Barking is often loud, but it can also be frustrating and annoying if your dog has a habit of barking to excess in specific situations.
It’s important to remember that barking is natural behaviour for dogs. It’s one of the ways they communicate with us and each other – which is why you might hear your dog barking in reply to your neighbour’s dog.
Barking isn’t a problem until it becomes excessive. It’s important to understand the underlying causes of why your dog may be barking. Different ‘triggers’ may require different strategies or responses from you to manage, which will help you address the situation confidently.
It’s important to remember that you should always seek to positively train your dog. Never punish them for unwanted behaviour, as it can damage the trust between you and your dog and cause more behavioural issues for you to solve. The following solutions seek to train your dog in alternative behaviour that is acceptable, instead of behaviour that is distressing or annoying.
Why dogs bark, and how to deal with it
Guarding their territory – or fear
Most dogs will tell you straight away that someone is at the front door by barking loudly. Barking is their way of saying what is going on and how they’re feeling.
Excitable barking at the front door may be due to enthusiasm (it could be someone they know who they love) or a deterrent (they want to protect the house and make the visitor go away). Your pup may also have difficulty determining the difference between a ‘nice’ visitor and someone with ulterior motives.
We recommend trying to pre-empt your visitor, postman, or passer-by by having your dog’s favourite treats handy. Get their attention as the person approaches, and reward your dog for keeping their focus on you. You might want to play a gentle game with them using the treats, but be careful not to over-excite them into a state where they will springboard into a more stimulated state.
It can take time to build on redirection and focus strategies. Be sure to practice them when there’s no distraction first, and slowly introduce the distraction to get them used to the new behaviour you’re wanting to see.
Dogs require both physical and mental stimulation – meaning exercise (like going for a walk or run) and brain training (behavioural work, agility, learning tricks, and environmental stimulation). Certain breeds of dogs require more mental stimulation than others, such as working breeds who love having a job to do.
When a dog doesn’t get adequate exercise for their mind and body, they get bored. Boredom can cause dogs to act-out as they look for ways to stimulate themselves. Unfortunately, boredom can lead to excessive barking.
Fortunately, there are easy solutions to boredom. Give your dog plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. If your dog is very active and/or young they might need an additional walk every day, which is where dog-walking services can come in handy if you’re unable to work from home. If your dog is scent-driven you can choose to ditch the food bowl and scatter feed their meals outside in your backyard. If your dog likes problem-solving, investing in some fun food-dispensing toys and puzzles could be just the thing they need to alleviate boredom.
Dogs are social creatures, and love to spend time around their human family or other dogs. If your dog isn’t used to being home alone they might turn to barking as a way to communicate their anxiety.
There’s ways of building up your pups confidence to ensure they aren’t anxious to be left alone. Start with small amounts of alone time, in a space that makes them feel safe and comfortable. Make sure they have their favourite toys (provided they are safe to be alone with them) so they know the space isn’t just safe but fun and enjoyable for them to be alone in.
Start by putting your dog in this safe space, such as the backyard, while you’re at home for a few minutes, slowly building up to more time. Over time, you’ll be able to leave the house and feel comfortable that they are happy and confident to be on their own while you’re shopping, at work or visiting friends.
When you get home make sure you’re not making a big fuss or deal over your return. Keeping your arrival and departure calm will make your dog think that being left alone isn’t a big deal.
If your dog continues to display signs of anxiety, such as excessive barking or self-harm, please make an appointment to speak with one of our vets so that we can create a tailored management plan for their wellbeing.
This is similar to boredom, as it can often be self-rewarding behaviour for your dog.
When your dog wants attention, it barks to get your full focus on them in that moment. If they do this a lot and unnecessarily, it shows that they think its acceptable behaviour for them to do in the home.
There are a few ways to tackle this type of behaviour. The first is to completely ignore your dog when they bark – no eye contact, no physical movements towards them. You can even leave the room so that they are left alone, indicating that behaviour is unacceptable.
Next, reward your dog when they are calm and behaving in the way you want them to. Give them the two Ps – praise and pats! Always reward the behaviour that you want to see.
Still have questions about barking? Chat to our friendly team and we can help you work on a solution to your pups behavioural problem.