Barking: Different Reasons Require Different Solutions

Different Reasons, Different Solutions

Remember that barking is normal behavior for dogs. It is a form of communication. Most dogs bark some of the time and often for very good reasons. Here are some of the most common:

They are excited! There are many potential triggers for excitement barking. Perhaps your dog barks when you first come home or when a friend comes to the door. Dogs who bark when they are excited may bark in play, or when they see something they like, or when they are amped up for no apparent reason.

They want something. This is often called demand barking, but in my house, we call it bossy barking. I live with herding dogs and they do tend to take charge. “Hey, don’t you know it is time for a walk?!” Demand barking is also common when training with food – when dogs get frustrated because the treats aren’t coming fast enough, for example, they may bark to remind you to keep the food flowing. Barking is also one of the ways that dogs have to ask for what they want or need. A dog may bark when she needs to go outside to potty, and this may be a very good thing!

They are alerting us to something. Most dogs alert-bark to some degree. They may bark when someone comes up to the house, or when there is an unusual noise, or when another dog in the neighborhood barks. Most of us appreciate some degree of alert barking (for example, I’d be very happy with my dog if she barked if someone were trying to break into my house). The problem with alert barking comes when our dogs are barking at things that people think are inconsequential or when they continue barking when we think they should stop.

They are afraid. We all have things that scare us and so do our dogs. Recently, I was walking with my dog on a familiar path, a place we walk almost daily. As we came around a bend, there in the middle of the path was a pile of boulders. My dog was so surprised by this new thing in our path that she became very afraid –and barked like crazy. This type of startle barking is relatively common in adolescent dogs like Shadow. Once she stopped barking, we went and investigated the boulders and she realized they were just rocks and all was good. Some dogs, however, have more significant fears – they may be afraid of men, or kids, or other dogs, or hats, or skateboards. When a dog barks because of ongoing fear, that fear will need to be addressed before the barking problem can be solved.

They don’t do well when alone. Many dogs will experiment with barking when they are alone and bored. Maybe they bark at the squirrels or the neighbor’s dog. Boredom barking often has elements of alert barking, excitement barking, or demand barking. But barking when home alone can also be a symptom of separation distress or anxiety. When dogs are barking when home alone, we need to figure out why in order to effectively help our dogs.

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