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Stop Your Dog From Nuisance Barking

Master dog behavior therapist Scott Argus of Talk Dog Hawaii with Rufy and Nani. Leah Friel photo lfriel@midweek.com

With more people complaining about barking dogs, Scott Argus of Talk Dog Hawaii has a solution. In short, dog owners have to be the pack leader

Barking dogs – it’s a problem no matter where you live. For me, it happens in the middle of the night. You can hear the echo of one dog’s bark, and before you know it there’s a chorus of barks through the neighborhood.

But I also am guilty of having a dog that likes to bark. At my old residence in Manoa, where my next-door neighbor was a housewife, another one worked at home and mostly everyone else was retired, my adorable, little, white, fluffy Lhasa Apso, Mei Mei, would bark continuously from the minute I stepped out until someone returned home.

We tried everything – a shock collar, a citronella collar, a remote beeper, dog -training classes, leaving the TV on. We even had three other dogs on property, but nothing seemed to work. Someone suggested that I have her voice box removed. I thought, absolutely not, and instead I went door-to-door to apologize to my neighbors. Thankfully, they were understanding.

Well, believe it or not, there’s a guaranteed way to make your dog stop barking, and it’s totally humane. First you have to understand why dogs bark, their psychology, and ultimately learn to become the pack leader.

“Barking is the No. 1 problem people come to me for,” says master dog behavior therapist Scott Argus of Talk Dog Hawaii. “There are dogs that will only bark when somebody walks by the house, and they bark for 30 seconds and stop; there are dogs that bark all day long; and then there are all the dogs in between.”

He says the two primary reasons a dog barks are fear and separation anxiety. But both stem from the dog thinking it’s the pack leader.

“A dog’s DNA is 99.8 percent identical to the gray wolf,” he explains, “and the importance there is the gray wolf is a classic pack animal – they work together and live together as an extremely tight-knit family. Their very survival in their minds depends on having a good pack leader. It’s literally life and death.

“So what happens is you bring a dog into your home, and after a couple of days, she says, OK, I’m a member of a new pack. I eat here and I sleep here. If I want to survive, I have to figure out who the pack leader is.

“Well, you behave like a human, and she thinks, uhoh, there’s no pack leader here, we’re all gonna die. So the dogs, by default, say if nobody else is going to do it, I will.”

As the leader of the pack, their No. 1 job is security, which explains the barking. They hear something outside and their responsibility is to warn the pack.

With separation anxiety, it’s not about feeling lonely, bored or abandoned, but rather about safety. “She’s barking because a member of the pack is wandering off, so the pack is no longer safe,” explains Argus. “I can’t be out there with you to guard you, and you’re not here to protect us if we get attacked, so by splitting up the pack, I only have two choices: I either have to get out and join you, or you have to come back and join me so we’re all together again.

“So that barking is the most typical response, ‘come back, come back, come back,’ and she’ll do it all day long. You can tell her not to, and she’ll look at you and say, ‘Are you crazy? We’re going to die. You have to come back,’ and she’s certain she’s right.”

So how do you become the pack leader? Well, in the eyes of the pack, the leader is the fastest, most competent and reliable person in the pack. To achieve this, the key word is anticipate.

“Anticipate what they’re going to do, correct them as they’re about to do it or praise them if they’re doing something right, and they go, wow, you read my mind, you’re a superhuman pack leader,” says Argus. “What impresses a dog is your timing. And the solution is to convince them they are no longer responsible for the security of the pack. They’re responsible instead for paying attention to the pack leader.

“And we teach you how to behave like the leader of the pack, to talk dog so your dog understands what you’re saying (by using sounds and tones of voice), and reward them by saying yes (rather than with treats).”

Even the barking you hear in the middle of the night can be stopped once those dogs learn to relinquish their roles as pack leaders.

“The dog hears the neighbor dog barking, and they go, ‘Aha, I heard somebody coming and my pack didn’t hear it,’” explains Argus. “‘The neighborhood has been alerted and I’m going to join, telling them this is my territory, back off.’ But they’re only going to do that if they think they’re in charge.”

If you have a neighbor with a barking dog, Argus suggests talking to them. Don’t yell or stare at the dog, it’ll only make them bark more.

According to the Hawaiian Humane Society, in the City & County of Honolulu, it is against the law for a dog to bark constantly for 10 minutes, or 30 minutes on and off, to the disturbance of others. However, it shall not be deemed to be an animal nuisance if, at the time the animal is making any noise, a person is trespassing or threatening trespass upon property in or upon which the animal is situated, or for any other legitimate cause that teased or provoked the animal.

In 2011, the Humane Society received 1,651 calls for barking, and issued 60 barking warning citations and 27 barking citations. For 2012, they’ve received 1,801 calls for barking, and issued 137 barking warning citations and 37 barking citations.

A citation has a fine of $50 if the offense did not occur within two years of the occurrence of a previous offense involving the same provision.

Argus’ teaching includes an initial session that lasts about three hours, followed by five to eight weeks of training that you do at home. He offers a lifetime guarantee and welcomes any dog, any age, any issue.

Fee is $575 for one adult dog or $675 for a puppy. Add $100 for an additional dog, $200 for an additional puppy. For more information, visit talkdog.com or call 734-3440.

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