Happy and Whole: Tackling Dog Behavioral Problems Holistically

Your barking dog causes a nuisance with the neighbors. With relations strained, you need a quick fix. Here's how taking a holistic approach can sort the problem AND set tails wagging.  

What does 'Holistic' Mean?

Holistic means tackling all aspects of the dog's well-being, including

  • Mental: Stimulating the mind and preventing boredom

  • Physical: The need for adequate exercise

  • Emotional: Having the dog feel safe and secure, and the absence of inner conflict


Great! You say. But what has this to do with Fido barking at people passing the front room window?


Fair question. To understand this better, let's break things down and look at the individual elements.

Mental Well-Being

Imagine the kids are on school vacation. You sit them in a room.and... unplug the TV, confiscate their phones, and take away their toys. Then you tell them to sit in that same room for eight hours while you go to work. What happens?


They get bored. That's what happens. And as a result they play catch with the cushions, try mountaineering up the curtains, and fight each other.


Now think of the equivalent with a dog. Placed in a room and left to their own devices, they make their own entertainment. It just so happens he best thing going is watching people walk by. Then a really good game develops where they bark and realize it makes people go away (Actually, they were always going to pass by, but the dog doesn't know that.) Pretty soon the dog has learned to bark...big time.


Approaching this holistically means a number of things:

  • Puzzle Feeders: Provide mental stimulation by using puzzle feeders instead of food bowls. Give the dog a stuffed, frozen Kong before you go out and this keeps him busy for at least half an hour.

  • Games and toys: Provide games to that are new and exciting. This can be simple such as a treat inside a sealed cardboard box (the dog has to chew the box to get the treat) or in a rolled up newspaper.

  • Block the view: Pedestrians threaten the dog's territory. Used a panel of adhesive frosted glass to block the view in the lower part of the window.

Physical Well-Being

Lack of exercise is a huge contributor to bad behavior in dogs. In simple terms, when a dog has energy to spare, they will spend it getting up to mischief. Or, put another way, a tired dog is a sleepy dog.


Make sure your dog receives adequate exercise to meet their needs. And this doesn't mean putting a German shepherd in the backyard for an hour a day. It means one-to-one interaction and taking the dog for walks where you play fetch and let them play.


If their recall is poor and you worry about letting them off leash to burn off energy, then use a longline and work on our next point, their emotional well-being.

Emotional Well-Being

A bored, dog bursting with energy will bark at those passing by. However, when you shout at him to be quiet or punish him, this sets the scene for inner conflict.


In the dog's mind, he's defending territory and doing what comes naturally. But his owner punishes him, which sets up uncertainty and conflict. This can show itself in a number of ways such as insecurity (toileting in the house), the problem worsens (the dog thinks you want to join in), or aggression (displaced confusion).


Instead, a better way is to obedience train the dog. Distract them away with a squeaky toy, then train them to sit on command. Spend five to ten minutes, two or three times a day, obedience training the dog.


This gets the dog looking to you for instruction, gives a sense of security, and reduces inner conflict.

Drawing it all Together

From this, we see that providing plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, and training for your dog not only reduces the urge to bark, but also makes for a happier dog. Now the holistic approach doesn't seem so barking mad after all!


It's possible to adapt this approach to any number of behavioral issues. Have a go today by thinking through the problem and seeing where a holistic approach could benefit both the dog...and neighborly relations.

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Sketch of smiling australian shepherd