Why Dogs Bark and How to Handle It

Barking is a dog’s way of vocalising. Most barking is normal behaviour – think of it as their way of expressing their emotions in a certain situation. However, some dogs bark excessively, and this can be nuisance. Read below to find out about common causes for barking and how to break the habit!

CAUSES

1. Anxiety or fear

Lots of dogs bark when they are anxious or fearful. This can be a way of getting your attention, scaring away the potential threat, or distracting themselves from the stimulus. It is worth noting how varied the causes of anxiety are – strangers, other dogs, thunderstorms, fireworks, vacuum cleaners – the list goes on.

2. Boredom or loneliness

Many dogs bark when they are under-stimulated. This often affects dogs left at home for long periods of time while owners are at work. While it is a way of passing the time, there might be a component of separation anxiety contributing to the barking.

3. Health problems

Some dogs bark when they are unwell. This might be a sign of oncoming vomiting, or a reaction to you touching a tender spot. Don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns for your dog’s health.

4. Ageing

As dogs get older, many owners report a slow and steady increase in the frequency of barking. A number of factors might be playing a role – reduced vision, deafness, arthritis, or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (dog dementia or Alzheimer’s).

5. Aggression

Canine aggression usually occurs secondary to fear or anxiety (see above). However, some dogs show aggression under other circumstances – food aggression at dinner time, dominance aggression to other dogs, or territorial aggression over their yard.

CONSULT YOUR VET

This is the best starting point to eradicate unwanted barking. If you are unsure what is triggering the barking, or even if you want to know where to start, an appointment with the vet is the way to go. They will ensure there are no underlying health concerns, assess how advanced the problem is, and discuss what needs doing.

What can you do?

This depends largely on what is driving your dog’s barking. We’ve outlined some simple strategies for each problem below:

Anxiety or fear:

· Remove the trigger (if possible)

· De-sensitisation – this involves slowly exposing your dog to the scary stimulus, comforting them, and rewarding them when they behave well or don’t bark

· Medications – your vet may decide that anti-anxiety medications are appropriate. These are very safe and generally well-tolerated. It is important to understand that the purpose of the medications is not to permanently change your dog’s behaviour or personality, but to facilitate behavioural training

· Adaptil – this is a pheromone supported by research and veterinarians; it has a calming effect on dogs and has no other side effects.

Boredom or loneliness:

· Try things like Lickimats, Kong toys or pig’s ears to entertain your pup while you are out.

· Alternatively, consider dog day-care facilities, or even taking on another dog to be their companion!

· Leave a TV on or play background music on the radio while you are out.

Ageing:

· Unfortunately, there aren’t many medications available for the aforementioned Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. But you can make changes at home to ensure your dog’s environment is consistent and comfortable.

· Arthritis – see our article on managing a dog with arthritis for tips on how to get started!

Aggression:

· Socialisation as a puppy is very important

· Separate all dogs and cats at feeding time, if you suspect food aggression

· Teach basic commands – “sit”, “stay” and “lie down” are good starting points.

· Consult a veterinarian or behaviour specialist. Often for dogs with a longstanding history of aggression, behavioural medications are very helpful

What shouldn’t you do?

1. Don’t yell at your dog or punish your dog. Dogs that bark excessively do so for a reason, and they will not understand why they are being punished for expressing what is to them a natural behaviour.

2. Don’t isolate your dog. Sometimes when dogs bark due to aggression, owners “solve” the problem by not taking their dog with them, and not exposing them to the scary situation. Unfortunately, this can become a cycle and make the problem worse when the fearful scenario is encountered.

3. Don’t reward barking. When dogs bark in their cute puppy stage, it is important to identify when the barking should stop. If you constantly reward them and don’t teach them to stop when they are young, it is much harder to break the habit when they are old!

4. Don’t consider de-barking surgery. This surgery is unnecessary and unfair to the dog. Veterinarians do not endorse this surgery for animal welfare reasons.

It is clear that barking is a complex canine behaviour. It can range from a normal and playful form of vocalising to a nuisance habit suggestive of underlying issues. Always keep an eye on your dog, and contact an expert if you have any concerns!

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