Dogs bark for the same reason that people talk – because they have something to say! Understanding what that might be is the key to solving the problem of unwanted barking. Here are five things you should know about unwanted dog barking before you start trying to fix yours!
1. Your dog is trying to tell you something!
There is a reason your dog is barking. Barking is a form of communication, so our job is to figure what what he is trying to say. If we don’t, it’ll either get worse, or he’ll try a different way to get his message across. This is likely to be growling and snapping, but he’ll do whatever he thinks will work best to get his message across.
Maybe your dog is barking because of a potential intruder. If your dog barks at people or dogs that pass by your house or car, he is letting you know something might happen, and to get ready. He is also be telling them to keep away! He wants them to know they are near or on his boundary, but reinforcements are on the way, and to stay away to avoid conflict. His aim will be to get the whole family (ie you, AKA the reinforcements) riled up and ready for action! So if you run to the door shouting, he’s going to be particularly pleased with himself. If your dog is feeling unsafe because of intruders, he’ll need you to take control of the boundaries before he will stop doing his job!
An anxious or reactive dog might also be trying to stop another dog or person from approaching them. When uncomfortable, most dogs will start by trying to avoid other people or dogs. But when that doesn’t work, they upgrade to barking as a firmer way to say “leave me alone”. In this case, the answer is not to fix the barking, but to solve the problem. So, if they don’t like being approached by strangers, then take them away, or ask them to ignore your pup. Your pup will feel better when they feel empowered to alert you to a problem, and are confident you’ll keep them safe. You can work on socialisation and confidence building next!
Some personality types are more likely to bark than others. Watchdogs and Defenders are both concerned with territory and protecting the pack. An alert barker may never stop barking completely, but they can cut it down to just an quick bark to keep everyone up to date!
2. He doesn’t mind barking!
In fact, he probably quite likes it. Many people I work with expect a dog to prefer not to bark. But please don’t assume a barker will eventually get fed up with it and just stop. Just like some people can talk all day, some dogs are the same. In fact, some breeds just love to bark. Dachshunds, Schnauzers and Beagles are the worst for it, but other breeds enjoy a good barking session too from time to time.
Sorry to tell you, but he doesn’t really care about your nightshift neighbours, your sleeping toddler, the time of day or night, or dog wardens either. He has no concept that these things are a problem, so he’ll not feel that social pressure either.
3. It is effective
Barking is hard to listen to, for us. In fact, some dogs can reach as high as 90 decibels with their barking. Not good if you are trying to sleep, or have a headache.
When other forms of communication fail, barking is hard to ignore, which is what makes it so effective. So, if he barks enough, and gets a good result, then he’ll keep on doing it. Think of it like he’s wanting some attention and asking “would you mind playing with me for a bit?” He simply has a need and is asking you to fulfill it for him.
If you want this barking to stop, don’t reward it by doing what he asks. If you do, he’ll settle temporarily, but only because he got what he needed and he’s content again. But he’ll do it again next time he wants the same thing.
Ignoring alone won’t be enough either, you’ll need to find a new (quieter) way for him to ask for what he wants. Once you’ve got an alternative figured out you can stop responding to the barking. But, once you start, you must see it through. Imagine ignoring him while he barks his head off for 15 minutes. After all that time your willpower is exhausted and you can’t take any more. You give in and play with him just to shut him up. What he learned is that 15 minutes is the magic number. We already know that he can bark all day, so this is no challenge for him. If you try again to ignore barking in the future, you’ll have to do much better than 15 minutes, as he’ll not even be winding by that point next time!
4. He needs help
Dogs bark to recall their pack members when they are lonely, lost, in trouble, or in pain. If he is feeling any of these things, he needs the support of his pack, so he’ll call out to them. A retrievers bark can travel for a mile in good conditions, and even further than that, if conditions are excellent. So it’s an effective way to call everyone back if they’ve popped out for some sneaky pack business. If he gets a good response, he’ll feel better.
Likewise, he might be responding to another dogs anxious call. Maybe a nearby dog is feeling lonely and he is trying to make them feel better by responding to their bark.
Canine dementia can cause dogs stare and bark for seemingly no reason. Don’t panic though, high pitched insect and mouse calls can also cause dogs to stare and bark at the walls. If your dog has started doing this, it might be a good idea to get it ruled out though, just to be sure. Then get an exterminator, if it turns out you have mice!
5. He’s emotional
When dogs get too emotional, they bark. Maybe he is overexcited, surprised, angry, disgusted, sad, or anxious. Whatever the emotion, once he has breeched that emotional threshold, the barking becomes involuntary. So, there is no point in trying to stop him from doing it. No amount of shouting, treats, toys or anything else you might try will help. Instead, you must calm the situation down.
You can see what happens when emotions spike in this diagram. If you calm that emotion, and keep your dog under threshold, the barking will stop by itself. So, instead, consider the situation and find ways to balance the emotion out so he doesn’t get over threshold in the first place.
Check out my blog how to balance hyperactive and excitable dogs, the process is just the same for all emotions!
Are you struggling with a barking dog?
Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the greater Dundee area. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!