Why does my dog bark?
Dogs bark, that we know. But why do some dogs bark more than others? And what should you do if your (doggy day care or dog boarding) dog doesn’t stop barking? Discover all you need to know about why dogs bark + 3 tips on how to break their barking habit.
Why do dogs bark?
A dog’s behaviour is never right or wrong. It’s simply instinctive conduct that can develop into undesirable behaviour given the wrong set of circumstances. Desirable behaviour can be taught (and undesirable behaviour unlearned) via training, such as toilet training. Barking, digging, chewing, growling, jumping up or rolling in foul-smelling substances are all natural dog behaviours that can become problematic if left unchecked.
If your four-legged friend is exhibiting unwelcome habits, then it’s important to ask yourself: is this natural dog behaviour? If the answer to that is 'yes', you’ll be better able to understand your dog and can tackle it in the right way.
Dogs bark to communicate and express their emotions. Whilst it might seem like your dog is barking for no apparent reason, this is never the case. Nevertheless, some dogs do bark more than others and for a variety of different reasons. So, why do dogs bark?
- To get your attention
It’s essential to establish the cause of your dog’s barking. A little bark of joy during play or when the doorbell rings isn’t normally a problem. However, persistent barking can become an issue. So, what should you do if your dog is barking frequently and excessively?
To curtail your dog’s barking, it’s important to understand why they are barking in the first place. Examine the barking from your dog’s perspective. If your dog is barking at visitors, then they won't stop until the 'danger' has passed and your guests have left. Punishing your dog won’t help, as it doesn’t eliminate the cause of the barking. Instead, patiently teach your dog that visitors are not a threat, and calmly encourage your dog to get acquainted with your guests. Distracting your dog with something positive, such as a fun game or tasty treat, also diverts attention from the cause of the barking and stops the barking in its tracks.
In some cases, however, it’s not always possible to distract your dog. Your dog might continue barking no matter what and even a favourite snack doesn’t help. If your dog is barking due to stress or anxiety (caused by fireworks for example), another dog, a frightening sound or something else perceived to be scary, then you must never punish this behaviour. Your dog won’t understand why you are punishing them, their fear will increase, and you’ll only exacerbate the problem. Instead, try to eliminate the cause of the stress or give your dog the reassurance that he requires.
Dog sitter dilemma: your guest dog is barking non-stop
Provide a home boarding, doggy daycare or dog walking service? The dog in your charge might bark more than you bargained for. In fact, it could be so bad that it disturbs the entire neighbourhood. What should you do in such a situation?
Many dogs won’t bark during the meet and greet, as it’s conducted in the owner’s reassuring presence. You’re introduced to a calm and relaxed dog who (according to their owner) rarely barks and is fine when left alone for an hour or two. Yet, as soon as the owner departs, it’s a different story. The dog is clearly agitated and barks continuously, especially when left alone. In fact, they drive the entire neighbourhood barking mad!
Barking caused by stress or separation anxiety is perfectly normal and something that all dog sitters and owners must consider. Punishing the dog, locking them up or leaving them alone in a room won’t help. It will only increase feelings of fear and leave the dog even more miserable than before. And the barking will continue. Dogs that suddenly find themselves in a new environment or situation can feel extremely uncomfortable, and it’s not unusual for them to bark when left alone. The solution is to offer plenty of companionship and affection.
Need to pop out for some essential groceries nonetheless? Then make sure that your furry companion has enjoyed a nice long walk and is completely worn out before you go. Leave some snacks or a toy crammed with tasty treats to help keep them entertained. Don’t leave the dog in the garden, where they might react to environmental noise. Instead, settle the dog in the living room with the curtains drawn to ensure that they are exposed to as little outside stimuli as possible.
Teaching your dog not to bark: 3 tips
1) Attention-seeking barking is conditioned behaviour. In other words: your dog barks in order to receive attention, such as a reassuring pat on the back, some warm words of affection or even a reprimand. Whilst not easy, it is possible to break this habit. First and foremost, it’s important to ignore attention-seeking barking. You decide when playtime starts and ends, not your pooch. When barking is no longer rewarded by (positive or negative) attention, your dog’s reason for barking is eliminated.
2) Particularly energetic dogs tend to bark excessively during play, when visitors call, or periodically throughout the day. The key here is expending their excess energy. So, make sure that your dog benefits from regular play and exercise, and enjoys plenty of physical and mental stimulation. This will regulate their energy levels and help moderate the barking habit.
3) Enthusiastic barking that occurs during play or when the doorbell rings can be reduced. Does your dog bark when greeting visitors? Then offer them a tasty treat to sniff and say 'shhhsh'. The sniffing will distract the dog and prevent them from barking. As soon as they stop barking, give them the treat and shower with praise. Do this consistently and your dog will eventually react to the ‘shhhsh’ command without the need for treats.
The 3 techniques above can only be used to reduce 'positive barking’. If your dog is barking due to stress or anxiety, then you must remove the dog from the scary/stressful situation. That’s why it’s SO important to understand what your dog is trying to tell you. Immerse yourself in your dog's body language and emotions, and you’ll be better able to anticipate their needs. Only then will your dog be free to bark less to be understood.
Is your dog an excessive barker? Share your experiences below in the comments.
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