All dogs bark, and they bark for many different reasons. But what if your dog just won’t stop barking? They’re likely trying to tell you something, and it’s up to you to figure out what that is.
“Barking is driven by a whole bunch of things,” says Dr. Kristina Spaulding, PhD, CAAB. “And while some dogs don’t bark much, they’ll sometimes find other ways to show their emotions or signal that they want something—like pawing at you, jumping, mouthing, stealing things, or finding other ways to get into trouble.”
If your dog is being overly vocal or barking excessively, here are some of the common reasons for the behavior.
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1. They Want Something
Unlike other types of barking, demand barking has a specific and identifiable cadence to it, Spaulding says.
“Demand barking tends to be shorter—a single bark or a few in quick succession,” she says. “There are more pauses in between, and the dog is usually looking at you or the thing they want. It’s much more controlled.”
The million-dollar question with this type of barking is whether you should respond to it.
“I tend to ignore it or actively get up and walk away if a dog demand barks at me,” Spaulding says. That’s because caving and giving dogs what they want can reinforce the behavior and encourage them to demand bark more in the future.
If you decide you want to give in, Spaulding says it’s best to do that after the first or second bark, if you can. Waiting teaches your dog that they have to bark a lot to get what they want, and they may become problematic in the future.
2. They’re Alarmed
Does your dog bark when the doorbell rings? That’s alarm barking.
“Alarm barking is associated with something catching the dog’s attention,” says Sandra Sawchuk, DVM, primary care clinical instructor at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine.
If you want this type of barking to stop, the most important thing is to not yell at the dog. That just tends to rile them up even more. Instead, divert the dog’s attention as quickly as possible by taking them outside or giving them a favorite toy—something they can chew on will work especially well to get them to stop barking.
Consider training your dog to go to a spot away from the door whenever the bell rings. This might be something you can do yourself, or you may have to hire a certified professional trainer in your area to assist you.
3. They’re Anxious
The emotion behind anxious barking is similar to alarm barking, but the context can be very different.
Anxious barking may occur when you’re leaving the house for the day. You might also see it on walks when a stranger or another dog is approaching. This type of barking often gets confused for aggression.
“Typically, if a dog is barking in an aggressive context, it’s actually fear-based,” Spaulding says. “People are often confused by that because if dogs lunge and bark at the same time, that must mean they’re aggressive. But often, it seems to just be a display to keep them away from something they find scary.”
4. They’re Excited
During walks, a dog may let out an excited bark if they see another pup along the way, Spaulding says. “You’ll also see excitable barking when dogs are doing something they enjoy, like chasing or for agility dogs when they run a course.”
The fine line between fearful and excited can be especially difficult when you’re dealing with on-leash reactivity, and Spaulding says leash-reactive dogs should probably be evaluated by a certified professional.
In most other situations of excitable barking, however, the context is usually pretty clear.
5. They Simply Want Attention
Context means so much when you’re trying to discern why your dog is barking, but Spaulding says it can sometimes be entirely unclear to you what your dog wants, assuming they want anything at all.
“Often, a dog’s bark means they’re bored or frustrated, and they want us to fix it,” she says. “In situations where you’re not sure what the cause of the barking is, it’s fair to assume your dog would like to interact with you.”
How To Correct Barking Behavior
To stop a dog from barking excessively, try one of two approaches.
Train a Replacement Behavior
Teach your dog a behavior to replace barking, such as running to a mat and lying down. This works best for demand-style barking.
Note when your dog is likely to bark at you and what kind of attention they’re looking for (for example: access to the backyard, a game of tug, or dinner).
About 10 to 15 minutes before you expect them to start barking, ask them to go to their mat and lie down.
Once there, deliver the item or event your dog wants.
Train Your Dog to Bark a Little
The second method is to train your dog to bark a specific number of times. This is a good approach to alarm barking.
Once the dog reaches the target number of barks, mark it with a word or a clicker and feed them a treat.
If your dog begins to bark again, repeat this process.
Once they bark the target number of times and look at you, start to move farther away from them so they must leave the window or door they’re barking at to collect their cookie.
Soon, your dog will be asking for the things with behavior that doesn’t include excessive barking and limiting their alarm barking to something much more manageable.
Featured Image: Adobe/Igor Normann
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