8 Reasons Why Dogs Are Barking & How To Fix It
Barking is one of the trickier behavioural problems associated with dogs, because barking is part of a dog’s language. It is natural for them to bark. Where it becomes an issue, however, is when they begin to engage in excessive barking that becomes a nuisance not just for you as the owner, but for others such as your next-door neighbours.
Another issue with nuisance barking is understanding why it is happening. There are a number of triggers which may cause your dog to bark non-stop to a point that it is a problem, but you won’t be able to begin dealing with it until you can identify why it is happening.
Here we look at eight of the most common reasons that dogs bark excessively and solutions to deal with the problem.
Recognizing The Type Of Nuisance Barking And How To Handle It
1. SEPARATION ANXIETY
REASON FOR BARKING: Separation Anxiety happens when your dog has not been given the tools to cope when you are out of the house for long periods of time. In particularly severe cases, your dog can’t even cope when you’re out of the room for a minute or two and they whine, cry or bark in distress.
RECOMMENDED SOLUTION: If your dog is barking excessively because of separation anxiety then you need to embark on a training programme so they can develop the capabilities to be at home alone and remain calm, comfortable and happy.
This takes time and is a full training plan unto itself. If you have identified this is the cause of your dog’s nuisance barking, then you can follow this 28-day training plan to solve Separation Anxiety at-home.
2. GREETING VISITORS
REASON FOR BARKING: Some dogs like to alert you to someone arriving at your home. This can be triggered by a knock at the door, a doorbell sound or simply hearing a car pulling into the driveway / voices on the other side of the door. Usually, if your dog is wagging their tail or showing other signs of friendliness, they probably just want to say hello.
RECOMMENDED SOLUTION: Though very common, this isn’t a particularly difficult form of barking to tackle, thankfully, as it’s usually a bark born out of wanting to give you a message that someone is here and not caused by fear or stress. A simple distraction technique which helps to take their mind off the person at the door is usually a successful method.
To do this, you could instruct them to go and get a toy if they tend to like to greet visitors. Often being able to bring them a gift will occupy them enough to curb the barking. If you prefer to have them out of the way, then you can always instruct them to go to bed. Remember to reward good behaviour with a treat they love to encourage them to do this again in the future.
If you don’t tend to get an excessive number of visitors to your house, then distracting your dog quickly when they start barking may be enough. However, if you work from home in a job that requires clients to come and see you regularly, the constant barking may be aggravating to both you and your clients. In this instance you can try desensitising your dog to the trigger of someone coming to the door or being in the yard.
At a time when you’re not expecting any visitors you can counter condition the behaviour by playing a recorded sound of a doorbell or knock at the door to your dog that usually triggers the barking while rewarding them with food. Keep the volume low at first and increase over time as they become used to it and the barking should cease.
REASON FOR BARKING: Boredom barking can be particularly grating for any neighbours that have to listen to it if you are out and your dog barks continuously for hours on end. On the upside, there are a few simple things you can do to alleviate the boredom in your dog and the eardrums of your neighbours. If you are having to leave your dog alone for many hours in one go, then giving them the tools to cope with it is important.
RECOMMENDED SOLUTION: Make sure they have had sufficient exercise with a decent walk before you have to go out. Another important part of your dog’s contentment is making sure they are mentally stimulated. You can enrich their environment easily with mental stimulation puzzles that you fill with treats and they have to work out how to get them. If you have a Kong, then stuff it with some of their daily food allowance so they have something to do while you’re out. You can even hide some treats and toys around the house so they can spend time sniffing them out.
A physically and mentally stimulated dog is a content and tired one who is more likely to sleep and occupy themselves in other ways than solidly barking until you come home. It’s important to have activities that occupy their time alone so they don’t fill it with barking.
If you have to be away for more than four hours then it’s unfair to expect your dog to entertain themselves for this long so consider having a dog walker come and take your dog out in the middle of the day to keep them occupied and, most importantly, prevent boredom barking.
REASON FOR BARKING: Fear barking will be triggered by something that worries your dog. It could be other people, other animals, loud noises such as thunderstorms or fireworks, or they bark at night because they’re less sure of their surroundings in the dark.
RECOMMENDED SOLUTION: Trying to desensitise your dog to any trigger noises with a recording of them played at a low volume and increased over time can help to get them used to these sounds and become more comfortable with them. However, some dogs are just naturally fearful and will find it difficult when the actual trigger noise such as fireworks start. If the barking is excessive and frantic and you can’t calm them down with reassurance and treats, then you may want to consider consulting a professional behaviour therapist.
If they are barking at night, then see if you can find a pattern to the barking. Is it in a certain room or at a certain time of night? Sometimes dogs are happier to have a lamp on where they sleep so they’re not completely in the dark and this can make them feel safer and stop the barking.
REASON FOR BARKING: This is usually triggered by the anticipation of a perceived threat or out of fear, but a fear that their space is being invaded or that you are in danger and they want to protect you.
There are a couple ways this sort of behaviour can manifest. They may be territorial over their own space and possessions, such as when they have a toy/bone and you try to take it from them they bark and snap at you. They might have got it into their heads that you need protecting and when someone tries to approach, they put themselves between you and them and bark and snarl.
This behaviour can escalate over time so when people come to the door like delivery people or the postal carriers, your dog becomes defensive and aggressive. A territorial bark at the door will be easy to recognise. You should be able to tell by their body language and how their eyes are focused and staring at the door. You’ll also find it difficult to distract them as they won’t hear your commands with all their senses being focused on the “threat” on the other side of the door.
This can be a very distressing barking issue for both you and your dog. If your dog is particularly aggressive with their territorial barking in any form and you are worried that they may bite someone it is highly recommended that you seek professional help from a qualified dog behaviourist.
RECOMMENDED SOLUTION: If they are being territorial over their own belongings, then you can work to train them out of this behaviour. This is known as guarding as they consider their possessions valuable. You can correct this with positive reinforcement training. Do not shout at your dog or punish them if they growl or snap at you when you approach them while they are eating or playing with a toy as it just gives them more reason to be protective.
Try throwing treats they consider to be of high value at them while they have a toy or bone or something they like to guard. Don’t get too close to start with so they’re not already on high alert. You want to get your dog comfortable with you being there while he has his precious item and encourage him to relax in your presence with his toy or food. As they become happier with getting treats and you being nearby you can begin to move closer. Encourage them with positive verbal praise.
If this is successful you may eventually be able to pick up the item they have been guarding. However, this can take weeks or even months and if they are still baring teeth, growling or barking aggressively and you’re afraid they will bite then seek professional assistance.
6. ATTENTION SEEKING
REASON FOR BARKING: If your dog is barking to get your attention do not reward them by responding to it and giving them what they want. Many dogs bark to go outside or to get you to throw the ball. This may seem a minimal aggravation at first, but if you reward the behaviour, then they will learn that they get what they want by shouting for it. As a result they will do it more often and if they don’t get it immediately they may bark more intensely and at a louder volume until you can’t ignore them.
RECOMMENDED SOLUTION: Simply ignoring attention seeking barking is a good way to tell your dog that they don’t simply get what they want by shouting at you. Don’t shout back at them or scold them as they’ll just see this as a response even if it is a negative one. It’s natural that your dog wants to communicate with you, so it’s important to find alternative ways to understand each other.
In fact, your dog may have tried to communicate with you in several ways already but because you don’t “speak” their language, you haven’t realised. Barking is something you recognise, so they’ve resorted to this because it gets a response.
Dogs have an entire communication language known as Calming or Communication Signals. There are over 30 of them including yawning, head turning, sniffing, turning away and lip licking which are all the ways our dogs communicate with each other and us before they resort to barking. Make sure to research further into these signals and what they mean so you can start to read the signals your dog makes more easily.
Once you learn to recognise them and respond to them then you’ll probably see a dramatic decrease and possibly a complete elimination of attention seeking barking because your dog now knows they can tell you what they need without having to shout for it.
7. AT OTHER DOGS WHEN OUT WALKING
REASON FOR BARKING: This behaviour is usually born out of a dog feeling trapped due to being on the leash and they react as defensive response.
It could be excitement or frustration because they want to get to the other dog. However, if they are barking and lunging in an aggressive way, this is going obviously more worrying because your dog has got it into their head that other dogs (or people) are posing a threat to them and you don’t want them to attack and hurt anyone.
Tackling this problem takes time and patience. But with persistence and dedication you should be able to make a difference to your reactive dog. If not, take them to a dog class which tackles reactive behaviour or speak to a professional dog behaviourist. Part of this training is also training yourself. If your dog is highly reactive on the lead and showing stressed behaviour by barking and lunging at other dogs, then it’s only natural that you are probably stressed too. The reason this behaviour may be escalating and getting worse over time is because your dog is feeding off your stress.
RECOMMENDED SOLUTION: When you step outside with your dog and are anxious about encountering another dog, you may not realise it, but you start to tense up and as a result you will naturally tighten your grip on the lead. Your dog feels this and will instantly be on high alert. When you see another dog coming the other way, you’re likely to give off signals that say you’re worried, which in turn encourages your dog to react even worse than they used to. And so, the vicious cycle continues.
Part of this training is teaching yourself to relax as much as your dog.
STAGE 1: You want to make sure you don’t have any other dogs around for the first part of this training. If you live in a busy urban area this may mean some very early morning walks, or maybe you can drive to a large parking lot somewhere where you aren’t likely to encounter other dog walkers. Bring plenty of high value treats with you. These are human grade treats that your dog would give his left paw to eat. Break them up into pea sized pieces and have them ready to go.
On this isolated walk, have some treats in your hand or in a pouch where you can easily access them. Walk calmly with your dog and every time they look at you, give them a positive verbal response such as “good” and treat them. Do this every time they check in with you. Don’t encourage them to look at you or try to get their attention. You want this to be a natural motion.
STAGE 2: Once they have got better at looking at you and being present in the moment, you can begin to allow them to see other dogs. Again, if your dog is highly reactive go somewhere like a parking lot to a pet store, beach or dog park where you can be at a distance with your dog so they can see other dogs coming and going but are not close enough to get stressed and start reacting. When your dog enters a stress response they stop being able to hear you, so your commands and signals fall on deaf ears. You want to be at a safe distance from other dogs so yours doesn’t fall into old behaviours.
When your dog spots another, be patient, remain calm and don’t cue or signal to your dog. Hopefully, if you’ve done enough with the previous training, your dog will turn and look at you instead of being fixed on the other dog. Then you can say “good” and reward them with a treat. This reinforces the new behaviour you’ve been working on and over time will start to desensitise your dog’s response to seeing other dogs, as they’ll start to associate seeing them as a positive thing.
As you progress with this you can (very slowly) move a little closer to where the other dogs are. But you have to take this in micro steps as going too quickly will cause your dog to panic and undo everything you’ve been working on so far.
STAGE 3: When your dog has become a lot more comfortable hanging out with you while other dogs are going about their business and is responding well to you, then you can start to resume your normal walks. But in order to help your dog out, you can make these walks more interesting by mixing it up. Change direction often, have them jump up on benches or logs and down again. Continue to treat them when they check in with you naturally.
You also don’t have to walk past every dog you see. If you spot one before your dog, then you can change direction and avoid them. Or, in the first couple of weeks back on your regular walking route, change direction so that you are at the distance your dog has got used to being at.
In time, as they get used to walking and seeing dogs at a distance and not feeling tension through the lead from you, you can slowly walk more closely until you are both confident to walk past other dogs together. If your dog is now more interested in looking to you for a treat than lunging and barking then you have made great progress.
The main aim here is to make your dog think that seeing other dogs is a positive thing and not a negative. You want them (and you) to be relaxed and happy. Too often we’re guilty of preparing our dogs for a negative experience with our body language and it’s time to change this.
8. COMPULSIVE BARKING
REASON FOR BARKING: If your dog appears to bark repetitively at nothing in particular, or at shadows or light reflections or anything else that would not normally disturb a dog, then you may well have a compulsive barker. This barking behaviour is often coupled with repetitive behaviour patterns such as spinning, circling, pacing or jumping while they bark.
This can be a difficult problem to deal with as it won’t be immediately obvious what the triggers for the barking are. Observe your dog when they bark like this and see if you can identify any triggers. If you can, and they can be removed, then great. But if it’s more complicated than that and it genuinely seems like your dog is just barking for the sake of it, then it’s going to take more time.
RECOMMENDED SOLUTION: If your dog is tethered or kept in a small space, you may want to consider changing their routine and making sure they have mental stimulation games or puzzles to give them something else to do.
If you have to leave your dog for long periods at a time, then consider hiring a dog walker to occupy them and to break up their day.
If none of this makes a difference, then the only solution is to consult a professional behaviourist as they will have a wealth of experience dealing with compulsive barkers and they are the best chance at helping you to identify what’s causing this behaviour.
Overall, excessive barking is a difficult behaviour trait to fix when you haven’t identified what is causing it. But with this guidance on the most common sorts of nuisance barking, you should have a better idea what is triggering your dog and whether it’s something you can tackle together at home or you need to engage the help of a trained behaviourist.
If your dog is not aggressive or overly stressed to the point of illness, then it’s always worth having a go yourself. But if the barking is due to aggression, excessive fear or anything that is a cause for concern where your safety or the safety of others is concerned, then always consult a professional.
You want to give your dog the best chance at a happy life, and sometimes that means calling in someone who has the experience and knowledge to help them achieve that. It’s certainly not a failing on your own part, and in the long run, your dog will be grateful that you took the steps to help them.