A barking dog is generally perceived as an annoyance by majority of people. However, a dog’s barking can have a wide variety of meaning behind it, ranging from; boredom, excitement, frustration, fears and alerting when something is out of the ordinary.
Many owners look to rid their dog of the barking behaviour but tend to look at the exhibiting behaviour to fix, not the underlying problem which is causing the barking in the first place.
When we look at “fixing” a barking dog, you must understand what is causing it, simple examples below:
Barking In The Backyard
A bored and under stimulated dog. When a dog is in a space for a long period
of time, they are left up to their own devices and usually find barking quite entertaining, especially if it
gets a rise out of a neighboring dog, then both dogs will have a nice conversation, simply rewarding for
Solution: Stop allowing the dog in the backyard unattended. There is no NEED for your dog to be in the
backyard other than for pure pleasure of the dog and laziness for the owner (easier than a walk). If your
dog is out there practicing a bad behaviour, he or she is learning from that behaviour, it will get worse
and worse until a new behaviour has formed. Interrupt your dog and redirect them onto something
suitable such as a game to play or a bone/chew.
Barking While Looking at Owners
Attention seeking or demanding behaviour. These dogs have been accidentally rewarded for this negative behaviour by having the human either try to ‘shush’ the dog or ‘yell’ at the dog, ‘let the dog out’ and the worst, ‘give the dog a treat to make him or her shut up’.
What owners don’t realize is that dog has YOU trained. They bark, you pay attention (even negative attention is attention), this entertains the dog, “woo hoo, they talked to me!/gave me something to shut me up”
The dog is simply rewarded right then and there.
Solution: Do the opposite of what you have been doing, walk away and ignore your dog. The behaviour
will get worse (increased barking and maybe even other behaviours) this is called extinction training, the
dog doesn’t understand why what they have done always worked and got them what they wanted and
now it’s not, so they bark louder. At one point the dog will realize it’s not going to happen and stop.
Barking at Strangers
Alerting and/or distance increasing behaviour. When dogs feel threatened, even the slightest bit they will announce their displeasure with either a low bark or a very high bark (depending on the confidence and arousal levels). This warning behaviour can be interpreted under distance increasing behaviour, they want that person to know they are there and not to “do anything they’ll regret”. Many dogs after barking can come to the conclusion that the person isn’t a threat and will then greet and be done, however, some dogs will not let up and continue the barking or increase their warnings with nipping/biting to make sure they will get their point across.
Solution: Changing the dogs perception of what a stranger means. If a dog was perceiving the stranger as a friend, most dogs will welcome with a tail wag and licks. To make a better association, treat the dog when they look at the stranger, soon the dogs perception will be; stranger = good things.
This is usually one of the hardest to detect in most dogs, often overlooked and assessed as something else such as dominance or a tantrum. Dogs can get frustrated! Think about it, they’re stuck in a house majority of the day, then strapped to a leash that only allows them to venture 6 feet (at best) and all their impulses must be quickly contained, even if they’ve never been trained. Then we keep them away from almost everything they want, they blow up and start vocalizing their feelings and it’s usually towards whatever stimuli they want (another dog, a person, cat or rodent).
Solution: Decrease frustrations. This involves creating better impulse control through obedience training and listening skills. Training a dog a leave it cue is the ideal cue to use in this situation because it will be a cue that involves “stop doing what you’re doing and look at me”, then it is up to the owner to reward the dog and take them away from the situation or to allow the dog to see what they want as long as they are quiet and acting appropriately.
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Kristin Crestejo, CDBC
Kristin Crestejo has been training dogs for over 10 years, 5 of those years have been running her own business, Modern Canine Training and running her Youtube channel which showcases her training techniques and tutorials for free. Her goal is to share the knowledge that stress free, humane dog training works! There are better ways to train your dog, with no ill side effects as traditional or confrontational methods do.
She is a Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant that specializes in complex behaviour cases ranging from compulsive barkers to OCD behaviours, Fears & anxieties, Aggression and Frustrations.