Animal Friends Blog
Lis Oram Registered Veterinary Nurse from Joii talks about all things barking! From why dogs bark to whether you can you stop them from making so much noise.
Why do dogs bark?
Dogs need to bark – it’s part of who they are! Dogs bark to communicate their thoughts and feelings, to get our attention, to let us know there’s someone at the door, as an attempt to get us to play or as a warning to stay away. Barking works because it’s difficult to ignore and it usually gets a reaction of some kind that makes it worth doing it again!
The barking alone does not necessarily convey a dog’s mood, the rest of his body language is important too, showing whether he is excited and playful or threatened and afraid. When your dog starts to bark, you need to quickly assess why they feel the need, acknowledge the alert then change the subject. We shouldn’t be trying to stop our dogs barking completely, but we should be able to stop it from getting out of hand!
What do different barks mean?
High pitched and waggy tailed, maybe even some excited foot paddling and spinning in circles and jumping up!
When a dog wants to get your attention they may bark at you, often with a long string of single barks with pauses between – stroke me, feed me, walk me! Be careful here – if you always give them what they want when they have barked at you then you have rewarded them and taught them that barking works! Dogs are amazing manipulators able to watch their owners and work out how to get what they want!
Fear, anxiety, or on the defence
Either a visual or audible stimulus triggers this bark, such as a strange person approaching the home, another dog being nearby or even a scary sound. This type of barking is often deeper sounding, is continuous, incessant and may come with a growl. It’s a “What’s that? Go away! Don’t come any closer!” warning to all.
Their body language may be stiffer, hackles may be up, while their tail and head are down. In a dog’s mind barking works in this instance. They are worried enough to bark at the sudden intrusion of the postman, then the postman leaves and they suddenly feel less worried!
Barking at other dogs on a walk is slightly trickier as barking doesn’t always work and your dog may feel the need to escalate from noise to actions like lunging or snapping.
How can I stop my dog from barking?
Offer a distraction
The longer you leave them barking the more they will bark so always try to interrupt with a “thank you” or an “OK, I’ve heard you!” Don’t bark a command at them or shout at them to shut up – you have just joined in! Try to distract them into doing something else like asking them for a few behaviours you know they can perform and then reward that by scattering some treats for them to sniff out and find.
Reduce access to the problem
Reducing your dog’s access to that stimulus can be useful in allowing your dog to feel calmer during the day, to get better rest, and to reduce the chances of barking occurring. Move “platform chairs” away from windows, stick opacities in windows, play brown noise (deeper than white noise and helps with relaxation) to mask outdoor noises and put a lockable letterbox near your front door.
Provide a workout
Are you meeting your dog’s needs fully? Have they had a mental workout as well as physical? If you are just relying on a short daily walk to do the job of entertaining your dog, you might find barking is more frequent. Having a mixture of physical and mental workouts will leave your dog able to better settle.
Think about your reaction
Have a think about how you are responding to your dog’s needy barking. Do you look at them, talk to them, reward them by stroking or engaging in any way? While we want to ensure our dogs are feeling comfortable and fully supported in the emotions they might be feeling, we also need to make sure we are not unintentionally reinforcing the behaviour!
You can stop the barking probably temporarily with “gadgets” such as collars that emit noises or spray air or citronella but using these means you’re punishing your dog, making it feel worse than it already does and escalating the situation! Your dog is doing what comes naturally to what he believes is a good reason, to be punished by something which inflicts pain or discomfort is very confusing and detrimental.
Speak to a Joii behaviourist or trainer and work positively to find an alternative, positive way to reduce the barking and probably your dog’s anxiety, fear, boredom and/or frustration!
Is it to do with you leaving?
Do the barking or stress signals (panting, pacing, scratching at the door, yawning) start immediately as you leave or is it after a few minutes? If so, the barking could be a clue to separation anxiety, which will require support from a behaviourist.
If you’re ever worried about your dog, why not speak to Joii? Animal Friends cat and dog policyholders receive access to free vet video consultations for their pet. Not an Animal Friends customer? Get a quote today.
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