Why does my dog bark?
Dogs bark, that we know. But why do some dogs bark more than others? And what should you do if your dog doesn’t stop barking? Discover all you need to know about why dogs bark + 3 tips on how to break their barking habit.
Why do dogs bark?
A dog’s behaviour is never right or wrong. It’s simply instinctive conduct that can develop into undesirable behaviour given the wrong set of circumstances. Desirable behaviour can be taught (and undesirable behaviour unlearned) via training, such as house training. Barking, digging, chewing, growling, jumping up or rolling in foul-smelling substances are all natural dog behaviours that can become problematic if left unchecked.
If your four-legged friend is exhibiting unwelcome habits, then it’s important to ask yourself: is this natural dog behaviour? If the answer to that is 'yes', you’ll be better able to understand your dog and can tackle it in the right way.
Dogs bark to communicate and express their emotions. Whilst it might seem like your dog is barking for no apparent reason, this is never the case. Nevertheless, some dogs do bark more than others and for a variety of different reasons. So, why do dogs bark?
- To get your attention
It’s essential to establish the cause of your dog’s barking. A little bark of joy during play or when the doorbell rings isn’t normally a problem. However, persistent barking can become an issue. So, what should you do if your dog is barking frequently and excessively?
To curtail your dog’s barking, it’s important to understand why he’s barking in the first place. Examine the barking from your dog’s perspective. If he’s barking at visitors, then he’ll not stop until the 'danger' has passed and your guests have left. Punishing your dog won’t help, as it doesn’t eliminate the cause of his barking. Instead, patiently teach your dog that visitors are not a threat, and calmly encourage him to get acquainted with the visitor in question. Distracting your dog with something positive, such as a fun game or tasty treat, also diverts his attention from the cause of the barking and stops the barking in its tracks.
In some cases, however, it’s not possible to distract your dog. He continues barking no matter what and even his favourite snack doesn’t interest him. If your dog is barking due to stress or anxiety (caused by fireworks for example) or at another dog, a frightening sound or something that he perceives to be scary then you must never punish him. He won’t understand why he’s being punished, his fear will increase, and you’ll only exacerbate the problem. Instead, try to eliminate the cause of his stress or give him the reassurance that he requires.
Dog sitter dilemma: your guest dog is barking non-stop!
Provide a home boarding, doggy daycare or dog walking service? The dog in your charge might bark more than you bargained for. In fact, it could be so bad that it disturbs the entire neighbourhood. What should you do in such a situation?
Many dogs won’t bark during the meet and greet, as it’s conducted in the owner’s reassuring presence. You’re therefore introduced to a calm and relaxed dog who (according to their owner) rarely barks and is fine when left alone for an hour or two. Yet, as soon as said owner departs, it’s a different story. The dog is clearly agitated and barks continuously, especially when left alone. In fact, he’s driving the entire neighbourhood barking mad!
Barking caused by stress or separation anxiety is perfectly normal and something that all dog sitters and owners must consider. Punishing the dog, locking him in a bench or leaving him alone in a room won’t help. It will only increase his fear and leave him feeling even more miserable than before. And the barking will continue. Dogs that suddenly find themselves in a new environment or situation can feel extremely uncomfortable, and it’s not unusual for them to bark when left alone. The solution is to offer plenty of companionship and affection.
Need to pop out for some essential groceries nonetheless? Then make sure that your furry companion has enjoyed a nice long walk and is thoroughly worn out before you go. Leave some snacks or a toy crammed with tasty treats to help keep him entertained. Don’t leave him in the garden, where he might react to environmental noise. Instead, settle him in the living room with the curtains drawn to ensure that he’s exposed to as little outside stimuli as possible.
Teaching your dog not to bark: 3 tips
1) Attention-seeking barking is conditioned behaviour. In other words: your dog barks in order to receive attention, such as a reassuring pat on the back, some warm words of affection or even a reprimand. Whilst not easy, it is possible to break this habit. First and foremost, it’s important to ignore attention-seeking barking. You decide when playtime starts and ends, not your pampered pooch. When barking is no longer rewarded by (positive or negative) attention, your dog’s reason for barking is eliminated.
2) Particularly energetic dogs tend to bark excessively during play, when visitors call, or periodically throughout the day. The key here is expending their excess energy. So, make sure that your dog benefits from regular play and exercise, and enjoys plenty of physical and mental stimulation. This will regulate his energy levels and help moderate his barking.
3) Enthusiastic barking that occurs during play or when the doorbell rings can be reduced. Does your dog bark when greeting visitors? Then allow him to sniff a tasty treat and say 'shhhsh'. The sniffing will distract him and prevent him from barking. As soon as he stops barking, give him the treat and shower him with praise. Do this consistently and he’ll eventually react to the ‘shhhsh’ command without the need for treats.
The 3 techniques above can only be used to reduce 'positive barking’. If your dog is barking due to stress or anxiety, then you must remove him from the scary/stressful situation. That’s why it’s so important to understand what your dog is trying to tell you. Immerse yourself in his body language and emotions, and you’ll be better able to anticipate his needs. And, he’ll ‘have’ to bark less to make himself understood as a result.
Is your dog an excessive barker? Share your experiences below in the comments.
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