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Cornell Richard P. Riney Canine Health Center

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Excessive barking

All that “woof, woof, woof” — dogs always have a reason for barking

Your dog barks in the yard. They bark looking out the front window. They bark when you leave the house. They bark when you come home. They bark and bark and bark…

While it may seem like your noisy pooch is just barking for the sake of barking, they always have a reason. You just might not consider the reason worthy.

Knowing that your dog has a reason for barking helps resolve issues with compassion and understanding. You’ll be more successful and limit your dog’s stress if you address the cause of the barking rather than by simply using anti-bark collars, shock collars or other negative enforcement devices on the market.

“Shock is nasty, ultrasound only works a few times, and citronella is okay, but it’s still punishment,” says Dr. Katherine Houpt, the James Law Professor Emeritus of Behavior Medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences.

Why dogs bark

Dogs bark to communicate, both with each other and with us. You can probably recognize your dog’s voice and interpret how they’re feeling based on the sound of their bark.

  • Excitement or play — Your dog might be barking because you just came home, or as a way to greet a favorite playmate. Many dogs bark during play.
  • Alert or alarm — Your dog has spotted a stranger at the door or might have been surprised by someone coming around a corner. Alert barking can be triggered by less obvious events too, such as a neighbor slamming their car door or a doorbell on television.
  • Territorial — This type of barking is motivated by the perceived need to protect space, whether it’s your house, yard or car. Some dogs consider a wider territory to “belong” to them, such as the route through the neighborhood where you walk regularly.
  • Fear and anxiety — Barking is a great way to make scary people or animals go away, so often a dog who feels threatened may bark a shrill, “Get away from me!” This type of barking is often part of other reactivity behaviors.
  • Frustration — Your dog may bark because they want to do something or go somewhere, but can’t — for example a dog trying to get out from behind a fence or a crate, or even trying to grab food on the ground but being restrained by a leash.
  • Lonely or left behind — Your dog may bark as if to say, “Hey, you left me behind!” These barks are usually short and spaced out, with pauses for your dog to listen for your response or return.
  • Attention seeking or demand barks — If you’ve heard this bark, your dog really does seem to demand that you give them a treat, or do something for or with them.
  • Boredom — If there’s nothing else to do, why not bark? Barking due to boredom is particularly common in high-energy dogs who are not getting enough physical and mental stimulation.
  • Aggression — Dogs can bark as part of an aggressive behavior display. Aggression barks usually sound loud, deep and possibly close together.

Find the cause

Strategies to decrease barking depend on the motivation for the barking. You need to figure out why your dog is making such a racket. Listen to the bark. Does it sound happy, stressed or frustrated?

Note any patterns for when and where barking occurs. Is there a specific time of day that is problematic (indicative of a recurring event that your dog monitors), or is there a context that results in more barking? For example, your dog might bark more in the yard when your neighbor’s grandkids are visiting, or every day around 2:30 p.m. when someone jogs past your house.

For barking at the window, look beyond the immediate outdoor space. Check yards and roads that your dog can observe. Listen for unusual sounds, even ones that seem distant. Dogs have great hearing, and your pup might be alert to rodents or a neighbor’s pet making noise.

A quiet pup

After you know why your dog is barking, you can implement strategies to quiet them. Some solutions might include:

  • Apply translucent window clings so your dog can’t look out.

  • Block access to windows.

  • Give your dog a long-lasting, safe chew for entertainment.

  • Stock your house with toys your dog likes.

  • Give your dog daily mental and physical exercise to wear them out a bit. Mental stimulation, like a little training (sit-stand-down-sit-stand-down) often tires dogs out quickly.

  • Implement micro-training sessions into bathroom breaks. Any time you get up from your desk or the couch, have your dog practice a trick or behavior that they know.

  • Give your dog calm praise or rewards when they are resting quietly.

  • Play music or leave the television on to mask outdoor noises.

  • For multiple-dog households, separate the dogs during the day if their play tends to get vocal.

  • Rotate which dog is in the yard, if they egg each other on.

  • Prevent fence-running by either blocking your dog’s view or by only letting them loose in the yard at times when the area is usually calm.

  • Teach your dog to ring a bell to ask to come inside to give them an alternative to barking at the door.

  • Review crate training to make sure your dog is comfortable in their crate.

  • Put your dog in a safe place when company comes over, especially if they are fearful.

  • Teach your dog both to bark on cue (“Speak!”) and to be quiet on cue.

You can also work with a veterinary behaviorist to further address barking caused by fear or aggression.

Remember, barking is a natural canine behavior, so it can take some patience to quiet a noisy hound. But you can decrease barking if you identify the cause and work to address the external and internal (mental and emotional) factors behind it.

This article has been reprinted with permission from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s DogWatch newsletter, published by Belvoir Media Group. When you become a member of the Riney Canine Health Center, you will receive a free subscription to DogWatch.