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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Barking Dogs Benefit from Training and Elimination of Bark Triggers

At this time of year, our windows open up to sweet scents of spring -- and the headache-inducing annoyance of the neighborhood nuisance barker.
Is this dog yours? The owners of problem barkers seem to develop an ability to ignore the noise that has their neighbors thinking of legal action -- or worse. But a dog who's barking night and day isn't having any more fun than the neighbors are, and you owe it to both your pet and those who can hear him to fix this problem.
The first step is to figure out why your dog is sounding off so much. Dogs bark to express a variety of emotions: anxiety, boredom, territoriality, aggression, playfulness and hunger. Certain conditions in a dog's environment can trigger these emotions -- and the barking fits -- more frequently.
The typical neighborhood nuisance is an outdoor dog who isn't getting the exercise and attention he needs. Dogs are social animals and need to be part of a family. If your dog's outside because of poor manners or because he isn't house-trained, give him another chance. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist and arrange for an in-home consultation to fix the underlying problems.
Once you've brought him into your life, keep him busy with regular outings. Exercise, both of the body and of the mind, works wonders for all dogs, especially those who bark from boredom or to release excess energy. You'll be amazed at how much calmer, happier -- and quieter -- your dog will be!
For the barking that remains -- some dogs are just naturally yappy -- your task is to train your dog to be quiet on command when you're home and to reduce the barking triggers when you're not.
Teach your dog to be quiet by distracting him from barking, saying the word "Quiet" or "Enough," and then praising him for minding -- he'll make the connection soon enough, with repetition and lots of praise. Rattling a can filled with pennies is a commonly recommended distraction, and it works well. Shouting at your dog does nothing except make you feel temporarily better, since your dog may see your own loud yap as "chiming in."
Work to minimize barking cues to keep your dog quiet when you're not home. If your dog barks while looking through a window that faces the street, keep him out of that room while you're gone. Many dogs fire up when they hear car doors slam; other dogs bark at the mail carrier's steps on the walk. Muffle these sounds by leaving a radio playing while you're not home, and your pet is more likely to sleep than bark. Giving your dog something special to chew on, such as a Kong toy or hollow bone stuffed with a little peanut butter, will help to keep him occupied and quiet while he's awake.
For the most persistent barkers, an electric collar that shoots citrus or citronella mist when he barks may help, in concert with other strategies. The mist is harmless to the dog -- the citrus tang smells good to humans, but dogs hate it. The hiss of the mist releasing from the canister and the smell itself are annoying enough to distract the dog and correct him for barking. Citrus mist collars can be an effective alternative when someone is so desperate they're considering bark collars that shock the dog, surgical debarking or even euthanasia.
Chances are that if you bring your dog into your home and train him -- get help if you're not getting anywhere -- you'll never get that desperate. No matter what, working on this problem is well worth the effort: You, your dog and you neighbors will all be happier. - By Gina Spadafori
Underweight dog may be perfect
Q: How could a 90-pound dog be underweight? I have a dog who's probably a Labrador-Pit Bull mix, and my veterinarian says he's a little underweight. Considering I was hoping for a medium-sized dog when I adopted him as a puppy (his paws weren't big when he was little), I really am not all that interested in him getting even bigger. Is this a problem? She said he was perfectly healthy. -- via Facebook
A: If your veterinarian says he's perfectly healthy, then he's in normal range and you don't have to change a thing. That's the good news. The better news is that there are health benefits to keeping your dog just a little underweight. Long-range feeding trials of littermates fed to keep one 10 percent under "ideal" weight and the other 10 percent over have shown the health advantages of keeping your dog the lean machine he is. Lean dogs are less likely to get cancer, less likely to have orthopedic problems and less likely to suffer from arthritis.
There isn't a body mass index (BMI) chart for dogs the way there is for people. We veterinarians use a physical examination to determine what we call a "body-condition score."
You can do the same. You should be able to run your hands down your dog's sides without bumping over each rib. If you press in and slide the skin back and forth over the ribs (veterinarians call this "palpating"), you should easily be able to feel the ribs. Your dog should also have a "waist," or tuck up behind the ribcage, but not all that much. The Ohio State University's College of Veterinary medicine has an excellent graphic you can use, at
The majority of American pets are overweight or obese, so I would bet your veterinarian wasn't chastising you for your dog's appearance. More likely she was delighted to see a lean, fit dog in her exam room!
And by the way, there are many reasons why your dog grew larger than his paws predicted. Genetics is one of them, of course, but it's also possible that his early development was slowed by less-than-optimal care before he got to the shelter. You might want to try a DNA test such as the Mars Wisdom Panel to get some insight on what breeds actually went into your dog's "canine cocktail." -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to
Veterinary profession looking at grim times?

  • While it's not good news for anyone studying to be a veterinarian, or anyone just now entering the profession, the national veterinary trade group says there's an overcapacity in veterinary care. The American Veterinary Medical Association released a report in April that says supply exceeded demand for veterinary services by about 11,250 full-time equivalent veterinarians. That means 12.5 percent of the profession's capacity to provide services is going unused. The news isn't going to get any better for veterinarians soon. According to, the AVMA report also said the number of veterinarians will continue to increase, and with it, the excess capacity. More bad news: Veterinary salaries are going down, while student debt is going up. 

  • The Winn Feline Foundation funds research that will improve the lives of cats and those who love them. Founded in 1968, the organization has awarded grants for research that has ended up saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of cats, and has proven helpful in advancing human medicine as well. The Foundation's website lists its current projects as well information on its annual feline health symposium.

  • A dog found with his paws and tail frozen to a puddle of water in an abandoned home is now walking on four prosthetic paws, thanks to a veterinary assistant who was unwilling to give up on him and a company that helped get its products fitted to the animal. Naki'o now runs and jumps on prosthetic paws made by Denver-based OrthoPets. None of it would have happened had veterinary assistant Christie Pace of Colorado Springs, Colo., not adopted the dog after his rescue. "I have a soft spot for rescue animals in general. I was looking for something different, unique," Pace said. Naki'o is believed to be the first dog to have prosthetics on all four limbs. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Date Published: 5/13/2013 8:29:00 PM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 05/13/2013


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Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at

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