Barking is an annoying, but natural behavior
Dogs bark. That’s a fact of life. Some dogs bark for very serious and concerning reasons, others not so much.
For humans, barking can mean:
- Complaints, eviction from your apartment
- Can’t relax for five minutes
- Unable to bring the dog to visit friends or family
- Difficulty walking your dog
- Shame when people see how your dog acts
All of which suck.
But to fix the human problems related to barking, you have to look at why your puppy is exhibiting this behavior and act on the cause, not the symptom.
Genetics play a massive role in barking
All dogs can bark, but some are genetically programmed or inclined to do so a lot more than others. These include breeds that were:
- Made to protect a home, territory or livestock such as Akitas, Great Pyrenees, German Shepherds, Schnauzers
- Tailored to work all day long away from people, such as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds
- Originally bred to fight, alert of, or hunt critters and game, such as Dachshunds, Beagles and Bassets
If your dog is prone to barking due to its breed, you’re going to have a much harder time eliminating this behavior, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible!
If you haven’t picked your next dog yet, consider this factor in your breed selection.
The different reasons for barking, and what to do for each of them
Puppies and dogs can bark as part of their attempt to initiate play or during play itself. A few barks here or there is perfectly normal and usually doesn’t cause too much trouble, but if your dog is constantly barking in the dog park, you might want to get it under control.
First, make sure it isn’t fear.
If your dog never plays with the dogs it barks at, keeps away from them or shows signs of aggression (growling, showing teeth, snapping) when they approach, that’s no playing dog. See the Fear section below!
Dealing with the bark-playing dog
The best way to circumvent this issue is to teach your dog that this behavior makes him lose his friend(s). The best way to do this is in a controlled environment, with a friend or family member’s dog that has a lot of patience. What you’ll do is simple: let your dog in the room to play, heavily reward with praise and food when he plays without barking, and calmly remove him from the room when he starts barking.
- Barking means you lose your friend for about a minute.
- Doing literally anything else means you keep your friend, and you get paid.
Two important things to keep in mind while doing this:
1 – Consistency is not optional. If your dog gets to keep playing after barking one out of ten times, you’re likely not going to fix this problem. That also means you might need to very carefully pick the moments your dog gets to be in contact with friends for a little while, until you’ve changed its habits.
2 – Getting angry doesn’t do you any good. The important part of this process is that your dog gets paid and keeps playing when it does so nicely. If you only focus on removing the puppy when it barks, you’re not going to get there. Worse yet, if you get angry at your dog or punish them heavily when they bark, they might start to associate these unpleasant events with other dogs, leading to a much worse problem, fear.
If your puppy barks at you while you’re trying to work or relax, odds are your dog is bored and trying to make something happen.
We have an entire post dedicated to this issue and how to fix it, you can read it here.
Trying to obtain something
Your dog may have learned that barking pays.
This category can be somewhat coupled with boredom or frustration, but not always.
Does your dog barks at you when it wants food, pets, play or anything else? You may unwillingly have taught your dog that barking is a rewarding behavior.
It’s usually very easy to recognize this type of barking. You know what the puppy wants.
The way to fix this is simple: teach the dog how to ask politely.
- When your dog is about to (but has not yet!) bark, ask for another behavior!
- We like to use sit, but anything goes: you can ask your dog to get the ball, lie down in front of the door, even bark if you want!
- The goal is to set rules you like for your household.
- When the dog does what you expect as a request for, say, going out in the yard, give it what it asked for!
- If the dog barks, regardless of whether it did the behavior you asked, it doesn’t get what it wants!
Changing habits in a dog that has been doing things the same way for years can take a while. Remember that, as with all things dog training, consistency is key.
Reactivity: Frustration or fear?
If your dog excessively barks at people, squirrels, dogs, cats, birds or other moving, living things, it is considered reactive. Usually, this barking comes with more loss of control: the dog lunges, pulls, growls, etc. We call “triggers” the things that make your dog go berserk.
Fear or frustration are the two reasons for reactivity and can often look quite similar. They have, for the most part, the same solution.
However, one of them is far more concerning than the other.
Figuring out which it is
When the thing your dog barks at gets close, is it happy? Dogs who are frustrated want the thing they’re barking at. They want to say hi to it, they want to play with it, they want to chase it, they also might want to eat it (prey drive). Dogs who are afraid want to make the thing go away.
This type of barking can happen on the street, at your window, when your dog hears a sound or when someone enters your home.
Sometimes, your puppy might be both afraid and curious about something. Your dog might bark at all dogs, but at big dogs out of fear and small dogs out of frustration.
The only way of knowing in which category your dog falls is to look at its behavior when it’s close to the trigger. Your dog happily says hi to dogs when they finally meet, it’s frustration. It starts growling, showing teeth, trying to run away, snapping or gets into fights, it’s fear.
If you’re not sure, don’t test it, assume fear.
Working on fear barking when it’s actually just frustration is far, far less risky than doing the opposite. Putting your dog too close to its triggers when you aren’t sure if it’s afraid is dangerous. It might make the problem worse and even lead to a bite, which you definitely don’t want to see happen.
Working with a reactive dog or puppy
Reactivity is an issue that needs to be tackled with the help of a professional. We’ll still give you a few tips and tricks to make things a little better, or at least stabilize, until you can see a qualified dog trainer. The advice below likely won’t fix the problem, but it will make things better.
For both types of reactivity, management is key
If your puppy flips out when it sees children, avoid playgrounds. If your dog goes haywire when it spots another dog, avoid walking in high-traffic areas or at peak dog walking times. Your goal is to prevent your dog from reacting, not by forcing them to stop when they start, but by keeping them far enough away from triggers that they don’t even bark in the first place.
For frustrated dogs
One thing that can help make your walks easier is to give the dog a lot of the thing it wants, but in a proper environment. Going to the dog park with a dog that really likes to say hi gives the dog a place where they can interact properly with many dogs, and can make them less interested in dogs for a little while after.
For fearful dogs
Find ways to prevent your dog from even being aware that its triggers exist. Walking later at night or earlier in the morning, playing music to mask scary sounds, telling people not to ring the doorbell, playing in the yard instead of going for walks are all strategies that can help reduce your dog’s fear by simply letting them breathe a little easier. This won’t remove the fear entirely, but it will make taking care of your dog easier while you work on actually fixing the problem with the help of a trainer.
Resource guarding is a natural, albeit dangerous behavior in dogs. The dog has something it likes, it does not want to share it. It can protect food, bones, toys, water, comfy spaces, rooms, people or even smells. It can protect from specific people, from everyone, from dogs or even from other pets.
Dogs that protect things will usually have other behaviors on top of barking to show their discomfort: they will stand between their object and you, have eyes popping out of their heads, growl, charge and even snap or actually bite when you get too close.
This issue should be fixed with the help of a trainer to avoid the risk of bites, but one thing you can do to reduce the risk of an accident happening is to make sure the dog no longer physically has access to problem items. Fido protects bones: we don’t give bones anymore. The puppy protects the couch, there’s a box on top of the couch when we aren’t sitting on it, so the dog doesn’t get up there. The dog protects toys from other dogs: we make sure we put everything away before family comes over with their dog.
If your dog constantly barks or destroys things when you leave the house, and you’ve ruled out boredom and reactivity to certain noises, your dog likely suffers from separation anxiety. Learning to be alone is rather simple for puppies, but in adult dogs or if your dog is extremely anxious when alone, you’ll need specialized help. You should get in touch with Ivy League Dogs, who have CSATs (Certified Seperation Anxiety Trainer) in their team.
And there you have it! Some of the reasons for barking are quite complex and take time to fix, some take just a few lifestyle changes. Remember that you can always get in touch with us if you’re struggling to make sense out of all this. We’re here to help!