It might sometimes seem like Fido is just barking up a storm for no reason at all, but the truth is that he probably has a very good reason for all the noise. Or at least, something he considers a good reason.
And while you might be tempted to get him to stop immediately, figuring out what’s causing the barking is a much better option. If you know what’s bothering him and what he’s trying to tell you, you can make the best decision on how to react to it.
Do dogs always bark for a reason?
The short answer is Yes. “Dogs usually do have a reason for barking, although this can become a habit and a bit of an obsession—which is why it's important to understand the triggers of the barking and then also how to best manage it,” according to Jme Thomas, founder of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue.
Dogs most often bark when they are alerting to something: they want to warn you of something happening—whether that be an animal in the yard or a person at the door, they want to make sure you're aware, according to Thomas. And while it’s important to allow them that, so that when you really do need it, they will alert you, Thomas adds that it's important to have a "stop" cue as well, so they can realize you now have the situation under control and they can stop.
“I often tell my dogs ‘ok, thank you’ and ‘good, quiet’ when they stop in response—or "TV doorbell" when they bark at noises on the TV and no one is there,” says Thomas. “Ultimately, it's a bit of a conversation to be had with a praising for the initial alert and then a cue to tell them that's enough.”
Dogs might also bark when they’re scared or hurt, as well when they are excited and playful. “These are usually sharper and higher pitched barks and don't typically go on for long periods—but dogs definitely have many reasons for communicating by barking,” according to Thomas.
Taking Breed into Account
Some breeds—and dogs who are a mix of those breeds—do bark more than others. Not necessarily because the barking is the desired trait that was bred into them but because of their anxiety and alertness that was, according to Thomas.
“For example, working dogs are often on high alert, even when there is no job to do, and may tend to bark at things because they don't have an outlet or job otherwise that helps them satisfy their ingrained desire,” Thomas says.
Identifying What's Causing Your Dog to Bark
Keeping a journal and documenting what your dog barks at can be a good way to get started. This might help you figure out a pattern and see what causes the worst barking and what your dog triggers are.
Being protective is one pretty common reason to bark—but how to manage it is the trickier part. “Often times people just want their dog to know magically when there is a real threat or not—not just bark at everything, or for example, to know the difference between a distant family member they don't see often and a stranger,” says Thomas.
Fear and anxiety can also contribute to barking, especially if the dog feels threatened. “Every dog has a comfort zone or bubble—and when someone invades a fearful dog's space, chances are they will bark a few barks, maybe a growl with it too,” Thomas explains. “In general, dogs want to tell you how they feel before they have to act on it and most dogs will give as many cues as possible—often barking—to try and get the response they want, which is often more space between you and them.”
How do you stop your dog from barking?
Consistency on your part is key to change the barking (or any unwanted) behavior. “Try to be very black and white, because that is all the dogs will understand,” says Thomas. “This means if they bark when you don't want them to, give them a cue to follow—or don't expose them to that ‘thing’, which may be the living room window.”
Once you choose a plan of action, whatever that happens to be, do the same thing over and over again every time they bark. If you give your dog confusing cues, he’ll never figure out what you want and just continue to bark.
If you have a dog who barks out of boredom, Thomas suggests keeping him busy with puzzle treats and toys. “Leaving a favorite chew toy can also help—just making sure the dog has outlets other than barking available to them,” says Thomas. “Regular exercise and socialization are a part of that healthy balance too.”
When in doubt, working with a trainer is always a great idea, as it can help you find a good way to communicate your wishes to your dog. “Most times, training is needed not because the dog can't or won't learn—it's the communication not being effective,” Thomas says.
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and avid adventurer. She's gone hiking in Siberia, snorkeling in Thailand, and canoeing in the Mekong River. She also loves caves and has been known to get lost in one or five around the world. Diana's work has been published in the Discovery Channel website, Yahoo!, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can read more of her work on her website at www.dianabocco.com