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Save your ears, sleep and friendships by silencing nuisance barkers

The first step is to figure out why your dog is sounding off so much.

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. 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. 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. Exercise, both of the body and mind, works wonders for 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. Rattling a can filled with pennies is a recommended distraction. Shouting at your dog does nothing except make you feel temporarily better, since your dog may see your own loud yap as "chiming in."

* 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 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. The mist is harmless to dogs, but they hate it. 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.