Dogs bark in order to communicate their needs and feelings. Your dog barks for a number of reasons, like when it needs to go outside, when it wants to play and when it’s hungry. Your dog will also bark when it’s happy, sad, sick, bored or lonely. Even if your dog seems to bark without a reason, there is one, it’s just something that is small or hard to spot. It’s important to remember that dogs can hear and smell much better than humans can. Your dog may sense something that you don’t, and is reacting to it. If you’ve ruled everything out and your dog still seems to bark without a reason, such as at a blank wall, for example, have it checked out by the veterinarian.
Dog owners that spend a lot of time with their dogs and get to know them well can figure out why their dog is barking. Usually, the dog’s eyes and/or nose will point at the reason for their barking. The reasons for barking can be obvious, such as when your dog is standing at the back door while it barks at you. In this instance, you know that it needs to go outside. There are many types of barks. Learn to recognise what your dog is trying to tell you when it barks.
Alarm Barking – Alarm barking begins with a low growl and then rises to a very loud, aggressive, growling bark. Your dog may bare its teeth and a line of fur on its back may stand up. Alarm barking signals that there is an immediate threat caused by an intruder or dangerous situation like a fire.
Threat Barking – If the threat is something that the dog can’t see, but can smell or hear, it will issue a threat bark, which is a fast and steady bark at a medium pitch. This usually happens when the dog hears a car entering the driveway or hears someone approaching the house.
Playful Barking – Playful barking happens when you train your dog with a command such as “speak,” or you bring out the dog’s favourite toy. Playful barking is usually one to two short barks in a normal volume.
Have to Go Barking – One or more short barks in a normal to high volume to let you know that your dog has to go outside to relieve itself. Your dog will often issue this bark while standing by the door.
Sudden Barking – One or more abrupt, short barks, moans, screams or howls in high volume that make you want to jump up and run to your dog as fast as possible. Your dog makes this sound when it is suddenly surprised, very sick, very scared or in terrible pain. Remedy this situation as fast as you can.
Boredom Barking – A series of barks in a normal to medium volume that stops for a few minutes then restarts until you bring your dog inside or you join it outdoors for playtime. It’s important to train your dog to be quiet. Say “quiet,” and put your finger to your mouth to gesture for it to be quiet. Then give your dog a small treat, unless it barks. Repeat this process until your dog will be quiet on command. If you’re going to be gone for a long while, offer a Kong toy, a large marrow-bone or a chew toy to keep your dog busy until you return. Make sure to spend lots of time with your dog when you are home, as this kind of barking can also indicate loneliness.
However, what about dogs who bark for non-threatening reasons, like when you have to leave your house or when the postman comes by every day? In these cases, training is important and you should ideally start when the dog is young. Dog training classes can show you how to handle your dog. In addition, training classes will teach your dog to pay attention to you and obey your commands. Group classes will help your dog learn how to socialise with other dogs and people. Use the same commands consistently, so your dog will understand exactly what you want it to do in all kinds of situations. If you correct your dog as soon as it barks, for example, at the postman or the cat next door, it will understand that behaviour is unacceptable and it will stop. Make sure to praise your dog as soon as it obeys you.
Dogs are pack animals and will often feel anxious when left alone. Provide toys, leave a radio or television on and plenty of food and water so your dog will feel comfortable. It is also helpful to leave something that has your scent on it, such as a small blanket or shirt, to calm your dog while you are away. Every time you leave your house, give your dog a treat or toy and say the same short phrase, such as “I’ll be back,” so that your dog will understand that you aren’t leaving forever. When you return home, say the same phrase each time, like “I’m back.” This will serve as a signal and a reminder to your dog that you will return. A comforting phrase, will also offer positive reinforcement for good behaviour while you are away.
There are things that you can do to minimise problem barking. If you have a small yard or home, get a smaller dog that doesn’t need a lot of room to run. Have your dog desexed while it’s young, so it won’t be anxious or aggressive. Never let your dog bark at things that aren’t a threat, like family and friends, cars, cats and other dogs. Correct the barking immediately and reward your dog with a treat and lots of praise. Don’t reward your dog for bad behaviour and get help from a dog-training professional if you have a problem with your dog that you can’t correct. Don’t let your dog run freely around the neighbourhood, where it can get into trouble and pick up aggressive, territorial habits. Introduce your dog to regular visitors, like the postman or delivery person. Take your dog on regular walks to keep it socialised with all kinds of people, as well as other animals. Practice training exercises with your dog. If your dog doesn’t respond to traditional training methods, try clicker training.
In some cases, a collarless anti-barking system will work. This small unit has a speaker that emits a high-pitched sound when the dog barks. The sound is unpleasant to the dog and it will soon associate its barking with the unwanted noise, and stop barking. For a basic, low-tech solution, an elastic training aid can be effective for humane bark control. If the barking is still a problem, consider using a bark collar. There are many types of bark collars, including ones that emit a spray of citrus, an odour that dogs don’t like; sonic or ultrasound collars that emit a vibration or tone that distracts the dog; and electrical collars that deliver a mild stinging or tingling sensation in response to barking. There are also combination collars that use both spray then sound, or increasing levels of sounds, that escalate as the dog continues to bark. The combination device is the most effective because it rewards the dog for correcting itself quickly. It’s important to note that although bark collars are effective, some feel that they are inhumane. You should use a bark collar as a last resort when you have tried all the other methods.
Another means to control barking that is controversial and even illegal in some places is the surgical removal of tissue in the dog’s larynx, referred to as debarking. This doesn’t completely stop barking, but it significantly reduces the level of noise when the dog barks. Imagine if you woke up one day and couldn’t talk, or at best, produce just a whisper. Most people consider this practice cruel and unnecessary, but some feel it’s better than euthanasia or the legal problems that arise from nonstop barking.