Neurotic dog barking is typically a sign of distress. It can be a self-perpetuating habit; the dog barks because he is distressed and is distressed because his barking not resolving anything. The trick to helping a neurotic barker is to understand the underlying causes. It’s no good teaching the neurotic barker not to bark without addressing the causes of the problem, because he will simply find a new, possibly more destructive way of expressing his problems.
Neurotic barking is persistent and caused by no obvious external stimuli. A few yaps at the mailman is not the same as an ongoing session of intense barking. Neurotic barking is typically accompanied by other behaviors, including digging, chewing, pacing and whining.
Separation anxiety, boredom, environmental changes such as a new house or the introduction of a new dog or person to the family can all cause neurotic barking. The persistent barking behavior is your dog’s distress signal. He’s trying to tell his pack that there’s something wrong.
To determine the specific cause of your dog’s neurotic barking, observe his routine and try to identify a specific cause. For example, if he only becomes distressed when you’re putting on your coat and getting ready to leave, it is probable that his neurosis is linked to separation anxiety. He’s figured out what the coat means and it has triggered a distress reaction. If the barking only occurs when the doorbell rings, the behavior may be linked to fear or anxiety about strangers.
As well as the obvious nuisance that persistent barking causes for you, your family and the neighbors, the behavior is stressful for the dog too. Some dog owners inadvertently encourage neurotic barking by giving their dog attention each time he does it. The trick is not to ignore the problem but to show the dog that barking is not the solution.
Prevention and Cure
Once you’ve identified the probable cause of the neurotic barking you can start to desensitize your dog to it. For example, perform your standard leaving the house routine, but give him a toy to play with as you do it. This distracts him and also helps him form positive associations with the distress trigger of you leaving. Noted dog trainer Cesar Milan advocates giving distress barkers lots of exercise prior to being exposed to the distress trigger. Exercise also rids your dog of pent up energy, which can be a cause of neurosis in the first place. Leave toys for your dog while you’re out, to prevent boredom. If dogs or people cause neurotic barking, introduce him to them gradually, using food and verbal rewards to positively reinforce passive, relaxed behavior.