Barking: Causes and Solutions
Barking is a normal part of dog behavior. In excess, though, it can become bothersome. Below are a few of the reasons why dogs bark and what you can do to address them.
Discomfort with Confinement
If your dog is not used to being confined in a crate, pen, or bedroom, or has had negative experiences while confined, it can lead to anxiety and increased barking as a result. If you believe that this may be the root of their barking, consult our crate training information for additional support.
Your dog may be experiencing separation anxiety if they bark most when you leave the house, appear to be frantic when you return, and/or are destructive when you are away but not when you are present. It’s important to recognize that this reaction is an expression of their panic and not something to become angry or upset about. WHS offers resources on working through separation anxiety; you may also find it beneficial to contact a Certified Professional Dog Trainer who practices positive reinforcement for assistance in creating a behavior modification plan.
We often see dogs who bark at windows or fence lines at passing people, cars, or other dogs. It’s important to manage the environment so these dogs do not have the opportunity to practice this behavior. Create a visual barrier so your dogs can only see through it at the time of your choosing. You can also choose to limit their access to the windows that they regularly react at by blocking off those rooms with baby gates, or having your dog on a tie line in the yard so they cannot reach the fence line. The only time that your dog should have the ability to look through the barriers is when they are on leash and you are prepared for a training session with them. From a distance, remove your visual barrier and wait until their trigger (a person, car, animal, etc.) is present, then feed them a series of high-value treats. Continue to feed until the trigger goes away. Once the trigger is gone, you can either wait for the next one or replace the visual barrier. You will need to continue with this protocol for many sessions until your dog’s level of comfort increases. At that point, you can slowly begin to lengthen your sessions and increase the amount of time between individual pieces of food. This process requires a great deal of patience, consistency, and attention to detail – you may benefit from the support of a Certified Professional Dog Trainer who practices positive reinforcement for assistance. You can learn more by consulting our resources on barrier reactivity.
Barking out of fear is a normal way for a frightened dog to ask the trigger to “go away!” When a dog is barking because they're scared (perhaps of a new person, another dog, or a foreign object), it’s important not to force them to interact with it. Barking, in this instance, is a symptom of a bigger issue. Instead, either respect the request and give them more space, or work to help them feel more comfortable from a distance with that trigger. The easiest way to reduce their fear is to feed them high-value treats in the presence of that scary item so they start building positive associations. If the scary thing is a human, the treats should come from someone the dog is comfortable with and at a good distance from the trigger person. If that is not possible, the “scary” stranger can toss food to the dog from a distance, ideally with a barrier between them. If at any point the behavior intensifies, take that as a clear sign that your dog is too close to the thing that they are afraid of and move them further away. Be sure to keep training sessions short and successful, giving your dog frequent breaks. For more information, consult our fearful dog resources.
Dogs will sometimes bark for attention or because they want something you have. This is one of the few types of barking that you might accidentally reinforce without realizing it. If your dog is staring at you and barking while you have food in your hands and you give them a piece, you have reinforced that behavior and are making it more likely to happen again. Similarly, if they’re barking to get your attention and that’s when you get up and take them for a walk or toss a toy, they’re learning that barking is an effective way to initiate fun. Instead, the moment that your dog demand-barks at you, stand up and walk away. Do not talk to, scold, touch, or otherwise interact with your dog in these moments. You are merely communicating that the moment they bark at you, they lose access to you. You can come back after a few seconds. You may need to do this dozens of times before your dog starts to understand. Keep an eye out for alternative behaviors that you should reinforce if your dog is a chronic demand-barker. If your dog quietly sits in front of you while you have food on you, give them a treat and praise them! Teach them that there are other, quieter, ways to ask for what they would like rather than barking at you.
The importance of meeting your dog’s basic needs:
Our dogs will be more inclined to bark excessively if they are bored or haven’t gotten enough exercise. Be sure that you are providing daily mental and physical enrichment so they are less inclined to bark overall. Helpful tips and tricks for providing mental and physical exercise can be found in our dog enrichment resources.
What NOT to do:
We do not recommend using bark collars of any type (nor any other type of punishment) in an attempt to reduce barking. While they may decrease the barking in the moment, they do not address the underlying issue and will only increase anxiety and the likelihood of destructive behaviors.