys to get you started increasing your dog’s environmental enrichment:
- Outward Hound Interactive Puzzle Game: This interactive puzzle game allows the dog to manipulate different toggles to reach food rewards. This is the perfect treat puzzle to occupy dogs during the long hours while their owner is away.
- Pets Purest 100% Natural Dog Chews: These rawhide alternative chews are hypoallergenic for dogs that are sensitive to food allergies. They’re also a much more easily digestible material than traditional rawhide chews.
- Skinny Peltz No Stuffing Squeaky Plush Dog Toy: These squeaky dog toys are a good option for hyperactive dogs who are prone to ripping all of the stuffing out of their toys. The high-pitched squeaking noise designed to emulate the cries of wounded prey is irresistible.
Providing plenty of toys and puzzles and switching them out regularly is key to keeping your dog from becoming bored with any one item. Storing toys in a dog toy chest can help keep them fresh for new play sessions later.
Enrichment Prevents Bad Behaviour and Barking
Enrichment is one of the keys to stopping a dog from barking out of boredom, but that’s not the only advantage of providing it. Dogs that lead an environmentally enriched life are much less likely to participate in many different problem behaviors. They’ll be much happier too!