Is your dog barking mad or just feeling ruff?

WOOF JUSTICE: Devonport vet and barking expert Elsa Flint with 13-year-old River.
WOOF JUSTICE: Devonport vet and barking expert Elsa Flint with 13-year-old River.

How much barking is too much barking?

In an effort to determine what is normal woofing, an Auckland animal behaviourist has bugged the houses of 60 dogs and recorded how much they barked when their owners were out.

Maggie, Brodie, Rastus and Jezebel (breeds unknown) were the kind of dogs anyone would like to have next door, barking infrequently and not for very long.

Emily, Jasper, Scarr and Jock were not so good neighbours though: Emily barked more than 20 times in a week for about three minutes each time; on one occasion Jasper barked for about 15 minutes straight.

The study's author, Dr Elsa Flint, said the average amount of barking for a home-alone dog over an eight-hour period was 4.3 times, with an average of about 30 seconds per bout.

The study participants came from two Auckland vet practices, on the North Shore and in Howick.

All were aged one to 14 and were ordinary, well-cared-for dogs, exercised off-property for at least 30 minutes per day, and living in suburban houses with gardens.

Sixty dogs began the study but only 40 returned data as tape recorders were lost or damaged or owners withdrew from the study.

The noisiest dogs were female and younger.

The question, though, is why do this research?

Flint, in her work as a behaviourist, has seen complaints about barking dogs increase over the years as population density increased. Auckland Council alone fielded 8876 complaints in the 2011-2012 financial year.

But it wasn't always the dog that was at fault, Flint said. "In a lot of cases there was some bad feeling between neighbours and they were using the dog to get back at each other."

Councils were in a difficult position because they didn't have a benchmark for inordinate barking.

The other worrying factor was that concerned owners often turned to electric collars that shocked the dog when it barked, Flint said. "That really upsets me. The dog doesn't know what's happening. I've seen results where the dogs are terrified to move. They just go into shut-down mode."

Flint said in one extreme case owners came home to find their dog hiding under a bed in a pool of its own excrement, fearful of moving because it wasn't sure what was causing the shocks.

Flint said she could hear whether barking was territorial guarding or separation anxiety and most of the dogs she recorded were territorial guarding.

Problem barking required an evaluation of the many factors that could be creating the behaviour, she said.

In one case, she filmed two dogs in a backyard and the problem was that the older dog was going into their joint kennel and preventing the younger one from getting in. A second kennel solved the problem.

Sunday Star Times