Why Do Dogs Bark?
Everyone knows that dogs bark. In fact, most people don’t train their dogs not to bark because they think they’re “supposed to”. If your dog’s barking seems excessive or inappropriate, we’re here to help!
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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Should I let my dog bark?
There are very natural, instinctive reasons for dogs to bark - barking, growling, body language, wagging the tail, and biting are all methods of communication for a dog. You may have noticed that your dog’s bark is different (tone, pitch, length, volume) depending on whether they’re hungry, alerting you to potential danger, or happy and excited. Dogs even have a pretty good sense of whether another dog’s bark is friendly or aggressive.
However, if the barking becomes excessive, perpetual, or situational, it may be due to behavioral issues. Many of these can be corrected or at least improved with proper training.
Common Reasons Why Dogs Bark
- With other dogs
- You may not hear it, but your dog may be talking to another dog down the street who is barking back
- With a person
- “Hello, I’m glad you are home!”
- It’s much faster (more efficient) for a dog to bark to get their point across to you than to “point” at a stranger or drag their empty food bowl to your feet
- Someone is at the door
- Something looks, smells, sounds strange
- “Don’t touch my hind legs, they’re painful and arthritic!”
- Often accompanied by pacing or urinating in the house
For more information on separation anxiety, check out our full article, here!
- May occur in dogs that rarely get walked/outdoor activity, stimulation, interaction with other dogs, people
- Triggers such as being leashed, cornered, or held
- Poor socialization with people, other dogs, other animals
- Territorial Aggression
- “This is *MY* yard/house/bed!”
Excitement/happy (often breed-related)
- You just got home from work
- Your dog sees his dog friend down the street
- You just pulled out the bag of dog treats
- The kids came home from college to visit for the holidays
- “Hellloooo, can you PLEASE pet/feed me?”
- If you feed your dog when they bark, you have inadvertently trained them to bark for food
- If you pet your dog every time they bark, you have inadvertently trained your dog to bark for affection
- Hunting dogs will often bark when they find the fox/rabbit as a communication to the hunter as well as excitement
Senility/Cognitive Dysfunction/Dementia/Medical Conditions
- Some senior dogs with age-related brain changes may bark excessively or all night long. This may be accompanied by pacing, not recognizing owners, a desire to go outside in the middle of the night for no reason, wandering aimlessly throughout the house, and more
- Sadly, some dogs develop brain tumors and may stop recognizing their owners and growl, bark, or even attack them
How do I get my dog to stop barking?
The first step to stop undesirable barking is to identify the cause. There is ALWAYS a reason that your dog is barking, even if it’s out of boredom. Since there are so many different causes, it can sometimes be challenging to pinpoint the exact reason your dog is barking. Some dogs may bark excessively for several reasons, not just one.
Try to take it step by step:
Who – is your dog barking at specific people or animals?
What – is your dog barking at garbage trucks, thunder, a balloon, or your weird new hat?
When – is your dog barking when you leave home, get home, when you’re not home, or all night long?
Where – is your dog barking on your property, in your home, at the vet, or in the car?
Why – is your dog’s food dish empty, did you forget to walk them this morning, are they very old and confused?
Make a list of the Who/What/When/Where/Why and discuss with your vet. It’s advised to rule out any unknown underlying medical conditions, especially if the inappropriate barking has just started out of the blue, this is a rescued dog that’s new to you, or the barking is accompanied by abnormalities that may indicate cognitive dysfunction or brain changes.
Please remember that barking is a natural behavior for dogs, and you should not attempt to completely prevent your dog from barking at all, ever, as this is unlikely to be successful. If you start training your dog at a young age, they’re more likely to bark only at appropriate times.
In terms of treating each specific cause of barking, use only positive reinforcement techniques. Never yell at, strike, or act aggressively towards your dog. This will only make the problem worse and could lead to signs of fear aggression.
A great resource for behavioral and training techniques is Dr. Sophia Yin’s YouTube channel with many videos of how to kindly train dogs with positive reinforcement only.
Have more questions about your dog’s behavior?
Schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets.