Why Do Dogs Bark?
Why do dogs bark? It isn’t out of spite or revenge, or even to annoy you and your neighbors. It is natural for a dog to bark when someone is at the door. This is a warning or signal bark letting you know somebody or something is there. Dogs also bark if they sense some type of threat. This lets the threat know the dog is there and he’s aware of the threat’s presence.
Dogs will also bark when they are anxious. This type of barking can sometimes become an act of self-soothing to reduce anxiety and it can become habitual for some dogs. This bark is often high-pitched and sometimes accompanied by whining. This type of barking is common for dogs with separation anxiety.
Both adult dogs and puppies will bark while playing with people or other dogs. This bark tends to be upbeat. In contrast, some dogs whine and/or bark when they are seeking attention. This can at times be almost like the tone of a whining child.
Dogs will also bark if they are bored or lonely. These dogs usually need an activity and perhaps even a companion.
When dogs refuse to stop barking or bark uncontrollably, the barking creates excessive energy which keeps it going. This is why it can be so important to curb this behavior before it becomes problematic.
The following questions can help you to accurately decide on which type of barking your dog is doing so that you can best address your dog’s problem. Think about your answers to these questions as you read through the information below on the different types of barking and their treatments.
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?
Solutions for Barking
Territorial behavior can be a common cause for barking and is often motivated by both fear and anticipation of a perceived threat. Because defending territory is such a high priority for dogs, they are highly motivated to bark when they detect the approach of something or someone.
To treat territorial barking, we need to reduce your dog’s motivation as well as his opportunities to defend his territory. To manage your dog’s behavior, it can be helpful to block his visual contact with people, animals or objects when you are not able to supervise. This helps reduce the amount of barking at things they see outside, thus making it less of a habit.
Don’t allow these dogs to greet people at the front door, at your front yard gate or at your property boundary line of your home or shelter. Instead, train this dog that somebody’s arrival means something rewarding like a leash walk. When somebody arrives at the door, have a leash ready. Before you open the door to greet them, put the leash on the dog. When you open the door quickly explain to your guest that you are going on a quick leash walk with the dog.
If you practice this scenario often enough, the dog will slowly start to associate somebody at the door with the leash and a walk. This is a team building exercise that includes your guest rather than an emergence of territorial behavior at the door.
This exercise can also include a different greeting behavior. Have your guests offer the dog treats on the walk so that the door experience is made as positive as possible. At other times, invite the visitor in, asking them to completely ignore the dog. Invite your guest in and ask them sit down at a kitchen table.
Have this friend help you with this mock visit and be sure to repeat the scenario over and over, at least 10 to 20 times. Practice makes perfect! Have the person come in for 5 to 10 minutes or just pretend to deliver something, then leave for 5 to 10 minutes, then return for a second visit, and so on. Your dog should experience at least 20 visits in a row with the same person. With each repetition, it will become easier for him to do what you expect because he’ll be less excited by the whole routine, especially when it’s the same person at the door, over and over again. Continue to recruit people to help you with these scenarios.
For barking caused by attention seeking behavior, the best method is to simply ignore the dog. You want to be certain not to inadvertently reward this behavior by adding attention to it. This includes verbally disagreeing with the behavior. Sometimes, even negative attention is enough to nurture this barking behavior.
Bored dogs that bark are often underexercised and lack structure in their day. These dogs will need at least two 45 minute walks per day along with daily obedience training and structured games like fetch. This helps drain the dog’s energy and stimulate their minds thus creating a more relaxed dog.
Anxious barking is often related to separation anxiety. For these dogs I would recommend a systematic desensitization program outlined in the separation anxiety lesson in our shelter course.
By Dr. Jeff Grognet and Mike Annan, ACE Academy