Why is my dog barking? What’s he trying to say? If I only knew. There are many useful and valid reasons for a dog to bark, but when it becomes constant, often we’re left frustrated and perplexed. Think of a parent holding a crying newborn all night. Is she sick? Is she acting spoiled? Like any concerned parent we would search until the answer was found. Unfortunately, as doggie parents, we’re not always as persistent. Too often owners blame their dog, calling him “naughty” or buying shock collars in desperation. But dogs don’t bark for the sake of barking. They’re actually talking (through vocalization and body language) and have something to say. Our job is to play detective, dig deeper, and find out what that “something” is.
This article shares 4 clues to why your dog may be barking, plus 7 practical steps to help you solve the problem.
4 Clues to why dogs bark.
1. Dogs may bark when they have unmet needs— i.e. hunger, thirst, a wound that needs attention, the need to go out to potty, to run and play, the need for companionship. A caring owner watches what his dog is trying to communicate and acts accordingly. Keep in mind that as our dogs age we will need to adapt. An older dog may become incontinent for example and need more frequent potty breaks.
2. Dogs may bark if they don’t have a fulfilling activity. Most breeds had a job to fulfill long ago, such as herding or hunting. Today, however, many dogs sit around bored all day, which can result in negative behaviors, including constant barking. Hiring a herd of sheep to occupy our dog may not be feasible, but there are countless activities and canine sporting events which can help—i.e. daily walks, playing fetch, agility, obedience, doggie day care, dog parks. I used to take my Labrador for a weekly swim. Be creative. Almost any form of exercise can be fulfilling! Keep in mind that certain breeds may need more exercise than the average doggie, like the Border Collie and the Viszla. Don’t be deceived by the “lap dog” description for the breeds such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Considered a “Sporting Toy breed,” they also need a fair amount of exercise. That’s why it’s so important to give careful thought to our lifestyle before bringing a dog home. Whether you have a purebred or a mixed breed dog, every pooch has a unique make up and needs that we can try to meet.
3. Dogs can be territorial, it’s their instinct. Dogs will bark at strangers entering their territory and may continue until either the stranger leaves or is accepted by the owner. This territorial greeting can be useful and warn of danger. Some dogs also display a claim to their territory by showing concern for their pups or toys. As their leader, we must know when to intervene and communicate what we expect.
4. Dogs may bark when excited— i.e. feeding time, play time, the arrival of company. A perfect example comes to mind. I call it my “doggie doorbell.” At the sound of the bell a choir of excited barks and wagging tails begins and will not end until each of my dogs has been adequately greeted in royal fashion. Dog owners often spell words like “walk” or “treat” to prevent unnecessary barking, only to discover their dogs can spell. Fortunately, the barking stops when the excitement ends.
So how do we react when faced with a barky dog?
- Verify health and safety: First and foremost, make sure your dog is not barking out of distress for health reasons. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact your vet.
- Make sure his basic needs are met—food, water, potty breaks, appropriate shelter . . .
- Don’t scold your dog. Scolding out of frustration or anger will only bewilder or scare him. Be patient and calm. Continue to observe your dog for clues as to why he is barking.
- Redirect his attention. Rather than scolding, redirect his attention to something else—to a toy, a game of fetch, your soothing company.
- Consider the context when he’s barking. What’s going on around him? Is there a stranger walking through your yard? Has he been alone long hours? If the reason for barking is not evident, consult a trainer or veterinarian.
- Use positive training methods. If you need to correct behavior, use positive dog training techniques.
- Learn the different kinds of barks. Like words, different barks vary in tone, pitch, and intensity (speed), and carry different meanings. Read this article for more insight—Learning to Speak Dog: The Meaning of your Dog’s Barks
This 2 minute video sums up the proactive steps you can take when dealing with a barky dog.
Good communication seems to be the key to all lasting relationships, even with our dogs. I don’t believe there are “bad” dogs, only dogs with unmet needs living in a world where they are misunderstood. Once we understand the clues, the mystery of the barky dog can be solved.
Leila Grandemange is an award winning writer and the author of several charming books. She is a member of the Dog Writers Association of America and the recipient of the AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Public Service Award. She writes to share comfort and joy and the loving care of our furry friends!
Does your pet have his own health record book? Are you needing tips to help you raise your pup? Check out Leila’s latest books in her new puppy series . . .
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