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Barking Dogs

Why Dogs Bark and How to Stop Excessive Dog Barking

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Doberman Pinscher dog barking at camera Per Breiehagen/Getty Images
Dogs will be dogs, and most dogs will bark, whine and howl at times - it's only natural. Dogs vocalize to communicate with humans and to express themselves. Sometimes we want our dogs to bark in order to warn us about potential danger or protect us from harm. However, excessive dog barking can be considered a behavior problem. What is the solution? Well, your dog needs to understand when to bark and when to be quiet, and it's your job to teach this to her. Start working on problem barking as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the harder it gets to curb the behavior. It is a good idea to teach your dog the Speak/Quiet Commands. This may be easier said than done. However, with dedication and consistency, you can teach your dog to bark on command AND to be quiet.

Why Dogs Bark

It is important to understand that dogs bark for various reasons. They do not bark just to annoy you and your neighbors, nor do they bark for spite or revenge. Dogs don't bark just because they can (though it might seem that way at times). Certain dog breeds bark more than others - some types of dogs were actually bred to be barkers. Then again, the Basenji does not bark at all (though the breed can vocalize in other ways). If you listen closely, you will eventually learn your dog's different barks. Understanding the reason why your dog barks is the first step towards controlling the behavior. In general, dogs will most commonly bark for the following reasons:
  • Warning/Alert: It is natural for a dog to bark when someone is a the door or when strangers pass the house or car. Many will bark if they sense some type of threat, proclaiming "I'm here protecting this place so don't mess with me." The sound of this bark is usually sharp, loud and authoritative. Honing this instinct with training can help protect your home and family.
  • Anxiety: Anxious barking often seems to be an an act of self-soothing for many dogs. It is often high-pitched and sometimes accompanied by whining. This type of barking is common for dogs with separation anxiety.
  • Playfulness/Excitement: This type of barking is especially common in puppies and young dogs. Many dogs will bark while playing with people or other dogs. Even the sound of the bark tends to sound upbeat and possibly musical. Some dogs will bark excitedly when they know they are about to go for a walk or car ride.
  • Attention-seeking: When you hear this bark, you will usually know just what it means. This bark says "Hey! Hey! Look! Here I am!" Other dogs may whine and bark together to get attention, almost like the tone of a whining child.
  • Boredom: The bark of a bored dog sounds like a dog that barks just to hear her own voice. Though it tends to be annoying, it is also kind of sad. Bored dogs often bark to release excess energy, and sometimes bark out of loneliness. They usually need an activity and perhaps even a companion.
  • Responding to Other Dogs: This is probably a familiar scenario - one dog down the street starts barking, and one by one the rest of your block joins in. It's like a cacophonous rendition of Row Your Boat.

Prevent and Stop Excessive Barking

Once you determine the cause of your dog's excessive barking, you can begin to control the behavior. The best way to prevent excessive barking in the first place is to try and remove any potential sources of the behavior. You also want to be certain not to inadvertently encourage the barking. Finally, give her better things to do besides barking.
  • Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise so there is not as much pent-up energy to burn by barking.
  • Avoid leaving a lonely dog alone for long periods of time if possible.
  • Never comfort, pet, hug or feed your dog when she is barking for attention or out of anxiety - that would be rewarding the behavior, thus encouraging it.
  • Shouting at your dog to stop barking does not help. It may actually cause her to bark even more.
  • Avoid punishments like shock collars. They are not only painful and unkind - many dogs will learn to test them and eventually work around them.
  • Try to get her attention with a clap or whistle. Once she is quiet, redirect her attention to something productive and rewarding - like a toy or treat.
  • After getting your dog's attention, practice basic commands, like sit and down in order to shift her focus.
  • DO NOT let your dog bark constantly outside, regardless of the reason. You can hardly train her to stop barking by yelling at her across the yard. Plus, it is one of the fastest ways to turn neighbors into enemies and send an invitation to your local police.
  • Train your dog to Speak and Be Quiet.
  • Consult your veterinarian and/or trainer if you continue to face barking issues despite your best efforts.

A Note About De-Barking Surgery

"Debarking," or cordectomy, is an elective surgical procedure involving partial removal of a dog's vocal cords. Debarking does not take away the dog's ability to bark - it just makes it sound quieter and raspy (considered annoying by some). In this dog lover's opinion, debarking surgery is unnecessary and unfair to the dog. Surgery and anesthesia are always risks, so any procedure that is purely for human convenience and does not medically benefit the patient or animal community should be avoided. In addition, excessive barking indicates an underlying issue that is usually behavioral. Surgery takes the noise away, but the anxiety, fear or similar problem remains unaddressed. Rather than debarking your dog, spend your time and money on training and/or visiting a veterinary behaviorist.

When It's Not Your Dog Barking

The sound of barking dogs in the neighborhood can quickly go from nuisance to nightmare - especially when you are trying to work or sleep. If you are comfortable with it, try politely approaching your neighbor to discuss the matter, or write a direct but civil letter. You may try gently suggesting a local dog trainer or behaviorist. Many people prefer to contact the neighborhood association or other group to act as a moderator. As a last resort, you may need to call the police - just keep in mind how this could be detrimental to your future relationship with said neighbors. On the other hand, you may not even care about that after a certain amount of sleep deprivation.
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How to Prevent Dogs from Barking
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