Barking is perfectly normal. It’s how dogs communicate with us and other dogs when they want to get attention, issue a warning or just release some pent up energy. Here’s how to handle it and make sure your dog’s barking doesn’t cause distress.
Why Do Dogs Bark?
You’ll probably already know that your dog has different styles of bark.
There’s a bark to get your attention. Your dog makes this sound when you’ve left the room, or they want to go outside because their bladder is full.
There’s an excited bark – your dog makes this sound when they meet their best canine friend, or when you come home from work. There might be little yaps in between these barks!
There’s a deeper, warning bark. This is the one your dog uses to warn off intruders or alert you to something that’s bothering them (… even if that’s just a shopping bag blowing in the breeze). It can be a single bark… or a series of worried barks that may even become ferocious.
Then there’s the breed specific bark, some breeds are just more vocal and some breeds have their own unique bark (ever looked up ‘talking huskies’ on YouTube?) and of course, some dogs don’t bark at all like the basenji. Although the basenji is still a chatty dog, they just prefer a good yodel or howl over a traditional bark.
You probably know just what your dog’s saying when they bark, even if you’re not in the room.
If your dog’s barking has reached nuisance level, start by identifying the cause.
- Are they frustrated because they haven’t had enough exercise during the day?
- Are they bored and trying to persuade you to run and play?
- Are they hearing people pass by your home?
- Are they worried about being left alone?
- Are they unable to access you for the attention that they would like?
- Are they warning other dogs to stay away?
- Have they trained you so that you give them attention every time they bark?
Barking at Other Dogs?
If your dog’s barking at other dogs (even if they’re not aggressive towards them), this could be an anxious response. Don’t forget, that just because you know your dog's bark means playtime, it doesn’t mean the owner of the dog they’re barking at knows this too. Being barked at by a strange dog, especially a larger dog, can be intimidating as well as poor etiquette. Here are just a few possible reasons your dog’s shouting at another dog:
- Your female dog is in season, which makes her nervous and grumpy.
- Your dog has experienced trauma recently and is worried about encountering a dog.
- Your dog is protecting you (something which might increase if you are pregnant, walking somewhere new or walking in the dark just after daylight savings).
- Your dog is bored, they’ve done this exact walk a million times and they’re frustrated.
- Your dog is anxious or grumpy because of a health condition, such as arthritis or dementia.
- Your dog can smell or hear something you can’t, there’s something scurrying in the bushes or running through the trees and their prey drive has kicked in just as another dog walks past “I smelt it first, it’s mine!”
But barking at other dogs doesn’t always mean “go away”.
It can also be a result of excitement. Your dog has learned that barking gets attention from you, and they’re trying to use the same strategy on other dogs outside. They can’t communicate with those dogs, apart from an excited bark that says “hey, come and play!”.
How To Stop Your Dog Barking at Other Dogs
First, there are a few things not to do:
- Don’t scold your dog. Not only is this worrying for your dog; it’s a form of attention.
- Don’t approach the other dog; keep walking calmly in your original direction. If your path is going to cross that of the dog they’re barking at, take a 90 degree course change (if you can) and put yourself between your dog and the object of their bark..
- Don’t tug on the leash if your dog has stopped. Wait for the other dog to leave and continue.
Here’s how to handle the situation:
- If your dog is a persistent barker, try and break their attention as soon as possible. Physically standing between your dog and whatever they're barking at not only breaks their line of sight but reminds them that you’re the boss.
- A more long term goal could be to train your dog that they tuck behind your legs when they see another dog. This is an especially good idea if you suspect their barking is a result of them trying to protect you as it teaches them you’re the one doing the protecting.
- Ignore the barking until your dog pauses.
- Concentrate on giving them attention when they stop barking.
- When they pause, you initiate an alternative behavior. Call them to you, tell them to sit or lie down, and then give a treat. The treat is the reward for your command, not the barking.
- Pre-empt it! If you spot the signs that your dog is about to bark, that’s a good moment to ask them to do something else. When they’re distracted and sit nicely, you can reward them (reminding them how to get the good kind of attention).
- Practise their skills by taking them to a place where they will see dogs walking in the distance. Encourage your dog to play with you and ignore the dogs; reward them with praise and treats when they do.
- Keeping your dog’s attention on walks will increase the bond between you, as well as positive behavior patterns.
What To Do If Your Dog Is Aggressive Towards Other Dogs
If your normally-placid dog has developed aggressive behavior, remember that there could be an undiagnosed, underlying cause. They might be in pain or discomfort (with low tolerance for pups and younger dogs), they could be near a bitch in season (which causes male dogs to challenge one another), or they could have a health condition such as dementia. It’s important to consult your veterinarian if your dog’s behavior has changed unexpectedly.
How can you deal with aggression that’s not been caused by a health issue? If your dog consistently growls at other dogs they meet (and not just Barney down the road, who once pushed him over: dogs remember these things), you should ask your vet to refer you to a canine behavior specialist. Depending on who you ask, almost all or all negative behaviors can be trained out of dogs, especially when it’s something you’ve watched develop. A good behaviorist can be worth their weight in gold so don’t panic if your dog’s recently developed any aggressive traits.
Distracting Your Dog With A New Command
Long after your dog has completed basic training, it’s easy to forget about obedience. But introducing new tricks can stimulate their minds as well as reinforcing your bond and reminding your dog who’s in charge. A refresher session on basic commands will remind them how good it feels to work together – which can be reassuring for anxious dogs, and provide an outlet for energetic ones.
For dogs who bark at things, ‘Watch Me’ is a really useful command. It breaks their fixation on the target of their barking and gets the focus back on you, their alpha.
You’ll need some high-value treats (our training treats are always popular but a bit of shredded chicken will usually work too) and a quiet place to practice. Start by showing your dog the treat and raising your arm so it’s away from your face. Of course, your dog will look directly at the treat. But it’s eye contact that you’re aiming for.
As soon as your dog looks over at your face, say your usual praise word (‘well done’, ‘good job’ or ‘yes’) and give your dog the treat. Try to do it quickly so that your dog connects their action with the reward.
Practice a few more times before introducing the command; this could be ‘Watch me’ or ‘Look’ (choose a new word that your dog doesn’t know already). As you raise the treat, give the command and keep giving praise when your dog looks at you. With training, your dog will learn to look into your eyes when you give the command.
It’s a great way to distract your dog from other dogs – especially the ones who don’t always want to play (and Barney).