Labradoodle hello barkThere are two reasons for this week’s blog about why dogs bark. The first is I was in a park with a friend and their dog Poppy. We were discussing how Poppy had learned somewhere how to growl as an older dog. Then we got to the park entrance to which a semi-official notice had been pinned warning owners to prevent their dogs from excessive barking, while in the park. This left us both dumbstruck as to how and why!

The second is the positive one that the government announced on Monday, the banning of electric shock collars for dogs after the Kennel Club’s 10 year fight.

How dogs communicate audibly?

Barking is natural communication for dogs. So are howling, whining and growling. They use these to communicate with others in their pack and to us. When we fail to understand they may use other methods or repeat themselves- just like we do.

Barking is used to welcome, induce play, discipline young, warn of danger, show curiosity or to threaten. All are entirely natural. All can often occur in active play when in a park! But barking can be excessive and problematic particularly when it’s not your dog. The problem occurs when frequency is greater than the norm, just like with children or adults.

Causes of barking

Recognising the causes of barking is important:

  • Genetics. Some breeds are more likely to bark more often than others eg terriers.
  • Territorial. Here the dog is being protective. It’s likely to start quiet and get louder as the threat gets closer.
  • Alarm/Fear. Often the dog is startled or something catches their attention such as a larger dog on a walk. Our friend clearly wants to get away. Or it might be other triggers like cars, sirens, storms or other barking dogs.
  • Greeting/Play. This happy bark with a wagging tail, greets family and guests alike.
  • Physical Need. Our friend is hot/cold; hungry/thirsty and is just letting us know. If you coop up your friend in a small area all day don’t be surprised that she barks a lot of the time through lack of exercise. A tired dog is usually a quiet dog.
  • Emotional Need. This is when they are bored, lonely, anxious or excited. Dogs are pack and social animals. It is why they, like us, appreciate activities like social playing to make us physically and mentally well.
  • Compulsive Emotional Need. This includes attention-seeking and manic arrival and departure barking. These are the true problems like for example separation anxiety .

Solving Problem Barking

The solution has all the common elements of needing time, work, practice and consistency.

Having worked out the triggers, take corrective action. Reduce threats, provide consistent reassurance in a calm voice and break bad habits by taking small steps regularly towards the desired goal.

Reward good behaviour and deal early with any backtracking on your dog’s or your own behalf.

Further information on helping a dog with separation anxiety issues can be found at the Puppy Being website