Information about barking
Dogs are thought to have been domesticated between 14000 to 135,000 years ago. It is possible that humans selected dogs who barked more, than one’s that did not as a favourable trait to alert them that someone was on their land for example.
Dogs can bark for a number of reasons. It’s an important communication tool but understandably can become problematic for us and neighbours if it is excessive. It can also be a welfare concern for our dogs if the bark happens due to separation related issues. It is a wise idea to set up a camera to see what your dog does when you are out to rule out any separation related challenges. Separation challenges are related to fear when a dog is left alone. Your dog may be barking or showing over stress related behaviours and you may not be aware of it. If your dog is barking for this reason they will need a more in depth behavioural analysis,
Barking can be reinforcing for a dog. For example when a dog barks the postman will move away, to deliver their next set of post, but to the dog this can feel self-reinforcing as they think I’ve barked and the person has moved away. They are likely to repeat this behaviour. It is sensible to get a post guard if your dog jumps up at the post, to avoid bites to people delivering post and protect your mail if they chew it up.
The reasons dogs may bark
- Fear (separation related) this can sound very high pitched and the barks can be a similar tone.
- Fear – this can sometimes be towards a person or animal. There may be a growl along with the noise too.
- Cognitive decline – older dogs can experience cognitive decline and this bark can be monotonic.
- In response to noise – fireworks or the doorbell for example.
- Excitement and for attention – some dogs get very excited during play and some dogs may bark to get an owners attention.
Actions you should avoid in response to barking and why
- Don’t try and force your dog’s mouth shut when they bark. The best case scenario is that your dog will not like it, but tolerate it, while the worst case is the dog will start to fear your hands and snap or bite them. Doing this will not help prevent barking in the future.
- Shouting at your dog can make a dog fear you and lead to other behavioural problems.
- If your dog is barking for attention reasons, speaking to them or giving them eye contact can all be forms of reinforcement so they may bark again in the future to get you to speak to them.
- If your dog is barking in response to noise then people shouting/speaking loudly can intensify this behaviour as your adding to the noise.
What can you do to prevent barking for attention
- Try and pinpoint triggers that your dog barks at and engage them in a different activity so they can’t practice the barking over and over again.
- If your dog barks in response to the doorbell then you could teach them an ‘on your bed’ cue to prevent them from heading towards the door.
- Exercise and mental stimulation is key in helping dogs thrive. Changing walking spots to make the routes, smells and sights more interesting will enrich your dog’s life and bust boredom which can exacerbate attention related behaviours.
Horwitz, D., British Small Animal Veterinary Association and Mills, D. S. (2012) BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine. Quedgeley, Gloucester: BSAVA [British Small Animal Veterinary Association] (BSAVA Manuals Series).
Yin, S (2002), ‘A new perspective on barking in dogs (Canis familiaris), Journal of comparative physchology, 116 (2), p. 189 – 193.
Ziv, G (2017), ‘The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs—A review’, Journal of veterinary behavior, 2017-05, Vol.19, p.p50-60.