Dogs are like humans, meaning they communicate using their bodies and their “voices.” When barking is their preferred way to communicate, it can be equally entertaining and downright aggravating - depending on the situation.
I have great news for you if you have an excessive barker and want to find a way to stop the noise. You can and will be able to curb over-the-top barking, but it requires patience, observation, learning, and dedication. Sounds like any other form of dog training, eh?
One important thing to mention here is that most canine communication happens via body language, including posture, body movement, ear, eye, tail position, etc. Therefore, barking is actually the lesser of their communication modes.
However, humans are far more likely to respond to barking than body language if they aren’t trained otherwise. As a result, dogs quickly learn that their diligent attempts to communicate via body language go ignored, while barking gets immediate attention. This creates an unpleasant cycle if it’s not reversed.
For this reason, I highly recommend all dog owners take a group dog training course or enjoy a few private training sessions in your home. That is the best way to learn to address non-verbal and quieter canine communication, which drastically reduces the amount of barking a dog does to communicate with you.
These are five of the most common reasons dogs bark and what you can do to provide calming reassurance or redirect more negative excessive or habitual barking.
When dogs are excited, they are bursting with energy, and their jumping, wriggling, and circling, paw-tapping bodies may not be enough to contain it. These barks are happy, often higher-pitched, and may also move into yowls. They are accompanied by undeniable joy in the dog’s energy. You may hear excited or playful barks or yips when you return from work or being away when you grab the leash, or as you pull into a favorite dog park. You may also hear exciting barks when a dog is playing with a canine or human buddy.
Ever heard a neighbor’s backyard dog barking all day (or all night?). If your dog is bored, s/he may continue coming up to you in a play position (front legs and head down, rump up, wagging tail) or alert (straight body and straight, erect tail), with a lower, “harr-rrruf.” A whine or may emerge as well because they want to exercise, play, or work.
If boredom barking goes unaddressed, more destructive behaviors (chewing, digging, etc.) may ensue to get your attention and occupy their minds and bodies. Giving your dog regular, ample exercise and/or playtime each day is the best way to eliminate boredom barking.
Attention-seeking barks, or hunger barks, typically occur in rapid succession with a pause in between. They may start fairly quiet and then escalate. This is the bark of a dog in a backyard who wants in and is ignored.
Beware of this bark. If you honor it with attention, you reinforce the behavior. Attention-seeking barks are one of the most important to correct and redirect as they become a major nuisance and can get you in trouble by fed-up neighbors. Attention barking is also associated with dogs who have separation anxiety.
A bark from pain or discomfort is typically on the higher-pitched side and is very sharp and short (staccato). It’s often followed by a whine. Acute pain that fades (like a knock into a table or planter) sends the dog back into play or normal motion. If the pain lasts, you’ll see whining, shaking, and the dog may hunker down into a favorite bed or hidey-hole if s/he doesn’t come directly to you.
Like attention-seeking barks, barking stimulated by feelings of fear, anxiety, or a territorial defense needs to be checked immediately, or barking becomes habitual. This is the loud abrupt barking that occurs when a stranger passes by, someone knocks on the door, or when a stranger or dog approaches.
Territorial or fear-based barking is often accompanied by raised fur on the neck and back, growling, and teeth-baring. A dog feeling aggressive or territorial will have alert ears, a body at attention, and a straight, erect tail. Dogs feeling afraid or anxious may crouch or lower their body. Their tail will be low or between their legs.
Dogs deserve to get a bark in or two, but excessive barking requires correction. There are a few things you can do to avoid excessive or annoying barking.
Breed selection (even if you adopt from pounds) is essential. You need a dog that fits into your lifestyle. A Husky/cross is not the right match for a sedentary human, and a Great Dane is not the best companion for an avid runner. Research dog breeds and glean as much information from breeders or the shelter’s employees to ensure you choose a dog that can quickly settle into your household rhythm and style and who won’t need more or less than you have to offer. Some dog breeds tend to have a higher probability of barking.
Dog trainers are happy to speak to you about your goals and how your family functions to help you select the best dog personality for you.
If your dog barks to be fed, and you feed him, you’re perpetuating the cycle. The same goes for a barking dog honored with a walk or pets “to quiet him.” Establishing a meal/activity schedule is helpful for dogs that fixate on those types of things because they know what to expect (they have an uncanny internal clock!).
Ensuring your dog gets enough exercise is essential. If your dog barks, you can say, AAAAght, “no bark” and shake a can with beans in it, or give him/her a squirt from the water bottle to disrupt the barking feed. This Pet Convincer is also an excellent training tool when used as directed.
Then, when your dog is calm, give praise for being calm and give the dog a treat, food, a walk, or playtime. This reinforces rewards for quiet and establishes barking doesn’t serve as a means to the dog’s end.
If a dog is prone to barking at dogs approaching on a walk, use a “watch” command and be alert with your dog so /she knows you’re paying attention. If the dog lunges or barks, you correct the behavior and then praise the dog when s/he resists barking/lunging the next time.
Are you having a hard time figuring out why your dog is barking or what to do about it? Contact Alternative Canine Training, and we promise we’ll find a solution.