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Understanding Why Your Dog Barks

Understanding Why Your Dog Barks

A dog can bark for many reasons — to defend his territory, signal a stranger, get attention, say hello, express discomfort or frustration, and more. Understanding why a dog barks is key to getting him to stop.


A dog can bark for many reasons — to defend his territory, signal a stranger, get attention, say hello, express discomfort or frustration, and more. Understanding why a dog barks is key to getting him to stop. Sometimes, as in the case of compulsive barking, a veterinarian might recommend drugs. But, for the most part, there is no quick fix, and training, behavior modification, and environmental changes are the solutions.

Overview

Barking is one of several types of vocal communication tools employed by dogs. You may appreciate your dog’s barking when he or she signals that someone is at your door — or when he needs something (like food or a trip to the loo). However, dogs sometimes bark excessively or at inappropriate times.

Because barking serves many purposes, it’s critical for owners to determine why their dogs are doing it before attempting to address a barking problem. In fact, sometimes the barking is perfectly appropriate (as when alerting that stranger's approach) and/or a learned behavior. Does the dog use barking to get what he or she wants? For example, dogs that get attention for barking often learn to bark for food, play, and walks, as well. Therefore, training a dog to be quiet on command can be an important tool so that you can teach your dog a different behavior (such as “sit” or “down”) for getting what he or she wants.

Dogs of certain breeds may be predisposed to barking (appropriately, if annoyingly) more than others. Owners should be advised (hopefully before bringing one into a household) that certain types of dogs can be more difficult to train to quiescence than others.

Signs and Identification

Everyone knows what barking sounds like. Excessive barking, however, can be subjective. After all, some of us have a lower tolerance for this behavior. In any case, all dog owners should understand that attempting to resolve any dog’s barking problem includes having a veterinarian examine the dog to rule out medical causes of the unwanted behavior.

Indeed, identifying the cause of the barking behavior is crucial to its resolution.

Affected Breeds

Any breed of dog may be affected, but it is most prevalent among hunting and other working breeds of dogs. In these breeds, the ability and willingness to engage in what is obviously an enjoyable behavior bodes poorly for complete remission of symptoms.

Treatment

Medical causes of barking should be ruled out before embarking on any behavioral modification or drug therapy to diminish barking behavior.

It takes time to teach dogs to bark less, so owners shouldn’t expect a quick fix or that a dog will ever stop barking completely. Working with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist or a certified applied animal behaviorist or hiring a certified professional dog trainer is always recommended.


The veterinary behaviorist/certified trainer will help owners identify a dog’s type of barking. These are some of the most common solutions professionals will offer by way of reducing unwanted barking behavior.

Anti-Bark Collars

Anti-bark collars deliver an unpleasant deterrent (e.g., a loud or ultrasonic noise, a spray of citronella, and sometimes a brief electric shock) when a dog barks. Anti-bark collars are punishment devices and are not recommended as a first choice for managing a barking problem. This is especially true for barking that is motivated by fear, anxiety, or compulsion. Before using any anti-bark device, seek the advice and guidance of your veterinarian, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, a certified applied animal behaviorist, or a qualified certified professional dog trainer.

What Not to Do

Prevention

Prevention may be undertaken through pre-purchase counseling. Prospective dog owners with a low tolerance for barking behavior should be advised against adopting/purchasing breeds that have an affinity for barking or breeds that require a lot of exercise, unless the owner is prepared to provide frequent walks and other forms of activity.

Recognizing and avoiding situations that trigger barking and providing alternate behaviors that are more appropriate can also aid in the prevention of barking.

Contact us today if you have further questions.

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