Why do dogs bark?
We asked pet expert Rory the Vet for his advice.
Barking. A noise that can reflect love when you return home, excitedness when their favourite ball is thrown, or a way for them to communicate with their buddies in the local park. All normal and healthy behaviours. But if your pooch starts barking frequently or for longer periods of time, this isn’t just a potential noise issue for you and your neighbours—it could also signal that something may be wrong.
Below, I dive into the main reasons why your hound might bark, and what to do if it becomes excessive.
MEET RORY THE VET
We’ve partnered up with animal whisperer and renowned veterinarian, Dr Rory Cowlam, to share his wisdom when it comes to all things furry. And boy, does this man know his stuff.
Starting with his degree from the Royal Veterinary College, Rory has since co-starred in the CBBC’s series The Pet Factor, shared his knowledge on the likes of Blue Peter and written all about it in his book, .
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The reasons why dogs bark
There are many reasons why your dog might bark. Boredom, excitement, frustration, anxiety. It’s all part of the experience of owning a woofer. If you’re hoping to reduce your dog’s barking, then understanding why they are barking is key.
They’re feeling scared or anxious
Vocalisation of all kinds can be seen when a dog is feeling scared or anxious. Whining, hiding and panting are all possible signs of this. A dog will bark in this instance to ward off anyone they’re not too sure about or raise the alarm if they are scared!
We have all heard our dogs bark during play, but there are many different types of bark your dog can produce to communicate with both other dogs as well as their humans!
They need food or attention
Some dogs will bark at their owners when they want something, or if they’re looking for attention. Often, we as pet owners will try to discourage this, while others will be able to interpret their dog’s specific bark for “feed me!”.
We see this mainly in younger dogs who have lots of pent-up energy. It’s actually something I often see in the vet clinic. We try and train our dogs to settle but sometimes, if an owner is talking to someone for just a little too long without entertaining their dog, barking will ensue!
They’re feeling territorial
This is more of an aggressive bark, used to ward off people and other animals and warn them that they are in their territory.
This is a trait most dogs carry once they become settled in their home and family. However, there are certain breeds known for their “watch dog” tendencies. “Watch dogs” usually warn their owner of a person entering their territory by barking excessively to get their attention.
This is usually similar to the “give me attention” or “bored” bark. Or it’s often in response to something exciting happening, such as an owner preparing their dog’s food or the lead coming out of the cupboard before a walk!
They sense a threat
This is the kind of bark I don’t ever like to hear. It is often associated with bared teeth and ears lying flat. It can be the precursor to aggression.
What to do if you think your dog is barking for medical reasons
In my experience, a dog barking due to medical related reasons is usually in their senior years of life. Cognitive decline is something we see frequently, sometimes termed “doggy dementia”. As our older four-legged friends start to lose their sight and their other senses, they can sometimes become confused and will bark to get their owner’s' attention in response to this. If you are concerned that this is happening to your dog, then I suggest talking it through with your vet who can guide you during this experience.
How to find out why your dog is barking
I recommend using the list of reasons above to help you figure out what your dog is trying to tell you. Getting to know your dog and how their different barks sound will also guide you — they may vocalise various needs differently, so listen carefully. It also helps to take cues from your dog’s body language as they bark. For instance, is their bark directed at something in particular? Do they seem extra playful? These are all great indicators.
How to stop your dog barking excessively
It is important to remember that barking is normal and to be expected. You should only ever intervene if your dog is barking more so than usual. If this is the case, read on for helpful methods on how you can prevent this from happening
1. Understand what your dog needs
Before you do anything, you must identify why exactly your dog is barking in the first place. Only then can you work on training them to express themselves in other ways.
2. Train behaviour with positive reinforcement
Always use positive reinforcement. Treat or toy lead training are perfect ways to do this. I am a huge fan of clicker training too. This works brilliantly with commands such as “settle”.
3. Give your dog plenty of exercise
A tired dog is not a bored dog! I am a firm believer that exercise is key in reducing a lot of the behavioural issues we see in our dogs, including anxiety. So get outside!
4. Establish a routine
Dogs are routine animals. They like predictability, so if you can make sure that sleep, walks, play time, food and whatever else your dog gets up to are done at a similar time every day, then this can help decrease their barking. If they are used to a routine and it isn’t adhered to, then you can understand the reason why they are barking, for instance, their dinner being late.
When does a dog’s barking become excessive?
This is a case-by-case question. Only you as their dog parent will be able to answer it. I would generally advise that if your dog seems to be barking from frustration, aggression, boredom or for something, then speaking to a behaviourist about how you can manage it may well be a good first step.