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Dogs that bark too much need strict commands - and to be kept busy

Tan and white pit bull dog in shelter.

Tan and white pit bull dog in shelter. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q We have a 10-year-old pit bull who is an excessive barker. People do not visit because the dog never stops barking. The dog is fine with my wife, but if I come into the room where my wife is, the dog barks her head off. We tried giving her commands, but it takes a while before she obeys. Are there any devices that can aid in training her? She's been this way all her life, but it seems to have gotten worse.

— Emilio, Brookhaven

A Even though your dog has barked all her life, she should be examined by a veterinarian since changes in behavior may indicate a health problem. Assuming you've already gone to the veterinarian and she has a clean bill of health, here are a few things you can do to reduce her barking.

1. Dogs (and people) have trouble doing two things at once, so use obedience training to get her to stop barking. Train her to "sit" or "come," so that when she starts barking, you can call her to you and ask her to "sit." Only give her the treat after she sits, so she doesn't associate the treat with barking. If your commands don't interrupt her barking, then shake a can of coins or use a Pet Corrector (compressed air), available at pet stores and online, to interrupt the barking before giving your commands.

2. No matter what, always ask her to "sit." Sitting helps to reset a dog's mind and behavior and helps them focus on what you want them to do next. Once she is sitting, give her a treat. Then give her a toy to play with, like a stuffed animal or a Kong or puzzle toy filled with treats, so her mind gets busy doing something else. Busy minds don't bark. You also can train her to retrieve a ball, since a few minutes of fetch can distract and settle her too.

3. There are ultrasonic dog barking devices on the market for the home or dog collar, which work as interrupters too. When a dog barks, these devices make a sound only a dog can hear that is intended to interrupt the dog's barking. However, when the device is removed from the home or the dog (only use one device at a time), dogs will sometimes revert to old behaviors. So, only use the device temporarily while you are obedience training your dog. That's the only way to ensure that the new non-barking behavior sticks.

Q Our 10-year-old rescue, Buddy, a poodle bichon, recently began to lick both fore ankles, just above the paws. He has licked his white fur turning it into an ugly, angry pink, and the skin looks raw. We have checked him for parasites and found nothing. He has been to the groomer and bathed, but it persists. I am wondering if it is from boredom or anxiety or if he has doggy eczema. I have loosely wrapped the areas to dissuade his licking. Do you have any ideas as to the cause or cure?

— Carol, Las Vegas

A Dogs lick for many reasons, and you are right that anxiety and boredom can be the culprit, so introduce more toys and daily walks into his schedule.

Also, take Buddy to the veterinarian for a skin exam. Once a dog's skin is "angry pink" and "raw," there is a chance for a secondary infection in addition to the itchy discomfort. Your vet can prescribe oral medications and a skin topical to make Buddy feel better.

After the skin heals, you can spray Bitter Apple (available at pet stores and online) on the area that your dog keeps licking as a preventive. Your vet may also recommend a change in diet since food allergies can cause itchy skin too. There are a lot of reduced ingredient dog foods for dogs with food allergies available at major pet stores. Introduce new foods slowly to avoid stomach upset.

Q You have mentioned the dangers of using Teflon pans with a bird in the home. Another thing to keep in mind, if you have a bird, is that self-cleaning ovens emit fumes the same as Teflon pans, and birds should be removed from the area.

— Cynthia, Long Island

A Thanks for the additional tip. Here's one more: birds also are very susceptible to paint fumes, so look for no to low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints when painting the home to reduce their exposure to dangerous fumes.

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