Why Dogs Bark, and What You Can Do About It
Why do dogs bark?
Dogs bark to speak to us and to one another, and just as we can verbalize many different meanings, so can they. "There are nine kinds of barks—excitement and play, wanting attention, boredom and loneliness, alarm and fear, territorial, pain, confusion related to canine dementia, separation anxiety, and compulsive barking. Some dogs love the sound of their own voice," says Marty Becker, DVM, founder of Fear Free (an organization that educates veterinary professionals on pets' emotional well-being). As you get to know your dog, you can start to recognize these different barks.
Barking is a normal behavior for dogs, but excessive barking can be concerning—for instance, if your neighbor complains your dog was barking all day while you were at work. There are a few simple ways to cope with unwanted barking and address any underlying issues for a happier, healthier, calmer pup.
Your dog's excessive barking may stem from lack of mental stimulation. Try implementing a few lifestyle changes: Take her on longer walks in the morning, bring her to a dog park in the afternoon, supply her with brain-teasing toys like snuffle mats or puzzle feeders. Be sure to give your dog ample time to sniff and explore while on walks. "Sniffing for dogs is like reading the paper. They get to walk around and read and gather information from other animals that were in the area," says Rachel Lees, RVT, a certified animal trainer and lead veterinary behaviorist at the Behavior Clinic in Olmsted Falls, Ohio.
Change the Environment
If your dog has specific triggers for barking, such as a stranger walking past the house or sounds from a noisy upstairs neighbor, try removing the stimulus. Close the curtains or purchase opaque window treatments in the case of visual stimuli. For sound sensitivities, turn on a white-noise machine or a playlist for dogs from iCalmPet, recommends Lees. If your dog tends to bark when you leave the house, provide a positive activity to distract her. "Give your dog an enrichment item that is incompatible with barking, that keeps their mouth busy, like a Kong or lick mat. They'll get tired and go lie down," says Lees.
First, try the silent treatment: Ignore your pet completely while she barks, as attention can be reinforcing. "Wait for them to be silent for a few seconds before giving them a treat. Reward the positive behavior and continue to reward them with treats and attention for staying quiet and calm throughout the day," says Lees. Another method is using foundational skills like recall, sit, and mat training to redirect behavior. "When someone rings the doorbell, the dog will come rushing up and bark, and that's OK, but then you tell her, 'Mat,' and she should be able to go to the mat and sit still there," says Dr. Becker. You can also try counterconditioning to desensitize your dog to her triggers. For instance, if she barks back when other dogs bark, you can play a low-volume recording of a dog barking a few times a day.
Visit the Vet
Constant barking, especially if it's a new behavior, may signal the presence of a larger health issue. Your dog might be barking in response to pain from an injury or infection, or she may be in emotional distress from something like separation anxiety or dementia. In those cases, veterinarian intervention is needed to get to the root of the issue.
This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
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