Barking, Why, When and How to Stop It
Barking is perfectly normal behavior for dogs; it is a method of communication. In fact it is a trait that has been highly valued and many dog breeds are rewarded for their bark. Barking acts as a warning of danger or to scare away things and people that might do harm. Dogs can be a living alarm system able to pick up scents or sounds and tell family from strangers in a way no electronic system could ever hope to match.
Many people wonder what their dog would say to them if they somehow made a device to understand what dogs said when they barked. Your dog would have about ten things to say, and you can already understand them. Oh boy, oh boy, your home! I’m scared. This is my turf so back off! What is going on over there? I’m hurt. Let me outside/inside. I need attention too. Your gone and I want you to come back home. I’m doing what you taught me to do. I’m bored. Basically though, barking can be broken down into five categories, and each should be treated differently to make it stop.
- I’m scared or hurt. This category is easy to recognize. When Fido is behind the couch and you hear a quick series of higher pitched yips, yelps and whimpers, it’s pretty safe to say he might be scared. This same pattern of barking also carries over to when your dog is in pain. This type of barking is generally less problematic unless you have a neurotic dog, and usually can be solved quickly. If your dog is in pain, take away the pain. This may involve a visit to the veterinarian. If your dog is scared, figure out what scares him and remove it. If it can’t be removed, help them overcome their fear. For example, every time someone rings the doorbell Fido jumps four foot into the air and ducks under the bed and starts barking. Try offering him a treat, ring the doorbell and offer another treat. This way he can start to associate what used to scare him with something he enjoys, a treat. Let him see you ring the doorbell while giving the treat. Let a friend give him a treat when they come over. Ring the doorbell when you first come home. All these tricks are to teach him that the object he was scared of isn’t scary. Do this in moderation and under controlled situations. Control when it rings for a while till he becomes less fearful. A bark collar will only make the situation worse by reinforcing to him that he needs to be scared, and so should be avoided when controlling the barking of a fearful or hurt dog.
- I’m bored. This type of barking is generally the most common problem with the neighbors. This is where you get the rhythmic monotone bark every 15 seconds for four continuous hours. The easiest way to solve this kind of barking is by taking away your dog’s boredom. Take your dog for a run, or toss a ball and give him a workout. This lets him get out some energy so he won’t be bored and full of energy. Give him a puzzle reward toy filled with his favorite treat, this will entertain him and reward him for not barking. Try adding a 2nd dog, perhaps your dog is lonely. A play companion will take away the boredom, but make sure you still take time to play with them both. Get a squirt bottle of water and give him a squirt when he is barking. For times when you can’t be home to monitor his barking, bark collars are quite effective with this type of barking. Don’t let the collar be the only thing used; part of why he is barking is you haven’t provided entertainment that he enjoys.
- I need attention. This type of barking is often accompanied by whines, cries and howls. It is often heard when you are not around or when you are busy with something other than your dog. Simply put your dog is trying to tell you that he needs more of your time. The worst thing you can do though is rush to give him attention right after a barking spree. It may quiet him down, but what you have taught him is that if he makes enough noise, he gets the attention he wants. Bark collars are also not recommended with this type of barking. Your dog wants attention, why punish him for that? The best way to correct this barking is to train your dog to do something you want to get your attention. Start by rewarding him with treats and attention when he is not making noise. If he makes noise, ignore him. Leave the room if he doesn’t stop. After he starts to see noise is not the answer then start working towards having your dog do something you want like sit quietly by your chair to get attention. Make sure that you give him the attention he wants when he does what you told him to do to get it. If your dog is crying when you go to work or leave the house, stop and look at what you do when leaving or coming home. Is your departing a big affair where you say goodbyes and grab keys and coat? Your dog then learns if you get your keys and coat you are leaving. You need to break the departing ritual. Practice picking up your keys and then not going anywhere. Leave for one minute and then come right back. Don’t say anything when you go. When you leave and he cries and makes noise and then you come back, he feels that his cries have brought you back home. Make sure you don’t reinforce this by giving him lots of attention when you first come home. Crate training can also be very effective in breaking this kind of barking.
- You’re trespassing. Low pitched aggressive sounding and short bursts of growling or barking generally means that someone has intruded upon your dog’s territory. This is good if their territory line stopped at your fence and only happened once a day. A dog’s territory will often include neighbors’ yards, possibly the whole block or even the entire neighborhood, and your dog might end up barking at “intruders” all day. Most neighbors don’t appreciate being growled at every time they step into their own yard, so this is often a very problematic type of barking. It is a type of barking that is seen as the threat of aggression, and can make people think our dog is mean even if it isn’t. The bad news is your dog is constantly rewarded for this type of barking. The person walking down the street in front of your house walks away after he barks at them. Your dog thinks his barking did this. The next person does the same thing. Soon your dog thinks that his barking chases off the intruders, exactly how he intended it to. Spaying or neutering your dog will help with this type of barking. If that is not an option or not enough, then you must manage your dog’s environment better. Block your dog’s view so they can not see or access areas where they bark. Keep your dog in the house or garage and only let them out for bathroom breaks. You must find a way to reduce the area of influence your dog has. Barking collars should not be used for this type of barking as they will tend to reinforce to your dog that the reason he was barking needs to be chased away. From his point of view, every time the squirrel comes into my yard I get shocked, so I am going to do whatever I have to and keep that squirrel out of my yard. Bark collars used to correct territorial barking can cause your dog to become very aggressive.
- You told me to. Your dog approaches the door, turns and looks at you, barks three times, you get up and open the door. Congratulations, this is learned behavior barking. Whether intentional or not this is barking you have taught your dog. It is generally not a problem because it is specific and usually intentional, but what if no one is home to let the dog out? Does he continually bark all day until someone gets home or does he stop and try later? If this kind of barking becomes problematic and needs to be stopped, it is usually quite easy to accomplish. You taught your dog to bark, simply teach him another action in its place. Bark collars can be used very effectively to help retrain your dog.
In general, never yell at your dog or scream at your dog to stop. This only makes him think he is doing well; after all you joined in on the barking. Besides, if the neighbors are upset about your barking dog, how do you think your yelling too helps the noise problem? If your dog does stop the barking, it is generally due to your attention, not your yelling. By giving him that attention you have taught him that barking is the right way to get your response.
If you are having trouble identifying why your dog is barking, try keeping a barking log. Every time your dog barks, write down what time it is, your dog is inside or outside, who is with them or not with them, if there is anything unusual outside or inside like a sound or a person walking by. After a few weeks you will start to see patterns develop and will better understand why your dog is barking and can then better create a solution.
Permission for use may be obtained by contacting the Rexburg Police Department at:
25 East Main Street or Phone 208-359-3000
Rexburg, Idaho 83440 RPD@rexburg.org