What Does My Dog’s Bark Mean?

There are many reasons why dogs bark

Do you remember the anticipation of waiting to hear your dog bark for the first time?  What is their bark going to sound like? When will they bark for the first time? Or perhaps from the moment you welcomed your new family member to your home they instantly started barking.

Whichever the case may be, there are many different reasons why your dog barks.  Whilst there are times we are sure you wish they wouldn’t, your dog is communicating and there is a reason for their barking.  Most are healthy barks and are a healthy way of your dog telling you something, this usually won’t last long.  For you understanding why they are barking, the sooner you are hearing their message, the sooner they will stop barking.  Sometimes however, the barking will continue and become excessive which may become intolerable to you, any neighbours and potentially become problematic.

The Reasons For My Dog’s Barking

There are ways to prevent your dog from barking but to do this it is important to understand the reasons behind the barking in the first place.  This is where you need to observe your dog, look to see if there is a pattern and listen to the sound of the barking (yes dogs make different sounds depending on the reason for their barking) and make note of the following:

  • When does my dog bark, what time of day?
  • How often does my dog bark?
  • Is there a trigger? (a noise, a person, an object, food)
  • Is there a consequence (the noise stops, the person moves away, they get food)?
  • What is their body doing? (moving, still, jumping up and down, cowering…..)

Barking Pitch, Length and Frequency

A dog’s bark is made up of three components:

Pitch

The bigger the dog, the deeper the pitch of the bark.  Compare a small dog’s bark to a big dog’s bark – can you hear the difference in pitch?

Time in Between Barks

How fast or slow is the dog’s bark.  Typically the faster the bark, the more the dog is excited and trying to express the urgency of the situation.  This often occurs before a walk or prior to meal time.

Length of One Bark

The length of a bark is thought to be associated with the level of threat or excitement a dog is faced with.  A dog barking when their owner returns home is likely to have a quicker length bark to a dog who hears someone knock at the front door.

Situations of Dog’s Barking

Jean is being vocal at breakfast time from excitement

Excitement

This is a very joyful and enthusiastic dog and they are barking to show the world.  Examples of this kind of barking include: Barking and jumping when the lead is being attached, barking at other dogs, barking when the door bell rings or when you arrive home.  This is also high pitch, short and very fast barking but it should be accompanied by a lot of body movement as well. Imagine a dog getting ready to go to the park, they can’t stay still.

Attention Seeking

Your dog wants to interact with you. Barking will be most likely high pitched and short. They may pause in between bursts of barks to check if you or someone is responding to their request of attention or not.  More often than not the dog has been rewarded with attention every time he barks.

Boredom

Dogs are active and social animals, if left alone for too long or not stimulated, a dog may develop a barking problem.  The dog has no other way to pass their time so barks out of sheer boredom.  The dog has learnt that barking can be fun and can pass the time as well as helping to burn some excess energy.

Fear or Anxiety

Fear and Anxiety can be caused by many factors and might be making your dog bark more often than necessary.  One of the most common reasons of canine stress is separation anxiety.  This is typically a high pitched bark, short but not necessarily fast. You will also see body stress signals like tail down, ears back and body closer to the ground.

Chica is making sure Nero is protected whilst he sleeps in the sun

Territorial Barking

This barking is alarming the pack of a possible intruder. This type of barking will be low pitched and a little longer. It will also be mixed with growls. Looking at the body posture of your dog will see a confident posture with many elements directed forward (ears, body, lips), tail up and wagging stiffly.

Pain

Sometimes a dog will bark when they are in pain. We always recommend if you suspect this is the reason for their barking to consult your veterinary.

How to Control Your Dog’s Barking

Kyra enjoying a good run

Exercise

Dogs need exercise.  Many dogs bark due to boredom, a lack of stimulation, both mental and physical.  The type of dog you have will depend on how much.  But an exercised dog will in most cases result in a tired and happy dog.  Exercise not only helps a dogs physical health but their emotional health too.  Just like for humans, any pent up energy or feelings are released when exercising and built up stress is lifted.

Being outside in the fresh air and sunshine to exercise means your dog is absorbing vitamin D which they can’t produce enough of themselves.  Sunlight also stimulates the production of endorphins which is really beneficial for your dog’s emotional health.  A win, win for your dog and for you, exercising and sunlight will help your dog’s physical and emotional health which in turn will make for a happier dog who barks less.

Mental Stimulation

Alex enjoys a game of fetch

One of the easiest and successful ways to stop your dog barking if they are doing so because they are bored or stressed is to keep them busy and to give them mental stimulation.  Interactive slow feeders and toys are a great way to keep your dog busy whilst they get to use their brains doing something enjoyable.

Playing with your dog is another great way to mentally stimulate your dog.  Simply letting them out into the garden for some dogs isn’t enough.  They need more.  Try a game of fetch, or take time with them in the garden to teach them new skills or go over already learnt ones.

Leaving music or the television on is another helpful tip to keep your dog calm and stop from barking if they are doing so from boredom or stress.  Creating a calm area for your dog to feel safe with plenty of interactive toys will help to not only soothe your dog but keep them distracted for times when they may be suffering which results in barking.

Max is kept busy and stimulated chewing on a bone

Remove the Motivation

A dog will get some reward for barking, you need to establish what that is and remove it.

If your dog barks at people walking past, simply remove them from the dog’s view. Manage the behaviour.  Do not let them be outside to bark.  If they do, remove them from the situation and bring them inside.  If they bark at people walking past from inside the house, close the curtains, obstruct their view of the window or door.

Ignore the Barking

Note this is not to be used if your dog barks for territorial reasons and to protect their territory and you.

Are you guilty of giving your dog lots of attention when they are being naughty and barking yet ignoring them whilst they are being good and quiet?

If you believe your dog is barking to get your attention, ignore them for as long as it takes them to stop. Don’t talk to them, don’t touch them, don’t even look at them; your attention only rewards them for being noisy. When they finally quiet, even to take a breath, reward them with a treat.

This takes a lot of patience and strong will.

The aim is for your dog to catch on that being quiet means they will receive a treat, lengthen the amount of time they must remain quiet before being rewarded.  Start small by rewarding your dog for being quiet for a few seconds, then build this up to longer periods of quiet time.

Alex receiving attention from Patricia

Give Your Dog Attention

Your dog deserves your attention and often will bark to get it (as explained above).  Once you have taught your dog that being quiet means a treat and barking means no attention, it is down to you to ensure you give your dog the attention they crave on a daily basis.  They thrive with human interaction.  Talk to your dog, play with your dog, include them in your day to day errands, trips in the car, meeting friends.  As already mentioned – a tired dog is a happy dog.

Show Your Dog You are in Control

This is to be used when your dog is barking to protect you and their territory. They are barking to raise an alarm from fear of a possible threat.  They are just trying to be helpful and protect.

Firstly you need to understand that your dog is not doing this to annoy you, on the contrary they are trying to please you.  Once you understand this it is important to be calm at all times to solve this particular barking problem.

Acknowledge you have heard your dog barking, show your dog you are in control and you are safe as are they.  This will help to reduce your dog’s stress levels by just letting them know that you heard the warning and we will take care of the problem.

To do this step in front of your dog and raise your hand whilst choosing a word or phrase you will always use in this situation such as “thank you” or “it’s okay”

Wait until your dog stops barking whilst talking and stroking them.

As soon as they are calm reward with a treat.

Wait until your dog moves away or distract them with a toy or another “thank you” or “it’s okay”.

Repeat these steps every time your dog barks to raise alarm.  Over time and with practice your dog will start to calm down sooner and will understand that you are in control and there is nothing to worry about, therefore removing the need for them to bark.

Tips

Never shout at your dog when they are barking – this sends them the wrong message and what they here is you barking with them

When training your dog – keep sessions short and upbeat

Be consistent at all times – if you are training your dog not to bark then everyone in the family must.  You can’t be selective at when you choose to let your dog get away with barking.

If at any point you are overwhelmed or need extra advice please contact a behaviourist in your area.