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Excessive Dog Barking and Vocalization

Reviewed and updated for accuracy on April 1, 2019 by Dr. Hanie Elfenbein, DVM, PhD

Excessive vocalization refers to uncontrollable, excessive dog barking, whining or crying, often occurring at inappropriate times of the night or day.

Such vocalization can be due to pain, illness or cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), or may be related to a decline in hearing in senior pets. CDS is often associated with night waking, during which excessive vocalization occurs.

Excessive barking in dogs may also be related to behavioral conditions, which may be controlled by behavior modification training.

Dogs that are bred for work and high-energy activities may be prone to excessive dog barking.

There are also some vocal dog breeds that are better known for excessive and inappropriate barking. Many breeds of terrier, such as the Yorkshire Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Wire Fox Terrier, Smooth-Haired Fox Terrier, West Highland White Terrier and Silky Terrier, are prone to barking without cause and may benefit from behavioral modification training. Other breeds include Toy Poodles, Miniature Poodles, Chihuahuas and Pekingese.

In many cases, these dogs are not necessarily suffering from illness, but rather a lack of proper training and outlet for their energies.

Types of Excessive Dog Barking

  • Night vocalizations in senior dogs
  • Excessive dog barking in working-breed dogs
  • Excessive dog barking in high-energy, nervous dogs
  • Vocalization caused by pain or illness
  • Attention-seeking barking
  • Territorial barking
  • Frustration barking
  • Alarm barking
  • Boredom barking
  • Fear barking
  • Separation-stress barking

Causes of Excessive Barking in Dogs

  • Medical: disease, pain, CDS

  • Anxiety

  • Alarm barking in response to novel stimuli

  • Territorial barking as a warning or guarding response to sounds from outdoors

  • Social or attention-seeking behavior (reinforced by verbal commands or return of owner to the room)

  • Distress vocalization (e.g., howling or whining) is often due to separation from mother, family, social group or owner

  • Growling may be associated with antagonistic displays

  • Stereotypical behaviors or compulsive disorders

  • Breed and genetic predisposition

Diagnosis 

If your dog's increased vocalization is out of the ordinary, you will want to have health problems ruled out before considering behavior modification.

Your veterinarian can perform a full medical workup, including a chemical blood profile, complete blood count (CBC), urinalysis and electrolyte panel, along with a complete physical exam.

Possible incidents that might have led to this condition will also be considered, and a thorough history of your dog's behavioral health leading up to the symptoms will be taken into account. Be prepared to give your veterinarian a detailed history of the behavior.

It is critical to rule out a nonbehavioral, physical cause of the vocalization first. Imaging can be helpful for ruling out medical/neurological disorders. BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) testing can be done if auditory decline is suspected.

Treatment

A plan must be created that is customized to suit your dog, your personal living conditions, your household and the type of problem. You must also attempt to resolve the underlying cause of the dog barking before behavioral modifications are begun.

Do not reinforce the excessive dog barking. This includes punishing the behavior, which is still regarded as attention.

Instead, positively reward your dog when they are calm and quiet and lead by example by remaining calm as well. Also, counterconditioning can be used to help your dog to calm down when stimulated.

Your veterinarian will be able to help you with developing a plan, but a behavioral trainer may be required to retrain both you and your dog.

Becoming more attentive to the triggers that cause the excessive dog barking will also help you to distract your dog before he becomes excited or anxious.

Prescription pet medication, specifically dog anxiety medication, might be indicated if there is real anxiety, excessive responsiveness to stimuli or a compulsive disorder: 

  • Benzodiazepines on a short-term or as-needed basis when situations of anxiety might be expected (e.g., fireworks), or for inducing sleep.

  • Sedatives may be effective for tranquilizing the dog when given prior to exposure to stimuli (e.g., car rides, fireworks), but will not decrease anxiety and may increase noise sensitivity and vocalization in some dogs.

  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCA), MAO inhibitors or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for long-term therapy for excessive and chronic anxiety, combined with behavior modification can be useful for some dogs.

  • SSRIs or clomipramine may help when combined with behavior therapy for compulsive disorders.

  • Supplements such as alpha-casozepine may help reduce anxiety.

Cognitive decline syndrome is treated with MAO-inhibitors, supplements and environmental modifications to reduce anxiety in your senior dog.

Living and Management

Your dog should be brought back to the veterinarian or to a behavior specialist to modify the program based on his particular response.

Obedience training and quiet command training are often effective in dogs. Dogs should be habituated and socialized to a variety of stimuli and environments throughout development, including to other people and pets. This desensitizes the animal to novel experiences, which helps to reduce anxiety and overexcitement.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Saso Novoselic

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