Getting to the Heart of the “Problem”
It probably goes without saying that we all want a dog who sounds the alarm at the first sign of danger. But what if your dog sounds the alarm about everything? Or, worse yet, for no obvious reason at all?
The truth is, it’s perfectly normal for dogs to vocalize through barking in order to communicate. However, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be annoying at the same time. It’s also true that some dogs bark more than others, usually because we bred them to. This trait made them highly desirable for scaring prey out of hiding and protecting people or homes from danger. Similarly, some dogs don’t bark at all but still vocalize in other ways.
If your dog barks excessively, the first step to curbing it involves understanding what’s behind it.
Why Dogs Bark
It may not seem like it, but your dog isn’t barking just to annoy you or your neighbors. Instead, they do it for specific reasons, such as:
- Warning or alert: often sharp, loud, and with authority
- Fear or territorial: typically lower, sometimes including a growl
- Separation anxiety: excessive barking or whining when left alone, often seen with other behaviors, like pacing, toileting accidents, or destructiveness
- Reactivity: usually one bark, as if in surprise, followed by many
- Attention: fairly distinct and targeted at you, as if the dog is saying, “LOOK! PAY ATTENTION TO ME!”
- Boredom or loneliness: barking to hear their own voice or to get you to play
- Excitement: upbeat yipping or yowling, like before a walk or while playing with other dogs
- Pain: sharp and higher pitched or it fades while the barking continues
- In response to other dogs: one dog barks on a street and others join in
Some dogs also start barking when they get older from cognitive dysfunction. Signs of this problem include barking that seems to be in response to nothing or barking into a corner or at a wall in the night.
Taking a closer look at their body language can also offer additional clues to what your dog is trying to communicate. If you continue having problems identifying what’s behind your dog’s barking, contact your vet for an evaluation to check for underlying health problems, especially if they bark when touched.
Curbing the Enthusiasm
Were you able to identify one (or more!) reasons behind your dog’s barking? That’s right, sometimes there can be several. Then you’re ready to start encouraging behaviors you prefer instead. And the best way to accomplish that is by removing the source of their barking and give them something better to do.
Training is a valuable tool for every dog, but it’s especially helpful for those who are excessive barkers, fearful, or reactive. Not only does it help a dog gain confidence, but it teaches them how to behave in a preferred way.
There are several ways to use training to reduce unwanted barking, such as:
- Teaching “Speak” and “Quiet”
- Counterconditioning them to sounds or sights they react to with barking
- Teach them a “settle” verbal cue
Remember the key to successful training involves positive reinforcement and consistency.
Ignore Attention Seeking
Did you figure out that your dog is barking at you to get what they want? The secret to curbing this type of barking involves ignoring them. Unfortunately, that can be easier said than done because a dog can bark for a few minutes straight once accustomed to getting what they want.
Next time your dog starts barking at you for a walk, playtime, or extra treats, calmly say, “Too bad.” Then stop giving them any attention by turning away and leaving the room. If they remain quiet when you return, reward the behavior with a treat, pet, or play.
Add Brain Games
Dogs need physical and mental stimulation, especially if you want to avoid unwanted behaviors. If your dog seems to be barking out of boredom, reactivity, or pent-up energy, add more engagement activities to their daily routine. Some of our favorites involve stuffing and freezing Kongs, puzzles, and nose work.
We also love the “Treat & Train” remote controlled training system that not only helps teach impulse control but can help teach tricks while dispensing their daily kibble as the reward.
If your dog seems to be barking because they have extra energy to burn, they could benefit from more exercise and playtime. Every dog has different requirements for their physical activity, so experiment with playing fetch or taking longer walks to see if it improves their barking. You can also add supervised doggy daycare sessions to give them a safe place to play in a pack and a new environment to explore.
A Note on Reactive/Fearful Dogs
It’s also important to note that some reactive dogs bark more when overstimulated, so it’s key to have a clear understanding of what’s behind your dog’s excessive barking. If you have a reactive dog, increasing their physical activity can cause more problems than good. Instead, give your dog a chance to decompress with shorter or less frequent walks and see if you notice a change in their reactivity. To keep them properly “exercised,” increase their training activities and brain games.
Last but not least, as frustrating as excessive barking can be, never yell at your dog. When you do, they think you’re barking with them, which only makes the barking worse!
These are just a few steps to get started. If your dog continues to bark excessively, contact your vet for more personalized recommendations.