Understanding Barking and It’s Causes
Why Dogs Bark
Barking is one of many forms of vocal communication for dogs. People are often pleased that their dog barks, because it alerts them to the approach of people to their home. Or it tells them there’s something that the dog wants or needs. However, sometimes a dog’s barking can be excessive. Because barking serves a variety of functions. You must identify its cause and your dog’s motivation for barking before you can treat a barking problem
Each type of barking serves a distinct function for a dog, and if he’s repeatedly rewarded for his barking—in other words, if it gets him what he wants—he can learn to use barking to his benefit. For example, dogs who successfully bark for attention often go on to bark for other things, like food, play and walks. For this reason, it’s important to eliminate your dogs attention-related barking. The goal is to teach him to do another behavior instead—like sit or down—to get what he wants.
Many owners can identify why their dog is barking just by hearing the specific bark. For instance, a dog’s bark sounds different when he wants to play as compared to when he wants to come in from the yard. If you want to reduce your dog’s barking, it’s crucial to determine why he’s barking. After determining the cause of the barking, you can work towards eliminating the barking behavior. More often than not your dog is giving itself a job when barking. The goal is to take that energy and apply it to something more positive.
Dogs can bark excessively in response to people, dogs or other animals within or approaching their territories. Your dog’s territory includes the area surrounding his home and, eventually, anywhere he has explored or associates strongly with you. For example, your car, the route you take during walks and other places where he spends a lot of time.
If your dog barks at any and every noise and sight regardless of the context, he’s probably alarm barking. Dogs engaged in alarm barking usually have stiffer body language than dogs barking to greet. They often move or pounce forward an inch or two with each bark. Alarm barking is different than territorial barking in that a dog might alarm bark at sights or sounds in any location at all, not just when he’s defending familiar areas, such as your house, yard or car.
Some dogs bark at people or other animals to gain attention or rewards, like food, toys or play.
Your dog might be barking in greeting if he barks when he sees people or other dogs and his body is relaxed, he’s excited and his tail is wagging. Dogs who bark when greeting people or other animals might also whine.
Some dogs bark excessively in a repetitive way, like a broken record. These dogs often move repetitively as well. For example, a dog who’s compulsively barking might run back and forth along the fence in his yard or pace in his home.
Socially Facilitated Barking
Some dogs barks excessively only when they hear other dogs barking. This kind of barking occurs in the social context of hearing other dogs, even at a distance—such as dogs in the neighborhood.
Some dogs bark excessively only when they’re placed in a frustrating situation, like when they can’t access playmates or when they’re confined or tied up so that their movement is restricted.
Other Problems That Can Cause Barking
Illness or Injury
Dogs sometimes bark in response to pain or a painful condition. Before attempting to resolve your dog’s barking problem, please have your dog examined by a veterinarian to rule out medical causes.
Excessive barking due to separation anxiety occurs only when a dog’s caretaker is gone or when the dog is left alone. You’ll usually see at least one other separation anxiety symptom as well, like pacing, destruction, elimination, depression or other signs of distress.
What to Do About Your Dog’s Excessive Barking
The first step toward reducing your dog’s barking is to determine the type of bark your dog is expressing. The following questions can help you to accurately decide on which type of barking your dog is doing in order to address the problem. Think about your answers to these questions as you read through the information below.
- When and where does the barking occur?
- Who or what is the target of the barking?
- What things (objects, sounds, animals or people) trigger the barking?
- Why is your dog barking?
If It’s Territorial Barking or Alarm Barking
Territorial behavior is motivated by both fear and anticipation of a perceived threat. Because defending territory is such a high priority to them, many dogs are highly motivated to bark when they detect the approach of unknown people or animals near familiar places. This high level of motivation means that when barking territorially, your dog might ignore unpleasant or punishing responses from you. Even if the barking itself is suppressed by punishment, your dog’s motivation to guard his territory will remain strong. He might attempt to control his territory in another way, such as biting without warning.
Dogs engage in territorial barking to alert others to the presence of visitors or to scare off intruders or both. A dog might bark when he sees or hears people coming to the door, the mail carrier delivering the mail and the maintenance person reading the gas meter. He might also react to the sights and sounds of people and dogs passing by your house or apartment. Some dogs get especially riled up when they’re in the car and see people or dogs pass by.
How to Address the Issue
You should be able to judge from your dog’s body posture and behavior as to where he stands. For treatment of territorial barking, you should start my not allowing your dog to greet people at the front door, at your front yard gate or at your property boundary line. Instead, train him to go to an alternate location, a crate or a mat, and remain quiet until he’s invited to greet appropriately. This will be the most appropriate way to alleviate the need or want to be territorial.
It helps to teach your dog a specific set of behaviors to do when people come into your home so that he has fewer opportunities to alarm bark. Plus, when your dog performs his new behaviors and receives rewards, he’ll learn that people coming into his and your space is a good thing.
If your dog barks at people coming to the door, at people or dogs walking by your property, at people or dogs he sees on walks, or otherwise, he’s looking to greet. He most likely barks the same way when family members come home.
One reason that it’s so easy to live with dogs is that they’re very expressive. They find a way to let us know their needs. They often do this by barking or whining. Indeed, we find it desirable when they bark to ask to go outside to eliminate or to request that their water bowl be filled. It’s less attractive, however, when your dog barks to demand anything and everything, needed or not! This pattern of barking does not happen by accident. A demanding, noisy dog has been taught to be this way, usually not on purpose!
To get your dog to stop, you’ll need to consistently not reward him for barking. Don’t try to figure out exactly why he’s barking. Ignore him instead. Treatment for this kind of barking can be tough because, most of the time, pet parents unwittingly reinforce the behavior. Sometimes just with eye contact, touching, scolding or talking to their dogs. To dogs, all of these human behaviors can count as rewarding attention. Try to use crystal-clear body language to tell your dog that his attention-seeking barking is going to fail.
How to Fix It
To be successful, try your best to NEVER reward your dog for barking at you again! In some cases, it’s easiest to teach your dog an alternative behavior. Teach them to use a doggy door or ring a bell to signal they need to go outside. Sometimes, it’s easier to avoid problems by eliminating the things that cause your dog to bark. If your dog barks at you when you’re talking on the telephone or working on the computer, give him a tasty chew bone to occupy him before he starts to bark.
You can also teach your dog to be silent on command. This will help strengthen the association between quiet behavior and attention or rewards. Your dog should always be quiet before receiving attention, play or treats. When you give your dog a guaranteed method of getting attention, he’s no longer forced to bark for attention.
When dogs are labeled compulsive barkers, it means they bark in situations that aren’t considered normal or they bark in a repetitive, fixed or rigid way. If your dog barks repeatedly for long periods of time, apparently at nothing or at things that wouldn’t bother other dogs, such as shadows, light flashes, mirrors, open doors, the sky, etc., you may have a compulsive barker.
If your dog also does other repetitive behaviors like spinning, circling or jumping while barking, he may be a compulsive barker. To help reduce compulsive barking, you can try changing how you confine your dog. For instance, if your dog is tied or tethered, switch to keeping him loose in a safe fenced area. Increase exercise, mental stimulation and social contact to mitigate the built up energy after being alone for long periods of time.
Excitement or Frustration Barking
Dogs often bark when they find themselves excited but thwarted, or frustrated, from getting to something they want. For example, a frustrated dog might bark in his yard because he wants to get out and play with children he hears in the street. A frustrated dog might bark and run the fence line with the dog next door, or bark by the patio door while watching a cat or squirrel frolicking in his yard. Some dogs bark at other dogs on walks because they want to greet and play. Others bark at their caretakers to get them to move faster when preparing to go for walks.
The most effective means for discouraging excitement or frustration barking is to teach a frustrated dog to control his impulses through obedience training. You can teach your dog to wait, sit and stay before gaining access to fun activities like walks, playing with other dogs or chasing squirrels.
What NOT to Do
- Do not punish your dog for barking at certain sounds, like car doors slamming and kids playing in the street, but then encourage him to bark at other sounds, like people at the door. You must be consistent!
- Do not encourage your dog to bark at sounds, such as pedestrians or dogs passing by your home, birds outside the window, children playing in the street and car doors slamming, by saying “Who’s there?” or getting up and looking out the windows