Everybody knows that dogs bark, but not everyone knows why they do. The simple answer is that barking is how dogs communicate. But there's more to it when you dive deeper. Here are a few reasons why dogs bark and how to manage an excessive barker.
Why Dogs Bark
Your dog's bark is unique, just like your own voice. Even different breeds have different barks. Dogs use their voice to communicate a variety of things such as excitement, a desire to play, boredom, to warn intruders and protect their home, to alert others of danger, to discipline younger dogs, and more. Often, you can tell what they're trying to say by their tone.
Most of the time, barking is short-lived but sometimes it can become excessive and problematic. This is usually the case when your dog is trying to seek reward or companionship, alleviate boredom, or release pent-up energy. For instance, when a dog is bored, they can learn that barking may be fun or entertaining.
There are a few underlying factors that can contribute to problem barking:
1. Genetics (certain breeds may bark more than others. Almost all breeds can become excessive barkers though.) Find out your dogs here.
2. Environment (improper confinement, other dogs barking, cars driving by, people walking by, sirens, etc.)
3. Physical Needs (when a dog is hungry, thirsty, not getting sufficient exercise, etc.)
4. Emotional Needs (boredom, excitement, anxiety, attention seeking, insufficient social or mental stimulation, etc.)
How to Manage a Barker
Managing your barker can be tricky but in general, prevention is better than correction. Proper training will help you help your dog. Most importantly, don't encourage or reward the barking and don't be inconsistent (it's either always okay to bark or never okay).
Here are a few ways to manage your barker:
1. Train your dog to bark on command
It may seem counter-intuitive, but training your dog to bark on command is actually one of the better ways to deal with excessive barking. It's difficult for your dog to control his or her natural instincts (e.g. herding dogs want to herd, hounds want to track scents, etc.) and barking is a major instinctual behavior. Training your dog to bark on command gives you control over the behavior. Once you teach your dog to bark on command, you can teach them to be quiet on command.
2. Avoid rewarding the bark
It's important to make sure you're not rewarding your dog's barking, even by accident. Remain calm during the barking and make sure it doesn't lead to what the dog wants. For example, if your dog wants to play, don't play with him in that moment because that would teach him that they can bark to get playtime.
Another example is when your dog is barking to seek attention, don't give it to her right then and there. That would teach her that she can bark to get your attention. Instead, ignore the barking behavior. You can do so by avoiding eye contact, hiding yourself with a blanket or leaving the room. It's difficult to do, especially because your dog may continue barking for several minutes, but it makes sure not to reward the behavior.
Pro Tip: Laughing or smiling is a form of reward for your dog - they can recognize and understand when you're happy and that it's a good thing when you are. So if you laugh or smile at your dog who is barking, he or she can take that as positive reinforcement.
3. Avoid yelling
Don't yell at your dog when he or she is barking excessively, it won't help the situation. Yelling is never a good option for dealing with your dog but in this case, it can exacerbate things because it may actually come off like you are joining in on the barking. If you want to tell your dog to be quiet, you can say it without yelling and he or she will hear you (dogs have great hearing, remember).
4. Get some exercise
Every dog needs some level of exercise, both physical and mental. Not getting sufficient physical activity or mental stimulation can lead to excessive barking. Great ways to give your dog physical exercise include walks, runs, hikes, games like fetch or tug-of-war, other playtime, trips to the dog park and more. Mental stimulation can include teaching your dog new tricks, hide-and-seek treat or food games, puzzle games, brain games and beyond!