Why Dogs Bark
Sometimes dogs bark for appropriate reasons, such as when strangers approach their property. Many owners want their dogs to be "watch dogs" and alert them to anything unusual. However, dogs can also bark inappropriately, and when the barking continues and the owners do nothing to stop it, it becomes a nuisance to neighbors.
No one should expect a dog to never bark. However, some dogs bark excessively. If that is a problem in your home, the first step is figuring out what causes your dog to bark too much. Once you know why he is barking, you can start to treat his barking problem.
Barking is one type of vocal communication that dogs use, and it can mean different things depending on the situation. Here are some reasons why dogs bark:
Injury or Illness
- The dog may be in pain or suffering from parasites.
Your dog may be barking due to separation anxiety if:
- The barking occurs only when you are gone and starts as soon as, or shortly after, you leave.
- Your dog displays other behaviors that reflect a strong attachment to you, such as following you from room to room, greeting you frantically, or reacting anxiously whenever you prepare to leave.
- Your dog has recently experienced a change in the family's schedule that means he is left alone more often; a move to a new house; the death or loss of a family member or another family pet; or a period at an animal shelter or boarding kennel.
Many dogs bark because they are lonely or bored and want some company. By barking, the dog has gotten your attention; and whether you punish him or not, he has attained his goal. Not enough quality time with its humans may cause excessive barking, because sooner or later somebody’s going to come out even if it is only to tell the dog to be quiet. Therefore, he may continue to bark just so he can see you. Your dog may be barking out of boredom and loneliness if:
- He is left alone for long periods of time without opportunities to interact with you.
- His environment is relatively barren, without companions or toys.
- He's a puppy or adolescent (under three years old) and doesn't have other outlets for his energy.
- He's a particularly active type of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who needs to be occupied to be happy.
Dogs that are left outside all the time, may become hypersensitive to anything and everything that moves and become over protective of “their” property. The problem being, that the longer the dog is left outside, the wider his “territory” becomes. This is very natural for any type of dog, yet consistent and habitual barking is a sign of an unruly dog. It is important to teach your dog to bark enough to alert you and then to respond to you and sit quietly. This way the dog feels he is protecting his property while the owner is still in control of his behavior.
Your dog may be barking to guard his territory if:
- The barking occurs in the presence of "intruders," which may include the mail carrier, children walking to school, and other dogs or neighbors in adjacent yards.
- Your dog's posture while he is barking appears threatening—tail held high and ears up and forward.
- You've encouraged your dog to be responsive to people and noises outside.
Fear or Apprehension and Phobias
Your dog's barking may be a response to something he is afraid of if:
- The barking occurs when he is exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, firecrackers, or construction noise.
- Your dog's posture indicates fear—ears back, tail held low.
Getting your dog to bark less will take time, work, practice, and consistency. It will not happen overnight, but with proper techniques and time, you can see progress.
Expand your dog's world and increase his "people time" in the following ways:
- Do properly socialize your dog. If your dog is barking to get your attention, make sure he has sufficient time with you on a daily basis (petting, grooming, playing, exercising). Have the dog more involved with the family; dogs want to be with you and nuisance barkers are often frustrated at being left alone.
- Give the dog lots of exercise; often nuisance barkers have pent-up energy they need to expend. (“A tired dog is a good dog!”) Walks should not only be considered "potty breaks."
- Take the dog in for a thorough vet exam; sometimes dogs bark excessively if they are ill, in pain or suffering from parasites. Feed the dog, quality dog food; lesser quality foods can have added sugars, preservatives and colors that can make dogs hyperactive.
- Take the dog to obedience classes; dogs that have learned to understand commands (“Quiet”) can be quieted more effectively. This allows you and your dog to work together toward a common goal.
- Then, when he begins to bark at a passerby, allow two or three barks, then say "quiet" and reward him immediately with a treat when he stops.
- Keep your dog inside when you are unable to supervise him. Do try to keep your dog in the house as much as possible. Do feed a dog, which will be left out all night as late as possible so it will feel drowsy and may sleep longer through the night. Do Not leave your dog out in severely inclement weather. If your animal sleeps outside and simply won't stay quiet throughout the night, it might be best to bring the pet indoors.
- To help fill the hours that you are not home, provide safe, interesting toys to keep your dog busy, such as toys filled with treats and food or busy-box toys. Rotating the toys will make them seem new and interesting.
- Do Not kennel the dog next to a busy street or where it may feel the need to be constantly “on guard”.
- Instead place the dog where neighbors, traffic, and passersby will not bother it.
- Move dog to other side of property away from the complaining neighbor, if possible.
- When you have to leave your dog for extended periods of time, drop him off at a doggie day care center, hire a pet sitter or dog walker, or have a trusted friend or neighbor walk and play with him. This can make a world of difference.
- Do Not train your dog to bark to be let back in the house…Many barking complaints occur because the dog owner leaves, and the dog will continue to bark to be let back in the house until somebody gets home!
- Do Not allow your dog to bark at neighbors. Do Not leave your dog out in a situation where there is no one to correct inappropriate barking. If you know that your dog has a tendency to bark at a neighbor, charge the fence, or engage in other inappropriate noise behaviors, FIX IT!
- Do Not permit your dog to bark at wildlife. A dog that barks up the tree at every raccoon, squirrel or bird that crosses its yard will NOT endear itself to your neighbors.
- Successful treatment for some cases may also require the use of medication (in conjunction with a behavior modification plan) prescribed by your veterinarian.
- Block visual stimulation; building a solid board fence or enclosing the dog in a different part of the yard may reduce the visual triggers.
- Sometimes, people do not know when to quit using a particular approach. They might keep doing the same thing for months, even though it is not working. If there is not improvement within three to five days, try a different technique.
- There are plenty of suggestions online, training aids and options available to dog owners today.
- Have your dog spayed or neutered to decrease territorial behavior; altered dogs are generally calmer and quieter than non-altered dogs. Support
- If you are experiencing “nuisance barker” issues with your dog, please take the time and expend the effort to follow all of the above suggestions. Let your neighbors know that you are actively working to solve the problem. Be a responsible pet owner!