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Dogs come in all shapes, sizes and unique personalities – but one thing they all have in common is that they all bark. And any owner who has had a dog who likes to bark frequently (and loudly) will have found themself wondering what is causing them to make all that noise. Excessive barking can be a nuisance not only for your household but also for your neighbours, so it is important to try and identify the underlying cause so that you can try to resolve the issue. In this blog, we will look at the common reasons that dogs bark, what problem barking is and the steps you can take to reduce problem barking.
Why do dogs bark?
First and foremost, barking is how dogs communicate. There are many different types of barking, and each one is a way for your dog to express how they are feeling to you or to another dog. In most cases, barking is a very normal behavior for dogs and provides a way for them to communicate with us. Some of the common reasons dogs bark include:
- Excitement, and to induce play
- To warn their companions (both human and canine) of dangers, such as intruders in the house
- Calling out to other dogs
- Territorial reasons, including to threaten any unwanted visitors
- To discipline puppies and young dogs
- In response to new or surprising things or noises in their environment, such as a car driving past, another animal appearing, a thunderstorm or a doorbell ringing
- To try to get their owners attention
- To express emotion, particularly fear, boredom or anxiety.
Any dog owner will know that this list is not exhaustive and that there are many more reasons a dog might bark and even the most random of things or incidents can trigger a barking episode. Normally, dogs will settle down quite quickly once they have responded to the stimuli. If your dog barks excessively, possibly for hours at a time, your dog could be classed as a problem barker.
What is problem barking?
Inappropriate barking that goes on for too long or occurs too frequently is one of the most common problems that people have with their pet dogs. This sort of barking can be classified as problem barking and will cause disruption to you, other pets in your household and your neighbours.
Dogs that bark for companionship or for reward (such as food) are more likely to become problem barkers. Problem barking could also be where the dog continues to bark well after the first stimuli of the barking has left or finished (e.g. the postman has left or a thunderstorm has finished), which can be troublesome, particularly if your dog is stimulated by many different things.
What causes problem barking?
There are a number of causes of problem barking, some that are easy to address and others that are more difficult to change. You should try to identify the cause of your dog’s problem barking so that you can do whatever possible to try and reduce this behaviour.
Some dogs bark excessively when their main caregiver leaves the house due to separation anxiety. They may also display other stress related behaviors such as destroying furniture and pacing. In extreme cases, the dog may bark non-stop until the owner returns home, causing huge annoyance to anyone who lives nearby. If you are concerned that you dog may be barking whilst you are out, you should speak to your neighbours to establish if they are barking and how long they are barking for.
Dogs who are left in an environment they are not happy with for prolonged periods of time are likely to bark excessively. For example, an energetic dog who is kept penned up in a kennel will understandably become bored and are also likely to become frustrated and subsequently bark for a prolonged period.
Some breeds of dogs, such as terriers, are more prone to problem barking for genetic reasons. Obviously, there is nothing you can do to change your dog’s genetics, but when considering which breed of dog to get you should research the breed thoroughly to ensure their barking tendencies are suitable for your circumstances.
Boredom and loneliness
Dogs are pack animals and subsequently do not like being on their own for long periods of time. A dog may become sad and agitated without any canine or human company, causing them to bark excessively.
How to reduce problem barking
Problem barking is something that you should seek to reduce, ideally as early as possible after the behaviour sets in. One thing you should always remember when dealing with a barking dog is to use a calm and quiet voice at all times – if you start shouting at the dog they might think you are joining in which will only worsen the problem. Once you have determined the situations in which your dog barks excessively, there are a number of things you can do to try and reduce the barking.
In general, a tired dog is a quieter dog. You should ensure that your dog has plenty of physical and mental activity when you are together. In particular, if you are able to walk your dog before you leave them alone in the house they will be more likely to rest and stay quiet whilst you are out. Also, if you are out for a full day you could try employing a dog walker to take your dog out for a walk during the day, which will help them burn off any excess energy and also provide mental stimulation which will reduce excessive barking.
Retrain their behaviour
Once you have identified what causes your dog to bark excessively, you could do some simple behaviour training to try and tackle the barking using positive reinforcement. This involves using rewards to praise your dog when the desired behaviour is displayed. For example, if your dog barks at the postman, you could have a friend pretend to be the postman and put letters through your letterbox. If the dog barks, you do not react, and then try again. If they don’t bark, you reward them with their favourite toy or a treat.
This is a great and proven way to successfully train dogs, and can be applied to most barking triggers. If you are not confident in training your dog in this way, you should consider enlisting the help of a professional dog trainer who will be able to help get you started.
Address their environment
It might be necessary to make some changes to your dogs environment to reduce the likelihood of them barking when you are not around. Start with making sure that they have enough interesting toys and food to keep them entertained whilst you are not around. Treat toys such as Kong toys are a great option as they require time and patience from your dog in order to get the treats out and should keep your dog occupied for quite a while. If your dog is consistently very unhappy when you go out, you could consider trying a doggy day care option, where they will be able to socialise with other dogs and humans.