Let's think first - why might a dog bark?
If we think along human lines then we are misled.
There are a lot of reasons why a dog barks, and there are different tones to their barks which will help you to get to know why they might be barking at different times.
- territory marking. Did you know that the main reason birds 'sing' is to mark their territory, announcing it to other birds? In the same way, the maremma will bark when he hears or smells any other canine or predator presence (and they can hear and smell a LONG way! This announces that their territory is being approached, and it is occupied!
- excitement. Well include here other related emotions - agitation, annoyance etc. Vocalising is pretty common amongst all animals. The excited bark usually has quite a distinctive tone.
- responsive. If another dog is heard to bark, your maremma is likely to bark in response and the tone of this bark will vary according to the response being given.
- boredom. Any dog can learn to bark to release anxiety if they are bored or anxious about being separated from their herd (which may be you and the family if they are a companion dog)
- energy to spare. Often this is related to the above point - a dog that is fed too high an energy food, and not given enough exercise to burn up those calories will feel frustrated as they feel the need to burn off that energy, and one way they may do this is by barking. Other dogs may dig or display other destructive behaviours especially when boredom and energy to spare are combined.
So, what can we do to stop a maremma barking???
Firstly let me say, it is unlikely you will completely stop a maremma barking, but you can take some steps to manage it.
I'm going to firstly list some of the strategies that people suggest that I believe are unlikely to work and why I think this:
- spraying your dog with a mist spray bottle - this teaches the dog not to bark when you are watching ...
- throwing pebble filled plastic bottles or cans at him - again this teaches the dog that barking gives an unpleasant outcome when you are around, but not when you are absent.
- keep your maremma inside more - well this may help, but does not really address the barking
- yelling out a window at the dog - um the best thing I can say about this tactic is that you are just barking back at the dog!
Some strategies that can help:
- spend time outside with your maremma and watch for what triggers barking.
- when triggers happen, instead of punishing your dog, say good dog, that's enough and encourage the dog to stand or sit with you and observe what he was barking at - an animal crossing a fence, someone walking past etc. praise him for being quiet and observing
- if the dog won't stop barking, try to get him to sit or drop or some command he knows, even walk away with you and give a good reinforcement for the change in behaviour
- get a good walking routine going - this will allow your dog to have more variety of experiences and let off some energy in a positive way, and may increase his social skills if the barking is related to this
- change of diet - if you suspect the barking is linked to too much energy, try changing his diet to a lower calorie intake, or think about the time of day you feed. for example feeding the dog in the morning just before you go out may leave you with a dog that now has lots of energy and is quite bored, home alone and able to bark the neighbours to distraction.
- watch for times of day that barking is excessive - try making this walk time or a time to bring the dog inside for some quiet time for a little while
- tools such as barking collars can work in extreme cases, but that is a whole other topic as they are not to be used lightly and can be cruel if not used correctly.
I think each person has to weigh up what is excessive barking and what is normal for a dog, and in particular for a maremma, then study your dog for a couple of weeks. Keep a barking diary if necessary to help you pin point the cause of the barking and help formulate a solution for your situation.
Please feel free to use the comments here to create a discussion on this important topic!