Queanbeyan Veterinary Hospital Blog

Why Do Dogs Bark?

Sep 9

Written by:
9/09/2014 8:41 PM  RssIcon

All dogs bark - it's natural. It's the way they communicate with us and other animals.
It is normal for a dog to bark when there is a noise at the boundary of their territory, like a knock at the front door. But it is not normal for a dog to bark for 2 hours after a single knock, or to bark at every noise that occurs. A normal dog would learn they only have to bark a few times when the noise occurs and they quickly learn to ignore commonly occurring noises. Irrespective of why the dog is barking and whether or not it is normal, it is the second most common complaint made to councils.

Understanding why dogs bark

The situation the dog is in when it barks will reveal the motivation behind the barking.

A few common reasons why a dog may be barking:

  • May bark when excited or aroused, for example when they are playing, see prey or come into contact with other dogs.

  • If they are distressed, such as being put into a new situation, physical discomfort, or when they hear other dogs barking of howling.

  • They will also bark when they are startled or alarmed, like when they hear a new noise from an unknown source for example another dog or person.

  • Boredom and frustration can also be a trigger for barking, especially when left at home alone. If a dog decides that a behaviour is worth doing, it will repeat the behaviour in the same situation in the future, but if they dog believes the behaviour is not worthwhile it will not waste its time or energy doing it again.

How do behavioural problems affect barking?

One explanation for extreme barking is that the dog is anxious. Being anxious is normal in certain situations but an anxiety disorder is more than this. It is when the default behaviour of the dog is to anticipate threats in any new situation or in a situation that it does not know how to act to remain safe.
A dog suffering from this type of anxiety disorder will bark in many more situations than a normal dog. It will perceive any noise or movement as threats and will be more likely to learn that barking is worthwhile in more situations.

Treatment of barking dogs

The first step is to consult your veterinarian and determine if there are underlying conditions that are causing the barking, such as arthritis, bodily issues or canine cognitive dysfunction. These conditions must be dealt with before or in conjunction with a behavioural management plan.
Developing a behavioural management plan requires an understanding of when and why a dog is barking.
If you can work out the reasons why your dog is barking, it will be easier to find a way to solve the problem. You may not even be aware that your dog is barking too much, especially if you are away from home a lot of the time. Your neighbour may approach you regarding the noise your dog is making.

Think about ways to identify why your dog may be barking, such as recording the times that they begin barking and what environmental or physical factors may have stimulated this.

A step towards behavioural management could include steps such as:

  • Exercising your dog: daily walking, especially before you leave in the morning can reduce problem barking.  A tired dog will not bark when it is resting or sleeping.

  • Train your dog: obedience training can help prevent barking. Regular training will exercise your dog’s mind, increase obedience and further tire your dog.

  • Prevent boredom:

    • activity toys – toys that store and dispense food keep your dog occupied and provide it with mental stimulation while you are away.

    • Treasure Hunt - Feed your dog its breakfast by scattering dry food all over the yard. This becomes a doggie treasure hunt and provides mental stimulation and hours of activity for your dog.

  • Remove your dog's direct line of sight: If your dog is protective of its territory then it may bark at people passing by. Confine your dog to the backyard so it cannot see people at the front fence. Alternatively, erecting a sightscreen to your fence to block your dog’s vision may also help.

  • Provide company or attention: Dogs are pack animals, they need social interaction, love and care from their owners. Ongoing socialisation with family, friends and other dogs is vital to ensuring your dog remains balanced and well-behaved. Sometime a radio left on may help a lonely dog.

Dogs are quick to learn that barking is an effective way to get your attention. When you react to your dog's barking, regardless of the tone in your voice, you are interacting with your dog and therefore re-enforcing the barking behaviour. Reward silence rather than punish noise. Hitting or yelling at your barking dog may cause other behavioural problems.