How to Handle a Barking Dog
Have you ever watched your dog lose their cool over a leaf blowing in the wind? Or struggled to get the floor clean while they continuously barked and pounced on the vacuum cleaner? Or been mortified by the way they barked at Grandma like she’s a predator come to eat the family instead of just a little old lady come to visit? Believe it or not, each of these incidents, while difficult for you, is normal behavior for a dog. All dogs bark, though some more than others, and there is typically a reason that they do so, which often has to do with their breed. So, does this mean that you have to stop inviting Grandma over, never vacuum the floor, and be sure to keep your dog inside on a windy day? Of course not, but you do need to try to understand why it is that your dog is barking so that you can help them to stop when you need them to.
Reasons Dogs Bark
Dogs bark for a variety of reasons, all of which are instinctual to them and can communicate important information to us. For example, a dog may bark to defend their territory from someone they perceive to be a stranger. If your dog doesn’t see Grandma very often, she may fit the stranger category to them and their instinctive need to protect you and your shared space will kick in. The closer Grandma gets to the house, the more they will bark and the louder and more demonstrative their protest will become. Another reason your dog may bark could simply be surprise. That leaf that suddenly takes flight in the wind is startling to your unsuspecting animal, who isn’t familiar with the laws of physics and won’t understand why this object is suddenly dancing around in the air. Just as we may let out a shout when taken by surprise, your dog will bark at the thing that startles them. Your dog may also bark out their feelings. In other words, if they're bored, lonely, or unhappy, they may bark to let you know how they feel. If they suffer from separation anxiety, their emotional barking will be incessant each time you leave them, as they feel frightened whenever they're left alone. Similarly, they may bark to get your attention. If they need to go outside or they have discovered that their water bowl is empty, they may bark to alert you. Finally, dogs often bark to say, “hello” when greeting someone. This is a gentle bark combined with a wagging tail that lets you know that they're happy to see you.
What Should You Do About a Barking Dog?
The short answer to this question is, it depends. How long does the barking go on? Is it bothering you or a family member or neighbor? Is it a bark designed to communicate a need to you? Determining why your dog is barking is the first step to deciding how to address that barking. For example, if your dog barks because they're bored or lonely, make sure that you spend enough time playing with them and that they have plenty of toys to keep them busy. If possible, consider adopting another dog so that they have a friend to play with. If they're barking because they're thirsty, refill their water bowl and be sure to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t drain down again. But if the barking is excessive and causing problems with your neighbors, you’ll want to actively work on training your dog to tame the barking.
Training a dog to bark less is a bit tricky since barking is an instinctive behavior and one of the animal’s only forms of communication. As with all training, the key will be consistency. Do the same thing every time your dog barks so that they learn to associate the desired behavior with the reward, which will pair the cue with the behavior. For example, if you want your dog to stop barking when you say the word, “hush,” then while they are barking, each time they pause, say the word, “hush,” then give them a treat to reward the hush. Eventually, they will learn that “hush” means they should stop barking. Use a firm voice, but do not yell. Yelling raises the volume and tension levels, making your dog want to bark more. And be sure to thank them for doing their job and barking to alert you of something but be careful not to reward the barking. Finally, address barking problems as soon as possible, or they may escalate and become even harder to extinguish.
If your dog’s barking seems excessive, talk to your veterinarian. It may be anxiety or an underlying medical condition that’s causing the barking. If you have an anxious dog, consider administering Earth Animal’s Nature’s Comfort Zen-Pen™ or Zen-Tabs™ or Emotional Balance Organic Herbal Remedy to help ease their nervous behavior. In combination with proper training, this should help your dog feel calmer and more confident.
Barking is a normal vocalizing behavior for dogs and can’t (nor should it be) fully extinguished. But you can help your dog to be more in control of their barking by following our tips. And then maybe blowing leaves or a visit from Grandma won’t send your normally happy pup into a barking frenzy.