There is a reason for every dog behaviour, whether it is barking, chewing, jumping up or digging up your rose garden. So, it may seem your dog barks at nothing but there is always a reason. The challenge is to find out why your dog is barking!
Dog barking is a natural behaviour and certain breeds are more inclined to bark more than others. These breeds were originally designed to alert us to the presence of intruders or presence of pests such as rodents.
Dogs usually bark as a response to something that has excited them or caused them to become concerned. They may also bark because they have learned that barking can be rewarding in a variety of ways. There are many reasons why a dog barks. And according to a canine scientist, Alexandra Horowitz’s book ‘Inside Of A Dog’, dogs have a handful of different barks, used reliably in a handful of different contexts.
Common reasons for dog barking and a few strategies to consider
Dogs view the family home and yard as being part of their territory. So when people or other dogs that are not part of their social group come close to their territory, they may bark to warn intruders off. You could give your dog treats to make visitors a rewarding experience for the dog. You could also consider blocking off the visual stimulus of people walking past.
Dogs may suffer from frustration if their environment (house and backyard) is lacking stimulation, regardless of the size of your yard. Make your dog’s life more interesting with daily training sessions, a treasure hunt by hiding treats and bones in your backyard and regular outings to new areas etc.
Dogs are generally social animals who enjoy attention from their family, and barking tends to gain attention. Avoid paying attention to your dog when he is barking, do not even look in his direction. Pay more attention when your dog is quiet.
Your dog may tend to bark when he is playing. He may simply be excited about the play session, or could be frustrated about access to toys he wants. Reward your dog for calm, quiet behaviour. Wait until your dog stops barking to begin play. Keep play sessions low intensity to prevent escalation of excitement.
A dog that is very dependent on you and follows you everywhere may develop an anxiety problem. Your dog may bark when you leave to go away somewhere. Give your dog ‘alone time’ so that he learns to relax when on his own. Give the dog access to the house when you are out and in particular, a bed or den in a safe familiar place. Give food puzzles, toys and a bone when you’re leaving the house. Keep arrivals and departures very matter of fact and low key.
(You may need to see a qualified veterinary behaviourist if your dog is already showing signs of anxiety).
Take your dog to the vet for a check-up. Health problems can make your dog irritable, and therefore more likely to bark.
Some dogs are easily excited and prone to barking when aroused – particularly some herding and terrier breeds. Reward for calm, quiet behaviour and create distance between your dog and the stimulus.
I suggest you write down when, where and with whom the dog barking is happening and any other possible triggers to see if there is a pattern. Then once you have worked out why your dog is barking you can address the problem with the appropriate strategy.
Never punish your dog for barking!
Some people will punish their dog for bark by yelling at the dog, hitting him with a rolled-up newspaper, or using electronic, chemical or noise emitting collars. In most cases, these methods do not work in the long term because the underlying reason for barking is not addressed. I strongly do not recommend these methods because they are likely to make your dog anxious and stressed, which can cause more behavioural issues.
Barking can be very wearing for everyone. If the problem is getting worse, don’t hesitate to find a positive dog trainer or talk to a veterinary behaviourist to give you an educated assessment and specific strategies to help your dog to be happier and bark less.
Dog bark sources
Delta Institute of Australia
Inside Of A Dog by Alexandra Horowitz
Don’t Shoot The Dog! by Karen Pryor