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What to do if your dog’s barking is driving you mutts!

Approx. 7 minutes read

Barking is to dogs what talking is to humans. Do we only talk in a single tone at a consistent volume with the same people every day?

No.

We whisper. We laugh out loud. We converse in a moderate tone. We raise our voices when we feel we’re not being heard. Or we emit bored noises when we don’t have much to say, but feel the need to say something. There are so many ways to communicate just with our voices. When other people are bothered by the way we communicate, they can simply tell us to be quiet or to ask us what we mean or to repeat what we said, etc. Do we do the same with our dogs?

In this article, we’ll explore why dogs bark, which circumstances are most likely to make them bark, how to ‘listen’ to their barking, and how to stop a dog from barking.

Four reasons why your dog barks

There are many different reasons why your dog barks. If you want to get him to stop barking, you need to understand why he’s barking in the first place. The intention behind the barking is a very impawtant part of what triggers him – perhaps you can identify your dog in these descriptions:

Territorial barking

There are a few aspects to territorial barking, and it helps to also take their body language into consideration. Your dog is inclined to pawtect his territory (with you in it), so if someone approaches your gate or window, he will bark loudly and probably with his hackles raised, his tail straight and with a tense and upright stance. Why do dogs bark when the doorbell rings? Exactly for this reason – someone has entered his territory and he doesn’t like it. He is also communicating his fear because the person/people approaching are unknown to him and he’s unsure of what will happen. They may pose a threat to you and to him, so he’s telling you about this intrusion while also telling them to back off or else!

Attention-seeking barking

If your dog wants you to feed him, play with him, take him for a walk, or just give him more attention, he may have given you a ton of cues that slipped your attention, so now he’s doing the loudest, most obvious one: barking at you. These barks sound excited and can be delivered in a ‘rapid fire’ way. His body language is not going to be as tense as during territorial barking, but he will be very intent on making sure you get the message. He’s saying Hey! Look at me! Let’s go! Feed me! Pet me! Play with me!

Boredom barking

Dogs need physical and mental stimulation. If they lack either, they can become bored and, just like when you communicate even though you’ve got very little to say, dogs do the same. It relieves the tension of boredom – literally giving them something to do. Boredom barking is just one of many boredom-induced behaviours your dog could get up to – such as digging, chewing shoes, and looking for other mischief. If you’ve ever asked why your dog barks so much for no reason, he’s probably boredom barking (in which case, there’s definitely a reason and you need to play with him!).

Pain barking

If your dog barks or squeals when you try to touch him or during play, it could be that he is experiencing pain or the anticipation of pain. This is yet another form of communication and it requires that you hear your dog loud and clear. It’s probably time to take him to the vet and make sure you can find the source of the pain.

How to stop your dog barking – no matter the reason

Since there are different reasons for your dog’s barking, the methods for getting him to stop will be different as well.

How to stop territorial barking

The purpose of territorial barking is to warn you about an intruder or a change in the dog’s environment, which is threatening to him. It could be someone walking past your gate or window – something that is even more threatening if the person is walking with another dog! Territorial barking also communicates your dog’s fear. The more you allow territorial barking to continue, the more intense it will become because your dog thinks he’s merely doing his job (which is especially true in watchdog-type dogs).

So how do you stop a dog barking at strangers? In this instance, you need to reinforce your leadership: come and see what your dog is alerting you to, and take control of the situation to manage his fear. Give him the guidance he needs:

  • acknowledge his barking
  • let him know he’s okay (there’s no need to fear)
  • and then give him another job to do

It will not help to reprimand or correct him, or tell him off for barking, as this will only increase his state of fear. Being shouted at or scolded will escalate your dog’s stress levels, which will probably trigger more barking. Calmly acknowledge that he is doing a good job (don’t give treats because this will reinforce the barking) and redirect his attention towards something else like fetching a toy or going to inspect another room. This needs to be done calmly to reduce that high energy that comes from territorial barking.

Attention-seeking barking

When your dog is barking for attention, reacting to him will give him exactly what he wants and encourage more barking! If he’s barking to tell you Hey! Look at me! Let’s go! Feed me! Pet me! Play with me! – and you react by even looking at him or telling him “Quiet!”, then he knows that barking works and he’ll do it again and again every time he wants your attention. Again, when left unchecked, attention-seeking barking will escalate and become more difficult to discourage the longer it’s allowed to continue.

Difficult as it may be, the way to discourage or even stop attention-seeking barking is to ignore the barking trigger, sigh and calmly say, “Oh, well” (or something similar), get up and go into another room. Do this just for a few minutes or until the barking stops. If you return to where you were and your dog remains quiet, reward him with a treat.

Boredom barking

If your dog is barking out of boredom, don’t shout at him from the other room to be quiet. He won’t understand your words, and shouting just sounds like encouragement, so he will continue to bark because you’re cheering him on! The way to stop boredom barking is to stimulate him enough to eliminate his boredom altogether!

If your dog is already aroused enough to be boredom barking, first get him to stop barking before addressing the problem. Stay calm – this will counteract your dog’s hyped up state. Then physically move your dog away from wherever he is barking, and give him something to do. Tell him to go to his bed or give him some other ‘place’ cue. By giving him something to do or somewhere else to go, you are creating a new environment and setting him up for success. When he focuses on you and is
ready to do something else, reward him.

When your dog is out of that aroused state, calm and ready to listen to you, it’s time to start a new play or walking routine. Set up a routine you can perform with your dog every day in order to reduce or completely eliminate any chance of him feeling bored. He will also be nice and tired at the end of the day, which will reduce any chance of him barking at night.

Other instances when dogs bark

If your neighbours tell you that your dog barks incessantly while you’re out and you return home to other signs of separation anxiety like damaged furniture, poop or pee indoors, scratches on the door, and a dog who appears very stressed, yet happy to see you – it’s time to address the underlying problem. Separation anxiety is extremely stressful for your dog; and most often it can’t just be medicated away or waited out. Speak to your vet to find a long-term solution – which may include a pet sitter during the daytime if you work away from home.

Why do dogs bark at night? Night-time barking may be for a number of the same reasons listed above:

  • territorial barking – if your dog hears or sees someone/something in your yard at night; or hears other dogs barking around your neighbourhood.
  • boredom barking – if your dog has snoozed for most of the day and is not tuckered out, he may be awake and bored at night. Barking is his way of telling you this.
  • anxiety/loneliness – despite evidence that proves dogs will be more protective of you if they sleep indoors, many people still insist on leaving their dogs outside at night for security. This does not make them better watchdogs – instead, dogs who sleep outside tend to be more anxious, since – being social animals – they’d rather be close to you.

In Part 2 of this conversation, we’ll look at how to stop a dog from barking right at the start, as well as discuss the ins and outs of dog bark collars.

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