December 01, 2016

This week on the blog, we’re taking a closer look at dog barking. As well as looking into why some dogs bark more than others, we’ve got some top tips to help your noisy, barking dog become a happier, quieter housemate.

So let’s start at the beginning – why do dogs bark?

The answer is simple: it’s instinctive and natural. Alongside whines, growls and whimpers, barking is a form of canine communication that traces back to our domesticated dogs’ wild ancestors. However, domestic dogs share our homes, so lots of barking can become a real headache for human families (and their neighbours!)  

Must-know dog barking basics

If you’ve recently welcomed a new puppy or rescue dog home, it’s a good ideal to brush up on your dog barking basics. Here are our every-owner-needs-to-know essentials:

  1. If your dog starts barking, try to tackle the behaviour quickly with positive training – if you just ignore it, it’s likely to escalate.
  2. Try not to encourage your dog to bark in certain situations and not bark others – it’s easier for your dog to understand what’s required if you’re consistent.
  3. If you want to ‘train’ barking – for security reasons perhaps – always train with a command such as ‘speak’, so your dog understands when it’s appropriate to bark.
  4. Never shout at your dog when they bark excessively – this makes your dog think you’re joining in with the fun or share their fear. Instead, speak to them with a calm, firm voice.

Why do some dogs bark more than others?

There are many factors that influence how much your dog barks. These include genetics, socialisation, training (deliberate or accidental!) and the behaviour of other dogs who share the home or live close by. Regardless of root cause, there are 6 main kinds of barking:

  1. Demanding or attention seeking
  2. Boredom, loneliness or separation anxiety
  3. Greeting barking
  4. Territorial or alarm barking
  5. Play barking
  6. Contagious barking

Let’s take a closer look at these kinds of barking – both the causes, and how you can work your best friend to modify their behaviour.  

The attention seeking barking dog

Us humans like to chatter, so it’s perhaps no surprise that many of us tend to train our dogs to use vocal communication to let us know what they want, too. However, if you train your dog to bark when they want something – be that a treat, playtime, or to go outside – you can end up with a canine who grows up to become a demanding, attention seeking barker.  

Reducing attention seeking dog barking

The best way to avoid attention seeking barking is not to encourage it in the first place. Well mannered dogs wait for their owners to offer treats or instigate play, and don’t demand! But if it’s already too late, then it’s back to puppy school for your doggie dictator. When they bark at you to demand play, food or attention, ignore them – and make sure every member of the family does the same. It helps to cross your arms and turn your back, stare at the ceiling, or walk away. Then, once the barking stops and your dog is quiet, reward then with a treat and add the command “quiet”. Eventually, they’ll stop demanding, and start responding when you ask them to be quiet.

Top tip: consider a doggie doorbell if you want your dog to let you know when they want to go out.  

The bored, lonely or anxious barking dog

Do you have a dog who’s feeling lonely at home? Separation anxiety, boredom and loneliness are common causes of excessive dog barking. As pack animals, our dogs don’t always cope well spending long days home alone – and can resort to barking to break up the boredom and express their discomfort. Other dogs become fearful and anxious when separated from their human families, and will bark to call the pack back.  

Helping dogs who bark because they’re lonely

If the barking is recent, a pragmatic approach can be helpful. Make sure your dog is tired out with plenty of exercise before you leave them home-alone, and pop home during your breaks for playtime or walkies, or ask a friend to visit. If that’s not possible, consider a dog walker, doggie daycare, or even a pet-sharing service like BorrowMyDoggy. Food dispensing toys can be great boredom breakers too. If you ignore the early signs of boredom and loneliness, it can develop into something more serious: separation anxiety. There’s a full article on separation anxiety here – but if your dog is pacing, becoming destructive, or having accidents when you leave them home alone, it’s time to talk to your vet for expert advice.    

The dog who barks to say hello

This type of barking is signalled by tail-wagging, excited wiggling, jumping up and whining. It’s great to see your dog so happy to see other dogs or family members, but if their greetings are a bit much for you – or your visitors – it’s easy to train them to say hello more politely.  

‘Stay on the spot’ training for over-enthusiastic greeters

It’s easy to train your dog to go to a spot and stay there when the door opens.

  1. Choose a spot should be somewhere not too close to the door, but where your dog can see it.
  2. Place treats on the spot, and when your dog goes over to eat then, add the command “on your spot”.
  3. Practice, practice, practice!
  4. Then, once they go straight their spot on command, start opening the door – keep the treats coming, but only when they remain on their spot.
  5. Once you can open the door whilst they stay on the spot, get a friend or family member to help – they knock on the door, while you use the command and treat.
  6. Repeat with a few different visitors – the visitor can also treat, as long as your dog sits calmly on their spot.
  7. You now have a polite greeter!

Clicker training can speed up the process – find a good guide to the basics here.


The territorial or alarm barking dog

One of the most common reasons to bark is territorial or alarm barking. This is your dog warning you – and the encroaching animal or person – that they have entered the area your dog considers to be their territory or ‘personal space’. At home, some owners find this useful as a deterrent or warning of visitors. However, alarm barking can also happen out and about, if your dog finds something (or someone) scary or unnerving.


Reducing territorial dog barking

This type of barking can be reduced by limiting what your dog sees. When your dog is inside, you can reduce their access to windows and doors by drawing curtains or shutting blinds. If outside, make sure your garden fencing doesn’t have gaps or holes.  

Reducing your dog’s alarm barking

If you’d like to reduce your dog’s alarm barking when out and about, you can use the “quiet” training technique mentioned earlier. However, it’s important to be aware of why your dog is alarm barking – and not to abuse the “quiet” command to make them to tolerate situations they’re unhappy in. Remember that alarm barking is a warning that your dog is feeling afraid or uncomfortable, so if you suppress the behaviour and don’t make positive changes to help your dog feel more comfortable with the situation they may try a different kind of behaviour: growling, snapping or even biting. You can find more information about fearful dogs here, but if alarm barking happens often, it’s a good idea to talk to your vet or behaviour expert for advice to help your dog feel more confident out and about.  

Dog barking at playtime

Lots of dogs bark and growl at each other (or you) when they play. This is totally normal and natural, and we wouldn’t recommend trying to modify this behaviour… they’re barking for joy, after all! When it’s playtime between people and dogs, there can be a fine line between play barking and attention seeking barking. Keep an eye on it, and be sure you’re the one who chooses to initiate and end playtime so you don’t end up with a pushy playtime partner.  

Contagious dog barking

Another natural, normal one – the sunset serenade of the neighbourhood hounds! If you live in an urban area, it’s really common for one dog to start barking, which ‘sets off’ all the local dogs. If you’ve trained a “quiet” command, it can be useful to stop your dog joining in.  

Does your dog bark excessively? Or do you encourage barking? Do they ‘speak’ in other ways? We love to hear about your dogs and your adventures together, so please do leave a comment and tell us more about your doggie conversations.  

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