Barking or better said excessive barking is one of the most commonly seen and complained about dog behavior problems. However, for the dog itself, the barking is not perceived as a problem at all.
In fact, it is a normal and natural mean of vocal communication with the environment. Dogs have barked, bark and will bark. It is part of who they are as a species. The fact that we sometimes, voluntarily or involuntarily, encourage barking is not helpful at all.
We usually encourage barking while the dog is still a young puppy. For example, we find it funny when someone so little barks at its empty food bowl or the toy rolled under the bed.
Furthermore, we feel pleased when our furry guardian barks to announce the arrival of the mailmen. It is no secret that at first, these behaviors are funny and amusing, but once the puppy grows up and the barking turns into a habit, the fun stops.
As a dog owner, you need to know that every dog has several types of oral communication methods and each type serves a different function for the dog.
Over time, it is possible for you to learn what your dog tells you by the way it shows it. This takes some time, but it is entirely achievable.
How Dogs Vocally Communicate
Canines have several forms of communications. Those forms include:
- Whining – is a short or medium-range mean on communication. Usually, the reasons for whining involve demonstrating submissiveness, frustration, pain and obtaining attention. Our modern dogs tend to whine a lot more than their wolf ancestors due to their attention-seeking personalities. Once again, this is on us. Think about it. You got a new puppy, and as soon as you leave it alone, it starts whining. Feeling guilty, you go back, pick the puppy up and comfort it. At that point, you unintentionally reinforce the whining by providing the puppy the attention it craved for.
- Grunting – occurs when two dogs meet or when the dog meets a person it is fond of. Grunts in dogs are similar to contented sighs in people.
- Howling – is a long-range mean on communication used in a plethora of circumstances. Some dogs tend to howl more, and some cannot howl at all. Dogs are provoked to howl due to auditory stimuli such as sirens and high-pitched sounds.
- Growling – can be used in play or more often in defense, as a warning signal or to show dominance. Aggression growls are usually associated with staring or snarling, while play-growls are associated wagging tails.
- Barking – as previously mentioned, due to human encouragement, barking is the most common type of vocal communication in dogs. Many dog breeds have been specially bred to bark as part of their working duties.
Why Dogs Bark
Since barking is defined as a multi-factorial issue, the right approach towards addressing it needs to be multimodal.
The first step involves identifying the cause and determining your dog’s motivation for barking. You cannot solve the barking problem if you do not know its roots.
When people, other dogs or other non-canine animals approach what your dog considers its territory, the barking starts. In these cases, the barking is motivated by anticipation and fear.
Common territories the dog considers as its own include your house, the house’s surrounding, and your car. Some dogs may consider its walking route as its territory.
Alarm barking is similar to territorial barking. In fact, they are so similar that some classifications categorize them as one.
However, alarm barking tends to be more pronounced than territorial barking. Alarm barking usually occurs as a response to every unusual sight and noise, regardless of the context.
Also, alarm barking may happen in any place, not just familiar territories considered as property.
The compulsive barking resembles a broken record. The dog barks not only excessively, but in a repetitive way. Some dogs more repetitively than others. Compulsive barkers usually pace around the house/yard or run back and forth while barking.
It is the most common type of barking in dogs kept indoors. The dog may bark to gain your attention and play with it or to make you give it toys and treats.
This type of barking is accompanied by whining and occurs when the dog meets beloved people, other dogs or non-canine pet friends.
When put in a frustrating situation most dogs feel helpless. In those situations, they find salvation in barking, hoping the situation will change if they are loud enough.
Common reasons that induce frustration barking include being confined to restricted areas and not being allowed to play with other dogs.
Socially facilitated barking
Some dogs are incredibly social and empathetic. As soon as they hear other dogs barking they cannot resist joining them. It only takes one dog to start barking for all the dogs in the neighborhood to bark.
Beyond The Usual Barking
Other problems may cause barking and are not categorized in the above-stated classification. These problems include injuries and illnesses, as well as separation anxiety related barking.
Injuries and illness
Pain is a common barking trigger. Many dogs in painful conditions will bark to either let you know how they feel or just as a response towards the pain.
Separation anxiety-related barking
Some dog breeds are predisposed to developing separation anxiety. Over time due to the separation anxiety these dogs may start barking excessively.
For the barking to be classified as separation anxiety related, at least one other symptom of separation anxiety must be present. Those symptoms include pacing, depression, uncontrolled elimination and destructive behavior.
Approaching The Problem
Territorial and alarm barking – the best way of preventing your dog from becoming territorial or alarm barker is by blocking its exposure to sounds and sights that might trigger unacceptable behavior.
Another practical solution is teaching your dog the “Quiet” command. The technique consists of allowing your dog to bark three to four times when triggered, and then without shouting, say “Quiet”.
If the dog continues to bark, approach it, hold its muzzle with your hands and calmly and repeat the command. Once your dog stops barking, tell it to sit down and reward its good behavior with a treat.
If the trigger is still present, keep giving small treats for as long as the dog stays quiet. If at any point the dog seems too focused on the trigger, defocus it by making a startling noise.
Compulsive barking – compulsive barkers can be triggered by anything (shadows, winds, mirrors, open doors, light flashes). Addressing compulsive barking is complicated and usually, require professional help. If you suspect your dog is a compulsive barking talk to a dog behaviorist.
Attention-seeking barking – use your body language to explain to your dog that this type of behavior leads nowhere. For example, as soon as your dog starts barking walk away from the room or put the TV on or act like you are talking to someone on the phone. The point is to let your dog now that you are occupied with something else, and his attention craving is not a priority at the moment.
Greeting barking – if your dog is a greeting barker, teach it the “Go to your spot” command. Telling your dog to go and sit in its spot before your guests arrive is a good way of preventing this issue. It is even better if you keep your dog occupied by putting some interesting toy in its bed or giving it some tasty treat to chew on. To avoid increasing your dog’s excitement over the guests keeps your greetings low key. If your dog tends to greet people during walks, gently pull its leash and reward it with a treat to defocus it from pedestrians.
Frustration induced barking – perhaps the most effective way of addressing this issue is preventing its manifestation in the first place. For example, if your dog gets frustrated and starts barking over not being able to reach its toys under the bed, close the space under the bed and prevent its toys from rolling under. If your dog is frustrated when confined to a specific area, either avoid confining it or make its confinement time interesting.
Socially facilitated barking – the best way to discourage this type of barking is by keeping your dog indoor while other dogs bark and redirecting its attention to food or plays. In some cases, it is effective to play some music to drown out the barking sound.
Barking associated with injuries, illnesses and separation anxiety – requires both veterinary care and appropriate behavioral management.
Generally speaking, there are six ways of controlling your dog’s excessive barking. Those are:
- Removing the motivation – find what triggers your dog’s behavior and once the trigger is identified either eliminate it or minimize it.
- Ignoring the barking – dogs perceive attention as rewards. If you ignore your dog while it barks, it will realize its behavior is not wanted. Ignoring means no touching, no looking and no talking.
- Desensitizing your dog to the triggering stimuli – this includes allowing your dog to gradually gets used to the trigger. New things are always scary, but once the dog familiarizes with them, they become less appealing.
- Teaching your dog the ‘’Quiet’’ command – how to teach this command is previously explained in this text.
- Asking your dog for an incompatible behavior – once your dog starts barking, command it to do something that is not compatible with the barking activity. For example, ask it to bring you a toy (if its mouth is filled with the toy, it will not be able to bark).
- Keeping your dog tired – there is much truth in the old saying – ‘’A tired dog is a good dog’’. In this case, by good, we mean quiet. Providing your dog with substantial amounts of physical and mental stimulation will keep it tired and unwilling to bark.
Regardless of what approach you decide on, it is essential to avoid using anti-bark collars. They are cruel, punishment devices that are not only ineffective but can also make things worse. Another option that needs to be avoided is muzzling your dog. Muzzling is cruel and can be dangerous for the dog’s overall health and well-being.
Expecting a dog not to bark is much like expecting a child not to talk. It is impossible and unreasonable. Also, we must pay credit to the fact that communicating with us is not easy for our dogs.
I mean the English language has hundreds of thousands of words and each of those words has its meaning. Dogs do not have their privilege.
Therefore, the next time your dog barks pay attention to the context and tone of barking. If you are attentive and careful, you may find out more than what meets the eye (in this case the ear) in the first place.
Keep in mind that even though the above-stated tips offer insightful ways of dealing with excessive barking, there is no universal approach. Every dog responds differently, and every dog owner implements the training techniques differently.
Find what works best for you and your pouch and stick to that. If you cannot handle things on your own, do not hesitate to ask for professional help.
The sooner you stop making excuses for your dog’s behavior and admit you have a problem, the easier it will be to manage the problem.
Last but not least, do not expect overnight miracles. Teaching your dog to bark less takes work, patience, time and most of all consistency.