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Why Do Dogs Bark? And What You Can Do About It

"I don't mind if my dog barks a little... but not a lot." It's something I hear all the time. And, I kind of agree with it. Depending on the situation. Barking is a natural dog thing to do. It is their way to communicate, so to get rid of their bark is like taking away their voice. There are many reasons dogs bark and each can be addressed to minimize or eliminate the barking.

They are scared

Urgency level: high

You get a little puppy and you take out the vacuum cleaner for the first time and they go nuts! You put the laundry basket in a new spot and they bark at it. You meet a new person and your dog barks at him. When dogs are scared or nervous, they bark right at the object. You can think of them as saying "ahh! ... what are you?! ... leave me alone! ... you're new! ... I don't like this!"

This is also a big reason why dogs bark on leash. If your dog is scared, it is important to address this barking with calm and clear direction for your dog so you can minimize their stress.

dog bark
Dogs who bark on leash and behave aggressively are often scared of the stimuli.

What to do:

As with nervous dogs in any situation, you give them distance from the thing they are scared of (using the leash, collar, or luring) and redirect their attention to you (touch and then a follow up command).

They are bored

Urgency level: Low - Medium

A well exercised dog has a greater chance of being an obedient dog, but if your dog lacks physical and mental stimulation, they will make up their own fun to pass the time! Sometimes, life makes it so you just can't give your dog the attention you want to. Maybe it's raining or you're sick. If you know you can't give your dog the stimulation they need for that day and they end up barking, give yourself a break and give them some loving when you have time.

dog bark
Bored dogs like to make their own fun like barking.

What to do:

Do your best to ensure your dog's day is full of physical stimulation, mental stimulation, and rest. Take them on a walk, do some training, get a snuffle mat, go on a long leash walk.

It is a learned behavior

Urgency level: Medium to High

I am looking at you window barkers!

If a dog has barked during a certain situation (like when someone walks by your house) for months or years or since they found their voice, then this behavior has been reinforced every time that situation occurs. They haven't learned a better behavior for that situation.

I would address this immediately because your dog is getting worked up at a time they don't need to be. But know that it will take time and training just one out of ten times is better than never training at all.

What to do:

Address the behavior with a combination of training and management. Training requires treats and supervision. You instruct them what to do. For example, if your dog is barking out the window at a person, tell them to go to their bed. Or if your dog is barking while walking on the leash, tell them to walk with you.

Management means you do not reinforce the behavior, meaning you minimize or eliminate the barking. For example, you shut the shades, block off a room, and put them in a crate when you leave the house.

They want attention or food

Urgency level: Medium

You're cooking dinner and they are barking at you. You are playing with them, you stop, and they bark at you. You're talking with a friend and they are barking at you. There are some dogs that are a little more vocal and demanding than others when they want something.

dog bark attention
If your dog is barking for attention, do not give them attention! Tell them to go to their bed and stay... then give them attention (or not!).

What to do:

If your dog is barking for attention or treats, do not give it to them! I know it sounds simple, but make sure you think of it from your dog's point of view. If your dog barks for your attention and you say "shhhhh", then they get your attention. :)

The best thing you can do for this behavior is break the association between "you bark, you get attention". You can do this by telling them to go to their bed and having them stay for 5-15 seconds. The stay requires them to be in control (barking is a lack of control). After the stay, you can give them what they want (or not!). If they want attention and you don't want to give it them, you can give them a bone, or redirect them to another activity.

They don't want to be separated from you

Urgency level: Low

It makes sense that the dog you cuddle and love on and feed and walk wants to be with you, especially if you are in the same house!

What to do:

First take a look at your dog's age. If your dog is a puppy, it does not have separation anxiety, it simply wants its mama or dada and is lost without you. If your dog is an adult, super stressed when you're away and destroying things, then it can be handled the same as separation anxiety.

Puppies: If you can not take them with you around the house, leave them in the crate / playpen and do not reinforce the behavior. (This should be a relief for you! You can let them bark while you shower!)

Adults: Create a consistent routine for when you leave them alone. Their anxiety is driven by confusion and if you do the same thing over and over again, they feel at ease with the predictability.

It is in their breed

Urgency level: Low

This reason is the best use case for the first sentence of this post: "I don't mind if my dog barks a little... but not a lot." This 'excuse' is also the most overused. Buuuuut, there are some dogs who have been bred to protect and alert by barking. I just caution you to make sure your dog is really one of those breeds and that's why they are barking in a certain situation.

Dog bark
Is your dog barking because it's learned or because it's their breed?

What to do:

I recommend using the command "All done" to communicate the end of their barking and then redirecting them to a toy to release their energy or to their dog bed to teach them control at a time they would love to bark.

A dog barking is a natural way for him to communicate, but it almost always can be addressed with training. Saying "no" or "shh" is not training! Take the time to think about why your dog is barking and then address the behavior with clear direction and consistency.

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