Do you ever wonder why your dog looks at you and barks when he wants something, or why he barks at every passer-by he sees through your window and at every car door closing in your neighborhood? Dogs bark as a way to communicate with us and with other animals. A dog’s bark can convey several different emotions. With time and experience, an attentive dog parent can tell the difference between his dog’s barks and understand what his dog is trying to say. A bark can let you know that your dog is ready for his dinner, or warn you that someone is on your property. Let’s look at some of the reasons our dogs want to communicate with us!
A common reason for our dogs’ barking is attention seeking. This can also be called frustration barking, boredom barking, or separation anxiety barking. When a dog is left alone or confined to a crate for a long period of time, it only makes sense that he would bark to get your attention or out of frustration. He wants to let you know that he is there and that he wants out or wants your company. This barking can also show that he has a lot of pent up energy that he needs to run off in the yard. If you are indoors and your dog has been in the yard for a while, he may bark to let you know he is tired of being outside and that he wants to come back in.
Warning or Protection
When a dog or a person comes near your house or yard, or near you, your dog may feel protective and bark to ward off danger or warn you. The same thing may happen when someone knocks on your door or rings your doorbell! Your dog wants to protect what he feels is his territory, where he spends most of his time. Dogs may bark at these times in a warning to whoever is at your door, to alert you that someone is at your door in case you didn’t hear, or possibly in fear of what your dog thinks is at your door. This really depends on each dog’s personality and training. When you go to answer your door, some dogs may continue to bark somewhat aggressively, while others may tuck tail and run to another room.
Dogs often bark at playtime when they are excited, usually accompanied by bouncing and tail wagging. I think this is a great time for dogs to bark, as they are communicating their happiness to you! You just don’t want it to go on for long periods of time, and it usually doesn’t. My dogs will bark when I don’t throw the ball fast enough and they are ready to go. At off-leash dog parks, groups of dog will run around chasing each other and happily barking.
Reinforcement and Reward
Another reason that dogs bark is sometimes due to us, as pet parents, rewarding barking instead of ignoring it. When our dog starts to bark at something and we want him to stop, we should not rush over to him and start petting him and talking to him in a soothing voice. Sure, the barking will stop eventually, but what you have done is teach your dog that he gets a reward for barking (your attention and petting) and he thinks that he should now do this behavior frequently to get more reward. If your dog barks because he wants out of his crate and then you let him out to stop the barking, you have reinforced and rewarded the barking again. Your dog got exactly what he wanted by barking! The same is true when your dog barks at someone out the window and then that person eventually passes your house and walks away. Your dog thinks he really did some good and got the person to leave. This again reinforces the barking behavior.
How Can I Eliminate Excessive or Annoying Barking?
When we talk about eliminating barking, we should probably use a different word. We want our dogs to be able to bark sometimes, when appropriate! This is an important way that they communicate and we shouldn’t completely take it away. Instead, we should seek to decrease barking, and train our dogs to know when it is appropriate and when it’s not. It is important for dogs to be dogs!
Exercise is probably the easiest way to quiet barking from frustration and boredom. If your dog barks while you are at work all day, or goes crazy when you get home in the evening, then exercise should be your first move. Take your dog for a long walk or run, or play twenty minutes of fetch in the backyard before you leave for work. A tired dog is a dog who sleeps instead of barking. If someone can come home at lunch to exercise young dogs or those with extra energy, that would also be helpful! Again, as soon as you get home for the day, take your dog for a walk. You guys can bond and enjoy the walk together after a long day for both of you. I know that in my house, it is much quieter when my dogs are tired!
If your dog barks at the doorbell and won’t stop, or barks incessantly at every person who walks by your house, then training is the ticket. The only way to help your dog understand that you want him to stop barking so much is through training. Read 10 Training Secrets Every Pet Parent Should Know here.
Remember not to yell at your dog when you become frustrated, this will not help. Your dog may, in fact, think you are both barking joyfully together when you yell! Instead, use a calm and assertive voice. You may want to deepen your voice also. Choose the command that you want your dog to associate with no barking. It could be “Cease”, “Quiet” or even “Carrot”. Whatever you choose is fine!
Be prepared at all times your dog is likely to bark. The key to training is consistency on our part! Have a bag of small delicious treats or even pieces of chicken handy.
When your dog starts barking, use your command. Say “Quiet” and ignore your dog and his barking until it stops. As soon as your dog stops barking, give him a treat and praise. Then you should gradually have him go longer lengths of time without barking to earn the treat. Keep doing this training consistently until your dog catches on. Eventually, you should be able to use your command without a treat and your dog should respond. If you have multiple dogs with a barking problem, you will probably want to work with each of them individually at first until they have the idea down.
Make sure the treat you are using is more attractive to your dog than barking at the mailman! Give him something delicious.
There are also some products that you can use along with training for particularly difficult dogs. You can read more about anti-bark collars and other similar products here, but I recommend that you try training first! Most dogs will respond to training if we do it correctly.