Dog Barking 101: Why Your Dog Barks—And What You Can Do About It
Dogs bark. It’s what they do. And while this fact may be widely accepted among dog owners, it doesn’t make living with a relentless yapper any easier.
Because non-stop barking can send even the most unflappable person perilously close to the edge, we decided to round up some expert advice on the matter. And, thankfully, we found there’s more than one way to curb excessive yowling.
But before we get to the solutions for incessant barking, it’s helpful to understand why our dogs bark in the first place.
Why does my dog bark?
One word: communication. Just as humans use language to convey information, our dogs bark to “voice” their feelings and needs. Barking is your dog’s way of expressing joy and fear. It’s how he announces the mailman’s arrival, or tells you the water bowl needs filling. It’s how he requests more treats or asks for more bellyrubs.
As such, barking is a fundamental canine behavior. One that you can’t (and shouldn’t!) try to stamp out entirely.
With careful observation, you should be able to pinpoint the why behind your dog’s barking, which will help you determine whether any further action needs to take place.
Here are six common reasons your dog might be barking.
1. He’s scared
Is your dog on the jittery side? A high-strung pooch who’s easily startled may resort to barking as a fear response. According to PetMD, fear-based barking is usually deeper and long-lasting. Watch your dog’s body language, too—a lowered head and a tail tucked between his legs could indicate a dog who’s feeling vulnerable.
2. He’s bored or lonely
Dogs get bored just like people do. If left alone all day, an under-stimulated dog may turn to barking as an outlet for his frustration.
Naturally, many pet parents aren’t aware their dog is barking all day (unless an affected neighbor brings it to their attention). To that end, a pet camera can come in handy. Setting up a camera allows you to monitor your dog during the workday, so you can observe what kind of barking he might be doing.
3. He suffers from separation anxiety
Many compulsive barkers suffer from separation anxiety. According to the ASPCA, this type of barking is usually accompanied by at least one other symptom, such as pacing, depression, destructive behavior, or potty accidents.
4. He’s being territorial
Does your pup’s inner watchdog come out every time someone approaches your home? A dog who barks at perceived threats may be acting on his canine instinct to defend and protect his home turf. If you think this applies to your dog, look for alert posture and aggressive body language.
5. He wants something
Sometimes, barking is just your dog’s way of asking for something: a treat, another round of fetch, a potty break, your attention, even. While this type of barking is fairly innocuous, PetMD warns dog owners to be careful about giving in to their pup’s every whim. If your dog is rewarded with treats every time he barks, it will only reinforce this bad behavior.
6. He’s playing
Barking isn’t always indicative of something negative—dogs also bark when they’re excited or happy. Just as an exuberant toddler howls with giddy excitement at the playground, our canine pals can get extra barky during playtime.
Playful barking tends to be higher-pitched and is common among puppies and younger dogs. And unless it escalates into headache-inducing territory, this type of barking isn’t worrisome. It’s just how your dog expresses happiness in his uniquely canine way.
How much barking is TOO much barking? And what’s normal?
The truth is, you’ll never be able to completely silence your dog’s barking—nor should you. Barking is a healthy way of communicating and allows our dogs to express their needs and emotions.
The key is to distinguish ordinary, communicative barking from excessive, nuisance barking.
Which, yes, can be tough. At what point does ordinary canine vocalization tip over into maddening nuisance barking? When is barking acceptable, and when is it time to intervene?
This can be a hard line to draw. To determine the appropriate level of barking you should allow, it helps to nail down the reason behind your dog’s chattiness. A dog who barks when the doorbell rings isn’t really cause for concern. A dog who barks because he’s anxious and lonely, on the other hand, requires some attention.
That said, there are times when “demand barking” is warranted. For example, a puppy in potty training may bark or whine when he needs to go outside. And since we’d rather listen to a little barking than clean up yet another accident, this type of barking is more positive than it is negative.
Your neighbors should also factor into the equation. If you live in an apartment building where neighbors are just a thin wall away, consider asking nearby residents if your dog’s barking is an issue. After all, they’ll have a better idea if your dog is barking all day while you’re at work.
If you find that your dog’s barking is bothering neighbors, or that it appears to stem from negative conditions, don’t lose hope! It’s no small task, but there are ways to minimize your dog’s excessive nuisance barking.
Here’s our guide to putting an end to over-the-top yowling, whining, and yapping. (You’re welcome.)
How to stop nuisance dog barking
If your dog is giving his vocal cords a daily (or hourly) workout, here are some tips for adjusting his volume dial.
1.Ignore the barking
While it may seem rude, The Humane Society of the United States assures us: it’s perfectly OK to ignore your dog’s nuisance barking. You’ll need to be persistent for this to work. If your dog is vying for your attention, ignore his barking until it stops.
And when we say “ignore” we mean IGNORE. As in: no touching, no eye contact, no interaction whatsoever. Any amount of attention bestowed upon your dog is giving him exactly what he wants, which only enforces the behavior.
When your dog realizes that nothing good will come of his barking and he decides to relent, reward him with a treat.
2.Block his view of potential stressors
You know what they say: out of sight, out of mind. The same applies to certain barky dogs. You can curb territorial or alarm barking by 86-ing anything your dog might see as threatening. Close the blinds, turn up the TV or radio to drown out outdoor sounds, and move furniture that gives easy access to windows.
A dog who can’t see outside “threats” won’t bark at them.
3.Exercise your dog
Since exercise tends to relax our canine counterparts, it’s a great way to reduce barking. A dog who’s pleasantly tuckered out will be less likely to bark out of boredom or frustration.
4.Bust boredom with toys or puzzle feeders
Boredom and barking often go hand-in-hand. Combat your dog’s urge to bark all day by providing him with a variety of interactive and mentally stimulating toys. Treat-dispensing toys are a great way to keep your dog entertained while you’re away at work.
5.Plug in a calming pheromone diffuser
If separation anxiety or stress is triggering your dog’s barking, dog-calming pheromone diffusers might be the answer. Studies have shown that the use of synthetic dog-appeasing pheromones (DAP) is effective at eliminating undesirable behaviors, including barking.
You can purchase a plug-in pheromone diffuser, or pick up a pheromone spray or collar.
6.Work on your dog’s social skills
If your dog’s social skills are rusty, he might develop the tiresome habit of barking at unfamiliar people and pets. To discourage this behavior, the American Kennel Club recommends making it a priority to socialize your dog. Introduce him to the neighbors, the mailman, the friendly Boxer across the street. Don’t forget to reward your dog’s positive interactions to reinforce this behavior.
7.Teach your dog a “Quiet” command
If your dog’s penchant for barking is spiraling out of control, it’s essential to teach him to be quiet on command.
How, exactly, do you accomplish this? The experts at DogHealth.com offer these guidelines for keeping the peace:
- Teach your dog the command for “speak”—No, that’s not a typo. Believe it or not, your dog will need to master speaking on command before he can learn the command for “quiet.” (Here’s a handy guide on training your dog to “speak,” in case he hasn’t mastered that one yet.)
When you’re ready to start training, give your command for “speak,” and let your dog bark for a moment.
- Give your “quiet” command—While your dog is barking, use your command for “quiet” (“hush” or “enough” are also acceptable). Use a kind but firm tone.
- Utilize treats—Place a tempting morsel near your dog’s sniffer. When he stops barking to smell the treat, reward him with a tasty bite.
- Be consistent—Practice makes perfect, so continue with these lessons until they sink in. Eventually, your dog will learn to button up when you say so.
Barking is one of those canine habits we’re not particularly keen on. But with patience, persistence, and (in some cases) professional help, it’s something you and your dog can work on together.
When you’ve reached your barking limit and you’re ready to hire a local trainer to help with training, Grumble Dog has your back. With thousands of local pup professionals, you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect fit.