Barking is a form of communication for dogs, and while it can be useful in alerting their owners to certain situations, excessive barking can become a problem. To address this issue, it is important to identify the cause and motivation behind the barking.
Different types of barking serve different functions for dogs. If a dog is consistently rewarded for barking, such as receiving attention or desired objects, they may learn to use barking to their advantage. For example, a dog that barks for attention may start barking for other things like food or play. To address this, it is crucial to train the dog to be quiet on command and redirect their behavior towards alternative actions, such as sitting or lying down.
In many cases, owners can determine the reason for their dog's barking based on the specific sound and context. Understanding why the dog is barking is essential to reduce their barking. However, it is important to note that complete elimination of barking is not realistic, and the goal should be to decrease it rather than eliminate it entirely.
Why Dogs Bark
There are various reasons why dogs bark, including territorial barking, alarm barking, attention-seeking barking, greeting barking, compulsive barking, socially facilitated barking, frustration-induced barking, and barking due to illness or injury or separation anxiety. Each type requires specific strategies for management and training.
To address territorial barking or alarm barking, it is necessary to reduce the dog's motivation and opportunities to defend their territory. This can be done by limiting their visual access to potential triggers and teaching them alternative behaviors like going to a designated spot and remaining quiet.
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, and 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.
Attention-seeking barking can be discouraged by not rewarding the dog for barking and instead ignoring the behavior. Teaching alternative behaviors, such as holding a toy or sitting quietly, can also help redirect their attention.
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.
Compulsive barking and socially facilitated barking may require professional guidance from a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a veterinary behaviorist. These experts can provide specialized training and advice to address these specific barking patterns.
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.
Frustration-induced barking can be reduced by teaching the dog impulse control through obedience training. This involves teaching them to wait, sit, and stay before engaging in activities that excite them.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 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?
Why is your dog barking?
If It’s Territorial Barking or Alarm Barking
Territorial behavior is often 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, like their homes and yards. This high level of motivation means that when barking territorially, your dog might ignore unpleasant or punishing responses from you, such as scolding or yelling. Even if the barking itself is suppressed by punishment, your dog’s motivation to guard his territory will remain strong, and 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. You should be able to judge from your dog’s body posture and behavior whether he’s barking to say “Welcome, come on in!” or “Hey, you’d better hit the road. You’re not welcome at my place!” If you’re dealing with a dog in the first category, follow the treatment outlined in this article for greeting barking (below). If you’re dealing with a dog in the latter category who isn’t friendly to people, you’ll be more successful if you limit your dog’s ability to see or hear passersby and teach him to associate the presence of strangers with good things, such as food and attention.
For treatment of territorial barking, your dog’s motivation should be reduced as well as his opportunities to defend his territory. To manage your dog’s behavior, you’ll need to block his ability to see people and animals. Removable plastic film or spray-based glass coatings can help to obscure your dog’s view of areas that he observes and guards from within your house. Use secure, opaque fencing to surround outside areas your dog has access to. Don’t allow 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, like a crate or a mat, and remain quiet until he’s invited to greet appropriately.
Alarm barking is very similar to territorial barking in that it’s triggered by sights and sounds. However, dogs who alarm bark might do so in response to things that startle or upset them when they’re not on familiar turf. For example, a dog who barks territorially in response to the sight of strangers approaching will usually only do so when in his own home, yard or car. By contrast, a dog who habitually alarm barks might vocalize when he sees or hears strangers approaching in other places, too. Although territorial barking and alarm barking are a little different, the recommendations below apply to both problems.
Using anti-bark collars is not recommended as a first choice for addressing barking problems, especially if the barking is motivated by fear, anxiety, or compulsion. Punishment procedures should also be avoided for fear or anxiety-related barking as it can worsen the dog's emotional state.
It is important not to encourage barking at certain sounds or situations inconsistently. Punishing a dog for barking at some things while encouraging barking at others can create confusion. Additionally, using a muzzle for extended periods or inappropriately can be harmful and inhumane.
Seeking guidance from professionals, such as Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists or veterinary behaviorists, can provide effective strategies and support in addressing excessive barking.
What NOT to Do
Avoid encouraging your dog to bark at sounds like pedestrians, dogs, birds, or children by saying "Who's there?" or actively looking out the windows. This can reinforce the barking behavior.
Consistency is key. Do not punish your dog for barking at certain sounds while encouraging barking at other sounds. It's important to establish clear and consistent rules.
Unless advised by a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist, avoid using punishment techniques if your dog is barking out of fear or anxiety. Punishment can worsen their emotional state and potentially increase barking.
Never use a muzzle to keep your dog quiet for long periods or when you're not actively supervising them. Dogs need to eat, drink, and pant to regulate their body temperature, so prolonged use of a muzzle can be inhumane.
It is dangerous, painful, and inhumane to tie your dog's muzzle closed with rope, cord, rubber bands, or any other material. This should never be done under any circumstances.