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Barking

Is it Normal?

Dogs bark. Some dogs bark more than others - it has been carefully selected for many generations in some breeds to do special jobs, like guarding livestock or people. We all know some barking is ok, so how do we know when to get help? Likely reasons to seek help include:

  • Your dog is in distress causing injury to herself or property

  • The amount of barking is affecting your relationship with your dog ('She's driving me crazy!')

  • Your neighbors are complaining

  • You work from home and it's affecting your job

  • You dog is barking out of fear or aggression

There are so many other reasons to reach out. The important point to remember is that some barking is normal, and unwanted barking can be reduced.

Why is my dog barking?

Your dog could be barking many different reasons. We'll cover a few of sometimes unwanted barks on this page.

  • Watchdog Barking

  • Demand Barking

  • Fearful Barking

  • Boredom Barking

  • Alone Barking

How to Determine  Your Dog's Type(s)

The first step is to determine why your dog is barking. This may be already apparent or may take some careful observation. Remember that your dog may bark for one or more reasons. Keeping a log is a good place to start. ​

Click here to download our PDF of a bark log or create your own. 

Here's the process: Your dog barks - write down the date/time of the bark. Note the duration and how the barking sounds. Note any observed body language. If something happened immediately before the barking, note that. What happened immediately before your dog stops barking?​

Here are a few examples: 

7:30 am. Neighbor in hallway. Chewie barks for 30 seconds. Bark is mid toned and rapid. Chewie jumping on front feet with a stiff body. Tail high and wagging. 

12:00 pm. I am working at computer. Chewie barks at me while standing beside me. Pitch is kind of high. He paws me with his left foot. I look at him and he stops barking.  I look back to computer and he starts again.

Once you have some entries in your log, send it to me, and we can talk about the best way to reduce the barks.

chewie barks

Watchdog Barking

Watchdog barking simultaneously alerts the dog's family of a perceived intruder and warns the perceived intruder that he's on watch. Watchdog happens when there is sound, movement or something visual perceived that your dog is warning/warning us about.

How can I reduce it?

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Managing the environment is the first step. If your dog is barking inside the home when looking out a window, use window cling film to block the view. This does the trick all by itself for some dogs. If sounds are the culprit, purchase a white noise maker to help reduce the sounds. Get creative during this step. Ask yourself, what is my dog barking at and how can I reduce or eliminate it.

Teach the dog a competing response – such as fetching a certain toy or doing a down-stay on a mat (which cuts barking in many dogs) for tasty food rewards.  Practice out of doorbell or “intruder” contexts first and then incorporate the game or command into real-life situations.  The dog will need some coaching and prompting the first few times in the real-life situation so prepare to budget some time for that. Even better, set it up with a cohort to play “visitor” a few times, so you can focus on the dog rather than being forced to attend to the person at the door. 

 

Another effective technique is a (non-violent) penalty for barking.  After a few barks, warn the dog to be quiet (“quiet please”). On the very next bark, mark the behavior (“Oh!  Too bad for you!”) and immediately impose a time-out penalty in a bathroom or backroom: anywhere far from the action. With repetition the dog will learn that it is his barking that is producing the removal and he will start heeding the warning.

Competing response and time-outs can be combined as a one-two punch.  If he gets does his go-to-mat, he is rewarded as usual. If he barks, he goes into the penalty box. If your dog “goes off” for the smallest sounds and changes in the environment, it would help the cause to get him better habituated. Take him out more, invite people and dogs over to socialize, expose him to a wider range of sights and sounds.    

Demand Barking

Demand barking is the dog's way of communicating that she would like something NOW. Typical requests include "open the door NOW," "pay attention to me NOW," "let me out of here NOW," "I want to see that dog NOW" etc.

How can I reduce it?

When they want something, dogs will experiment with various behaviors to see if any of them work. They quickly figure out that barking works. If you don’t like barking, stop rewarding it with attention, door-opening services, releasing from crates etc. Period. No buts.

Don’t provide door-opening services to barking dogs. Don’t let a barking dog out of a crate until he’s quiet. Ignore dogs who bark at you. And so on. If you have been rewarding it for a while, the barking will get worse before it goes away. You’re changing the rules and the dog will be frustrated at first. Whatever you do, don’t crack and reward WORSE barking.

Above all, start noticing the dog when he’s quiet.  Teach him that there are payoffs for lying quietly, chewing on a chew-toy and refraining from barking.

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I tried ignoring it and it didn't work. What's going on?

A couple of things could be going on. 

You need more time ignoring the barking. The sign that this is working is an extinction burst. Your dog's barking will get even more irritating as it gets really loud, intense or increases in duration. This is what you want, but it is imperative that you ignore this barking at all costs.  After the extinction burst, demand barking should decrease significantly and eventually extinguish.

The barking isn't really demand barking. If we ignore a bark that isn't demand barking, the barking may not stop. This is because we have potentially misidentified the cause of the barking. Go back to the top of this page and go through the steps of trying to identify the cause of (stimulus that happens just before the barking) and the reinforcer of the barking. Then, go to the section on that type of barking and try again.

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Fearful Barking

Fearful Barking occurs when the dog is uncomfortable about something in the environment and barks to say “I’m dangerous! Don’t come any closer!”

We have two options for this type of barking.

 

Identify and eliminate (if possible) the scary thing

and/or

Work with your dog to help reduce the fear of the scary thing

Identify whatever it is that your dog is scared of and pair them  with something really, really great - usually very special treats. The order of events and how you do this is very important.

If your dog is spooking barking and lunging, and you're worried about safety during walks, reach out. These dogs need a careful systemized counterconditioning and desensitization plan to help them feel better.

These dogs will require your patience, perseverance and continued kindness to feel better about scary things.

 

Whatever you do, don't punish this barking. Scaring your dog with punishment will not help to make fear better. 

Boredom Barking

Boredom Barking can result when the dog’s daily needs for exercise and social stimulation are not met. The dog has gone mad from boredom.

Dogs are time-intensive, unfortunately there aren't many ways to get around this. There is no quick fix for boredom barking: you must meet your dog’s basic needs for stimulation, exercise and companionship. If you are low on time, get creative. Maybe you can hire a dog walker, find a great daycare, or take turns having playdates with a friend's dog.

 

Increase physical and mental stimulation. In a natural environment, a lot of your dog’s energy would be spent acquiring his food. Take walks, play fetch, play tug-of-war, hide & seek, and allow opportunities for free-play with other dogs. Make him work to acquire his food. Stuff it into a Kong toy and hide it in the house before you leave for work, scatter it in the grass in the backyard, or make him earn it piece by piece for tricks.  

Find out what kinds of chew toys he likes and stock up.  Hold chewies for him. Teach him to find a toy that you’ve hidden in the room and then celebrate his find with tug of war or fetch.  Teach him his toys by name. Ask him to bring you one when you come home.  

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Alone Barking

If your dog injures himself, barks incessantly, destroys doors and windows or panics when alone, call. He may have separation anxiety or separation related problems and need some specialized help.

Warning

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How can I reduce it?

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This type of barking happens if alone and other types of barking ruled out. Reach out for this, we will develop a plan to help your dog feel better.