Dogs often bark out of frustration or boredom when left alone for long periods or when they are kept in a confined area with little stimulation. They may also bark out of frustration when they can’t get to something they want, such as a crafty squirrel or a dog in the next yard or kennel run. Unfortunately, barking is usually just the beginning of a dog expressing its frustration. If the situation isn’t rectified, a frustrated dog can become destructive either to the environment or to themselves.
Many dogs that chew furniture, automobile interiors or their own feet, legs and tails are dogs that started out barking in frustration.
Frustration barking can usually be avoided by giving a frustrated dog more stimulation in the form of exercise of the mind and body and companionship. Dogs are very social creatures and companionship may be with another animal such as a dog or cat. But the best type of companionship is usually an attentive owner who spends quality time with the dog.
Dogs need a minimum of an hour or two of play, exercise or attention each day. The morning hours and normal dinner hours are the natural times for dogs to be active since they are crepuscular. Crepuscular animals are most active at twilight; that is dawn and dusk. Given enough activity and stimulation at these times, most dogs will happily sleep away the daylight hours while their owners are at work.
One activity that can satisfy the need for stimulation is a brisk walk about the neighborhood, hopefully on a variety of different paths to keep it interesting. During the walk, take a few short stops to do some training or to play with a toy. If your dog plays well with other dogs, arrange for a visit or play date at a dog park. Enrolling in a local dog obedience class can be rewarding for both the dog and the owner and may even lead to entering friendly competitions such as agility, rally or obedience trials. There are also a variety of other dog sports such as sledding, fly ball, Frisbee, nose work, tracking, herding, carting and pack hiking which can be enjoyable for both the dog and the owner.
If you are unable to increase the level of time and activity you spend with the dog, there are some excellent toys that are stimulating to dogs. A Kong® stuffed with kibble or peanut butter can keep many dogs occupied for hours. A youth in the neighborhood may be interested in taking the dog for a walk or coming over to toss a ball or Frisbee for it. The key is to understand why the dog is frustrated and make a plan to alleviate that frustration through a mutually agreeable activity. When the level of frustration barking goes down to almost nothing, then you know the level of activity is finally right for the dog. Keep in mind that some breeds need more stimulation and activity than others do, so if your dog is one of the breeds bred for work, hunting or herding you may find you need to work a bit harder to keep it satisfied.
Elizabeth Wells, Ph.D. – Michigan State University