Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Barking Guardians

Maremmas are known to be barkers - it is part of the guarding behaviour that is hard wired into them.

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!

2 comments:

  1. Hi, all good points. However our dog is super during the day, but as soon as it becomes dark the barking starts, it continues through most of the night...he is the only one male, the other two are females, when something is really going on all three bark. I have stood out and told him to be quiet, he will be for a couple minutes, but then stats again. I repeat a couple times the same, after a while its like he doesn't care and just continues. What should I do? ( they roam the property freely, stay on it, as well we have a big hill behind our barns and house, the noise does "bounce"/"echo" of the hill, but other dogs aren't bothered with it. I know for sure its not an issue with the feed)

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  2. thanks for that, just reinforces what I thought I knew about Maremmas. I have an 18 months old Female who spends her day guarding and protecting our goats and our home. She used to bark at Wallabies, but now realises they do no harm. She barks at most of the cars that drive past our property but seems to recognise some of the neighbours cars that drive past more frequently and doesn't bother with them any more. She goes nuts if anyone enters the property (which I think is good) and usually quietens if I introduce her to them for a few minutes. If they go out of sight for a few minutes and return she will recommence barking, so I reintroduce again until she settles. Our problem is our neighbour. He lives about 250m up hill from us and he finds her barking not only intrusive but aggressive. I tried to introduce her to him but he is scared of her size and refused to come back. He describes the barking as constant when we are out and so loud it seems like she is outside his house. She does bark if she hears him slam his front door or revving his car. she doesn't bark at his car going past. We have tried various barking collars but her instinct is to bark through the "correction" be it sonic or citronella. They did seem to work at first - it was wonderful, but did not last. Just putting the collar on her (switched off) does seem to make her think twice about barking. She doesn't bark at night unless someone unknown to her comes onto our property. The neighbour has complained to the council several times and they visited - dorve slowly past the property prompting her to bark and then parked "out of sight" to see if she would stop. They reported that she kept barking despite not being able to see them (but I bet she could hear them.) I am just at a loss. When we are at work during the day she protects our livestock and property but the unemployed neighbour is at home all day and any noise she makes is too much. Any ideas either on what to say to the council, what to do about the neighbour or our lovely girl - would be appreciated. :D

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