You love your sweet little lap dog. He is funny and entertaining, adorable and loving and you could never ask for a more wonderful little companion…until someone unfamiliar walks by the yard…or the car…or walks into the room…or a leaf blows by…or a shadow passes overhead…suddenly the silence is shattered by an ear piercing rip of barking, howling and general chaos!
This is a familiar story for many Chihuahua owners. It isn’t that Chihuahuas are excessive barkers by nature, no more so than other small dogs, but with the high-pitched shrill sounds they are capable of making and the fact that many Chi owners have more than one dog, the little guys have gotten a bad rep.
All dogs bark occasionally. When it may become a problem is when you feel like no matter what you do you cannot stop the barking. They don’t seem to listen to commands when you tell them to stop, they don’t seem to learn that you don’t like the behavior and you begin to feel at a loss as to how to change it.
Particularly if you live in an apartment or duplex where you have to worry about disturbing very close neighbors, barking can become a serious problem. You can train your dog to be respectful of your wishes to quiet the barking, but as with all other behavior modification, it will take time, patience and an understanding of why the behavior is happening in the first place.
Your Chi may feel the need to bark for a lot of reasons. They may be bored, overly-excited, trying to challenge another dog, hungry, thirsty, vying for your attention, too hot or too cold, lonely, or nervous. The most common reason for barking is protectiveness. Dogs do not have the ability to schedule appointments or comprehend when there is some stranger who is coming into their space for a reason. Therefore, when someone they don’t recognize and who is not a member of the household shows up, no matter the reason, the first instinct of the Chihuahua is to alert the owner to the potential intrusion. If they continue to bark after you make a concerted effort to restrain them, it is more than likely because they are trying to warn the intruder that they are there to defend their home and owner.
Some Chi’s will bark incessantly when they are separated from their owners or left alone in the house. Some will bark when they are bored and have nothing better to do. Barking is social for the dog and sometimes even hearing the sound of their own voice will help to entertain them. If you suspect that your dog is barking while you are away, or barking from boredom, try leaving them with a treat ball or other food toy filled with small, safe bites of treats. This may help distract them and stop or at the very least, lessen the barking.
If separation anxiety is causing the issue, you may want to try making arrangements for someone to watch or stay with your dog if you have to be gone for much longer than a couple of hours. You may also want to try an adjustment and reward process. Try starting out with small steps first. Put your Chi in his area of the home that has been designated as his safe spot and leave the room for a few minutes. If he does not start whining and barking, come back into the room a couple of minutes later and reward him. Repeat this process again and again over the course of a couple of weeks, expanding the time you are away and making certain to reward for positive behavior. Eventually your Chi will begin to learn that you always come back and may adjust to more lengthy periods without you.
One of the reasons small dogs may seem more prone to barking than larger ones is because we tend to spoil them from an early age and develop a very strong bond with them. If you have a Rottweiler or a Pit Bull, you might not be as inclined to carry them around everywhere with you all the time. This kind of close physical contact with our Chi’s teaches them a number of things. You may think that you are keeping them safe by carrying them around everywhere you go, but they view it as exactly the opposite. By having them in your arms and by your side all the time, they feel as though they are there just to protect you. When they bond so closely with one owner, they may not appreciate any attention from other people or animals, regardless of age or size. They have claimed you as their personal space and that in their mind, is all there is too it. They will send out warnings by barking to let people know they are getting too close.
Carrying your dog around everywhere may also promote separation anxiety. If the dog gets used to going with you all the time and watches your routine before you get him ready to go, then if you do the same routine with no intention of taking him with you, he will get excited thinking he gets to go anyway. When he figures out that you are going and he is not, the excitement will turn into frustration and more than likely displays of whining, barking or howling.
You should start training your dog to be alone for short periods from a young age. Giving a treat when you must leave him alone and another upon your return may help him to be less fearful of you leaving and view it as another opportunity for a reward.
Dogs may also bark from environmental causes. If there is another dog in the neighborhood that has a tendency to bark frequently, your dog may simply be answering the call of the other dog. Whenever possible, try to locate your dog’s area of the house in the part where there is the least noise penetration from the outdoors.
Your dog may be barking in an attempt to communicate with you or other members of the household. If you notice that the barking stops when you pay attention to him, you may want to reevaluate his containment area to make it more comfortable for him.
There are plenty of methods you can use to stop your dog from getting into the habit of excessive barking. If you are trying to correct this behavior, one of the simple ways to deal with it is to use whatever your ‘naughty’ phrase is when your dog is misbehaving as the behavior is occurring. You may also want to add a hand signal such as pointing your index finger. Be sure to correct him in this manner as the barking is occurring. If you can, be sure you are in his line of vision while you are giving the command. If he does not see you he may ignore you and keep barking. When the barking stops, if it ends when you command him to stop, offer a favorite treat as a reward. Repeat this process each time the barking begins and you should begin to see a difference in the behavior within a few days.
There is no guarantee that even a very well trained dog will not bark from time to time. Once again, barking is a natural behavior that we, as pet owners, are trying to prevent for our own comfort.
Dogs naturally make a variety of sounds when they are barking, whining or growling. There are about 40 different individual sounds they make and each one conveys a different thing, such as fear, joy, excitement or aggressiveness. It would be unfair to punish a dog for letting out an occasional bark. That would be just like someone telling us we aren’t ever allowed to speak a word, hum a tune or sing a song again. Besides that, the dog may become confused about why you want him to stop barking when someone comes to the door or he hears and unfamiliar sound and is trying to alert you. Your dog views his job as a twenty-four hour a day marathon of protecting you and his space day in and day out.
You may also considering teaching your dog the “speak” command. Teaching him to bark on command and get a reward each time he does it, and not rewarding when he does it on his own. Much the same as potty training, Chi’s will be much more apt to work if they believe there is a reward at the end of the training session.
Your Chi may bark when he sees another animal or person to appear bigger than he actually is. As mentioned earlier in the blog, your Chi is not a fearful little dog. They have larger-than-life personalities and do not fear animals and people who are bigger than them. If they feel that barking makes their tiny stature appear larger and more frightening to others, then that is what they will do.
Some people choose to spray their dog with a spray bottle when they misbehave, but I have never found this effective in doing anything other than making sure you have a dog that will have a life-long fear of anything in your hand and possibly even water. What a nightmare at bath time! I have certainly never seen that it taught the dog any behavior modification about barking.
Another method to stop a Chi from barking is to redirect their attention on something else. I have used a small metal coffee can with pebbles inside it to create another sound when the dogs started barking. All you do is shake the can to get the dog’s attention on you instead of the stimulus that is creating the barking. You may not be able to keep your dog’s attention on you for long if you do not follow this behavior with a treat. If they get used to looking at you when you create this type of interference, you will have successfully made a huge leap toward proper training. When your dog is making eye contact with you, you have his full attention. That is the perfect time to issue a command.
Another thing that is important is for you to stay calm when commanding your dog to be quiet. If you seem concerned and excited, your dog may pick up on that energy and view you as frightened. If the Chi feels that you are over-excited about the situation then it may make the frantic barking worse instead of better. You should remain in a relaxed state when you are issuing any command, as the Chi will look to you for reassurance.
The last method we will discuss is the step-forward method. This works best if your dog is contained in an area away from you. If your dog is barking, you will avoid eye-contact with him and refuse to step any closer to him. When he stops barking, you will move a few steps closer and reward him with eye contact. If he starts barking again you will stop and begin ignoring him again. You will not reward him with treats or affection until the barking ceases long enough for you to back up to where you began and walk all the way to where you can reach him. Think of this kind of like Doggy-Simon-Says. This method puts him in control of your reaction, which forces him to use his powers of reasoning to get a result.
Anti-bark devices have become popular in the last ten years. There are remote controlled ones, battery operated ones, ones that require a collar, ones you plug into the wall or hang outdoors. Some of these products make claims that even the neighbor’s dogs will be affected enough by the device to stop problem barking.
Before we discuss the different types of anti-bark devices that are available, I would like to discuss static collars. Static collars are a type of anti-bark collar that sends out a small electric impulse whenever the dog barks. This can be done on an individual basis with a remote, or it can be automatic. I will never recommend a static collar for a dog that is under ten pounds. Even if you were to try it on yourself on the highest setting, it might not bother you nearly as much as your Chihuahua on the lowest setting. I feel that these collars are the same equivalent as slapping your dog around. I believe that proper behavior modification is best rather than resorting to something that may ruin the bond of trust you have worked so hard to build with your Chi.
The first type of anti-bark device we will discuss is the ultra-sonic device. These come in many forms, there are bird-house ones, egg-shaped ones, ones that sit atop a table and look decorative, collars and even ones that plug into the wall outlet. The idea behind these devices is that when the dog barks, the sound will set off the sensor contained within the device and although the sound is too high for a human to hear, the dog will be bothered enough by the sound to stop barking.
I will not say that none of these devices are effective, but I have experience with two of them and neither one performed as the manufacturer claimed it was supposed to. Here are some of my experiences with these products.
The first one I bought was a more expensive product designed to sit atop a table or be hung outdoors. The box claimed that even on the lowest setting, the product would be effective at stopping barking for even blocks away. It also claimed that the sound could not be heard by humans. I found both of these statements to be immediately false.
My dogs always started barking when I walked through the door, so I thought I would outsmart them. I installed a 9-volt battery into the product before walking into the house and turned it onto the medium setting. The package said to do a test bark into the microphone to ensure it was working. I did, and the result was a high-pitched tone that I could hear clearly. Good then, I thought. At least I knew it was working. I was convinced the dogs would bark a few times and then stop when they heard the sound. In a way I was right.
My dogs did stop barking when the device went off. They stopped barking long enough to look around for a second and then went into the worst fit of barking, whining, yipping, yapping and eventually howling I have ever heard them do. I shut off the device for a second and set it down. I calmed down the dogs the usual way, with attention and treats and sat down to re-read the instructions, convinced I must have missed a step or forgot to push a button or something. I read about the three settings. They had nothing to do with how loud the sound was; it was just that on high even dogs outside your home in the neighbor’s yard were supposed to react to the noise with silence.
To this I say Ha! After reading the simple instructions a third time I set the device to high and tried again. I followed the manufacturer’s instructions exactly and put the device closer to the containment area for my dogs. The first time they heard a doorbell on a TV commercial they went crazy. The sound not only seemed to have no value at deterring them from barking, but my youngest Chi thought it was great. She figured out that if she barked she would set it off, so from that point she started intentionally barking at it to hear the sound. It turned into a game. It may not have worked as an anti-bark device but it did provide my dogs with plenty of entertainment until I switched it off.
After finding that device to be a futile effort, I took it back to the pet store for a refund and bought another, slightly different product. It worked essentially the same way, but promised a more immediate result. Again, the same thing happened, with one exception. This product had such a sensitive microphone on it that even if I shuffled around papers in another room it would set the device off causing my dogs to go into hysterics. So…my opinion of said anti-bark device, in a nutshell? They should remove the anti from the box and sell it as a ‘teach your dog to speak device.’
The next device on the list is the ultrasonic collar. This is essentially the same thing as the devices mentioned above, except that it is in the form of a collar and is closer to the dog’s hearing apparatus, thus supposedly making it more effective. I do not have any personal experience with these types of devices, but the reviews when you Google the various types seem to be a mixed bag. Some people swear they are the answer to everything they have been looking for. Others say they were not only ineffective and expensive, but they were down-right worthless.
The next anti-bark device is the citronella collar. These type of spray collars contain a vial of citronella spray and activate when the dog barks, emitting a puff of citronella around the dog’s head. Since dogs have very sensitive noses, the smell of the citronella bothers them enough to distract them from barking and since it takes a while for the scent to dissipate, it may stop them from barking for a while. Once again, I have no experience with these devices, but it seems that people who have used them have had mostly good experiences. One issue may be that they are intended for dogs that are over 5-6 pounds and most Chihuahuas may not fit into that category.
There are other devices on the market and there is always new technology being developed, but I found with my own dogs, just being diligent and teaching them what you expect is the best way to achieve the results you desire. No device will be able to replace the value of quality training.