Blog by Irene Hislop
Why do dogs bark? Dogs communicate in many different ways from body language to vocalising to leaving their scent places. Canines are pack animals, and now, we’re their pack, and they have plenty to say to us. Understanding why your dog barks is the first step to preventing your dog from barking excessively.
Sometimes it is really obvious why your dog is barking. If someone is at the door or a strange cat has ventured into your garden, it isn’t much a mystery why your dog is barking. It can be annoying at times, but dogs are fantastic home security if we channel their instinct appropriately. Dogs can also bark out of excitement – like if they see their favourite bag of Go Native treats being dangled before them!
Sometimes it isn’t obvious why a dog is barking. We check out the windows and see nothing unusual. Yet our dogs seem to be reacting to something. Or often dogs bark at things we really don’t think merit a bark, like a dog down the road barking or a random person walking past the house minding their own business. Some dogs bark at police or fire sirens, or worse still, any time they encounter another dog on their walks.
Learning What Your Dog’s Barks Mean
You’ll notice that your dog doesn’t always sound the same when barking. Some barks are frantic. If your dog feels threatened, they might vocalise with a combination of barks and growls. Every dog is an individual, but some generalities apply.
Lower tones suggest your dog is not happy about the trigger for their barking, while higher pitch barks indicate happiness and excitement. The speed of the barking generally reflects urgency. For example, if your dog barks to tell you they need to go outside to toilet, they might start with a single fairly relaxed woof. But if you don’t let them out, they will bark faster and louder to get your attention.
- Alarm – Fast, loud barking with a lower tone is usually to alert you to something happening such as someone approaching or passing your home. The trick here is to teach your dog when it is appropriate and when it isn’t. Few of us appreciate our dog barking every time a neighbour passes, but we all want our dog to let us know if a stranger is creeping up to a window!
- Eagerness – Why do dogs bark at routine things like taking a walk at the same time every day? Pure joy and excitement. That walk is the most thrilling thing that happens in their life every day. Some dogs will bark at other dogs out of excitement at seeing them. Their body language is a good indicator of whether they are barking at another dog out of excitement or defensiveness.
- Need – Some dogs get vocal when they need or want something. They will bark at the door to go out or bark near their dish when they want more food or water. Or they might just come to you and bark at you. This is usually a short, sharp bark or two.
- Boredom – This is the bark we all dread. Your dog is barking to hear their own voice and they never seem to tire of it. The best cure for this is prevention. If your dog is prone to barking when bored, even a short walk before you go to work can help. A variety of toys including puzzle toys is also useful, especially when you rotate them so they have different ones every couple of days.
- Anxiety – Have you ever heard a dog barking and howling and thought from the heart-breaking sound of it that the dog was injured, but when you checked the dog was fine? This is usually separation anxiety. Dogs with serious separation anxiety shouldn’t be punished for it. You can work through it with a variety of approaches including gradually increasing time apart, using puzzle toys, playing the radio or by using a calming aid like Foran Nutri Calm, depending on what your vet recommends.
Teaching Your Dog When to Bark and When Not to Bark
Your dog’s bark is communication. Sometimes it is important, sometimes it is just acceptable but sometimes it is a nuisance. So how do you teach your dog not to bark inappropriately? It depends on the cause of the barking.
The most common scenario is the dog who barks at everything that moves outside. It is down to your own personal preference if you want your dog to alert you to people on your property. When your dog barks, let the dog see you check what is outside. If it not something you want your dog to bark about, calmly and firmly tell them ‘No’ and give a command to, for example, go to their bed. When they stop barking, praise them. This takes a lot of patience and repetition. If it is something you do want the dog to alert you to, such as someone on your property, calmly praise them while they bark, then tell them a command such as ‘quiet’ and give them a treat. Your expectations should be consistent. If it okay to bark at a stranger on your property, you dog should be allowed to give a woof when a familiar person approaches. The important thing is to respond when they bark and get the barking to stop.
Dog owners make one mistake very consistently when trying to teach dogs not to bark. We yell. Our poor dogs interpret this as us barking too, confirming to them that their barking is entirely appropriate and acceptable.