Improve Life to End Complaining

Question:
Do you do debarking or bark softening? I have about a 20# Sheltie.

Dr. Nichol:
I’ve considered debarking a few people (politicians, mostly) but for noisy dogs, there are better ways. Barking is actually a normal canine communication. Punishments, like verbal reprimands and electric or citronella collars seem simple but they often create worse behaviors because they fail to address the cause. Surgery would be just another symptomatic treatment. Improving a dog’s quality of life is the best route to peace and quiet.

Your dog has stressors that his free-living brethren don’t. Like any pet he’s stuck behind a fence or inside a house. Essential to his behavioral genetics is the requirement to protect the home from invaders of all species. With that @#%*! fence, how can he check the ID of those passing canine scoundrels? If he’s scared to death and can’t run for the hills he may be trying to drive-off those dangerous beasts. Leashes and windows are additional sources of angst.

Neighbor complaints about the noxious sound waves emanating from your house can be a serious motivator. But permanently altering the anatomy in your dog’s throat may not make a significant difference. The best treatment for canine yelling, cussing, and belly-aching is to provide a buffet of quasi-natural behavioral opportunities.

Start with voyeurism. Aim your smart phone at the inside of your exit door as you leave. If your dog paces with anxiety as he wigs-out in your absence he may have separation anxiety. We have research-supported methods of improving life for overwhelmed dogs while reducing the racket.

A barren home environment is another cause of frustration and anxiety. All dogs need opportunities to investigate the big world outside their territory. Your sheltie can engage in natural, off-leash activities with other dogs at doggy daycare while you are at work. He’ll come home good and pooped from all that productive chasing and rear-end sniffing. And a tired dog is a happy dog.

At 2 PM tomorrow, September 8, I’ll be speaking and answering questions on pet behavior at the Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary Autumn Benefit Party in Santa Fe. Call 505-757-6817 for information.

Each week Dr. Jeff Nichol makes a short video, blog, or podcast to help bring out the best in pets. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Dr. Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). You can post pet behavioral or physical questions at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.