Barking is a normal part of dog behaviour and one of many forms of vocal communication. Sometimes barking works in our favour; many dog owners are happy when their dogs bark at strangers that approach their home or to let them know that they need to go outside for a bathroom break. However, sometimes a dog’s barking can get out of hand and can cause conflict with neighbours or just be plain annoying. Because barking serves a variety of functions, it’s really important to identify its cause and your dog’s motivation for barking before you can develop a training plan to address excessive barking. Here are some of the most common types of barking to be aware of:
If your dog barks at any and every noise he hears and new thing that he sees, he’s probably alarm barking. Someone is here! Something is happening over there! This is normally the type of barking that happens when your dog hears someone at the front door. Again, some barking might be ok. However, a lot of dogs (especially ones that tend to be fearful or anxious) have trouble calming themselves down once they get started.
Reactive, Nervous Barking
If your dog barks excessively when he sees another dog or a strange person, he might be barking reactively. The sight of a strange dog or person causes a lot of dogs some anxiety or fear – why is that person/dog here? What does he want? Is he going to hurt me? Barking is one strategy that some dogs use to scare away something that makes them nervous. “Don’t mess with me! Look how tough I am!!” And most of the time, barking works! The other person or dog continues on their walk and moves farther away from your dog. Your dog doesn’t know that that’s what they were going to do anyway – he just knows that he barked, and the scary thing left. Barking works and he will be more likely to do it again in the future.
Some dogs bark excessively when they are bored or frustrated. If your dog is barking because he’s bored, he’s trying to let you know that he’s not getting enough exercise or enough mental stimulation. Imagine if you were stuck in a house or yard all day with no TV, no cell phone, no computer, and no one else to talk to. Eventually you are going to make up your own game to give yourself something to do with your extra energy. Some dogs dig holes or eat the garden. Other dogs bark.
Some dogs bark when they are frustrated. It might happen during a training session when he can’t figure out what his trainer wants him to do. It might be because he doesn’t have access to playmates. Or maybe it’s because he is confined behind a gate or in a crate and he’d like to be out where the action is.
Sometimes when dogs get excited, they start barking and it can be difficult for them to calm themselves down enough to stop. Often times these are dogs that are easily over-stimulated or excited by novel things, things that move, greeting people, and playing with other dogs. These are usually the dogs that also bark for the sheer enjoyment of doing it. It’s fun to make noise!
Some dogs learn that barking gets them attention, food, toys, or anything else that they want. For them, any attention is good attention. Furthermore, if your dog continues to bark for attention or to demand that you give him something, chances are that he’s eventually being rewarded for doing so. Be careful about how and when you deliver rewards to him if you want the barking to stop!
Illness or Injury
Sometimes dogs bark more when they are in pain or not feeling well. If you notice a sudden change in your dog’s behaviour, it might be a good idea to get him checked out by the vet to make sure that there are no underlying medical conditions that need to be addressed.
A dog who has separation anxiety feels extreme distress when their human is gone and/or when they are alone. Separation anxiety can vary widely in its intensity and it can also manifest in many forms including: heavy panting, drooling, accidents in the house, trying to escape from confinement, scratching/digging at doors or windows, and excessive barking. If you are concerned that your dog may have separation anxiety, contact a professional dog trainer that specialises in behaviour modification and positive reinforcement right away.
Each type of barking serves a distinct function for a dog, and if he’s repeatedly rewarded for his barking—in other words, if it gets him what he wants—he can learn to use barking to his benefit. When you start working on a training plan to address excessive barking, keep in mind that it will take some time to teach your dog to bark less. It’s not realistic to expect a quick fix or to expect that your dog will stop barking altogether.