Barking is as natural as breathing. Triggered by a state of excitement, barking is a dog's means of communicating anger, loneliness, fear, playfulness or a need for something.

Excessive barking is barking's obnoxious and intolerable cousin. It's an exaggeration of natural canine behavior that can only be eliminated by either giving in to the dog's demand or reconditioning the dog. I'd advise doing the latter — stat.

The excessive barking of an overindulged or neglected dog has ruined friendships, destroyed relationships and added to the overwhelm of courts already jammed with frivolous concerns that are largely solvable without the aid of lawyers and judges. Time and money are wasted. Friends and credibility are lost — and in some cases the dog itself in the dead of night. Furthermore, if you're a renter, you may come home to find yourself staring at a notice to vacate.

So don't ignore your neighbor's complaints about your dog's excessive barking. Instead, first find out whether you have a dog problem or a neighbor problem. Do a little sleuthing. Leave the dog with a friend or relative, or board him at a local kennel for a few days. During that time, ask your neighbor whether the barking has been a problem. If he complains even when the dog isn't there, you have a neighbor problem. But if the dog turns out to be the culprit, there are adjustments that can and should be made to your behavior, the dog's environment and/or the dog's temperament.

Possible reasons behind excessive barking are vast but rarely mysterious: tethering, improper confinement (i.e., in a room behind a closed door), outside distractions (i.e., construction, stray animals, lawnmowers, a steady stream of strangers), bad weather, separation anxiety, heightened territorialism, lack of exercise, genetics, temperament, hunger. ..

There's a hilarious cartoon that features an impatient pup sitting next to an empty food bowl at the feet of his master, an artist consumed with the masterpiece-in-the-making on the easel before him. The caption: "And how about some dinner, huh? One of the great masters, indeed."

The cartoon makes it clear that some problems come with simple solutions:

Keep the dog in a fenced backyard or dog run, rather than tethered to a tree out front.

Ensure he gets sufficient exercise — two or three vigorous walks every day, with some spirited games of fetch thrown in for good measure. The amount of exercise depends on the breed of dog.

When inside, keep him confined to an area of the house with a baby gate so he can see his world, rather than shutting him off from the world in a room behind closed doors.

While you're gone, close window blinds and drapes, and play soothing music or low-level talk-radio to ease the pain of separation and dull unpleasant exterior distractions.

Give him a Nylabone toy to while away the hours until you return. Boredom can contribute to mindless barking.

Don't make a big fuss out of every goodbye. This only heightens his anxiety when you leave, which can result in a long tedious barking session on the heels of every departure.

Don't forget dinner and water. A satisfied dog is a quiet dog.

Barking problems that are more a matter of DNA than environment are less likely but more complex, and require a reconditioning of the dog as opposed to a mere adjustment to the dog's environment. This demands patience and persistence on the part of the dog owner. Considering the problems brought on by excessive barking left unchecked, the effort is worthwhile.

For information on effective reconditioning techniques and tools — including the Margolis Maneuver and the proper use of the human voice in dog training — visit unclematty.com or read "When Good Dogs Do Bad Things," available at your local library or online at unclematty.com. Remember, don't get rid of the dog; get rid of the problem!

Woof!

© Creators Syndicate Inc.