Excessive dog barking can be extremely frustrating and create tension between family members (and even with your neighbors). Adding to the frustration is the fact that barking is a normal dog behavior — it’s one way they communicate. In fact, dogs bark more than wolves do, and it’s believed that more frequent barking is a side effect of selective breeding during the domestication process of dogs.
Some breeds are predisposed to bark more as part of their ancestral job, but this may not translate well to regular pet life. Your dog’s barking may also indicate an underlying behavioral issue, making it important to address the cause rather than just trying to get your dog not to bark. But don’t worry! If your dog is barking excessively at what feels like any and everything, there are things you can do.
Why Dogs Bark
Dogs bark for different reasons, depending on what’s happening around them and how they’re feeling. Alert barking is their way of telling you someone or something is approaching or nearby. A dog may respond with an alert bark when they hear another dog bark further away. Many hound breeds will alert with excited barking and baying when they catch a scent trail. Territorial barking is how dogs discourage others from entering the property or approaching their family. Territorial barking is especially common in guardian breeds.
Dogs bark during play and when they get excited, such as when you return home or when they’re having a playdate with their favorite friend. In some cases, a dog may bark out of excitement in the car when you arrive at the dog park.
Many dogs have learned to demand bark, as it usually works to get attention. Your dog may be demand barking if they bark to get you to look, talk to, play with, or pet them. Some dogs even demand bark as part of begging for food or out of boredom. Providing lots of mental enrichment and physical exercise is important to help a dog settle and relax.
Excessive barking can happen if a dog suffers from separation anxiety or isolation distress. If your dog whines, barks, or howls when left alone, it’s important to work with a certified behavior consultant and your veterinarian. A dog with separation anxiety is experiencing a panic attack. They aren’t barking to make you angry — they cannot help themselves. A professional will help you create a plan to reduce your dog’s distress at being left alone. A veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist may recommend anti-anxiety medications in more severe cases.
Dogs may also bark aggressively if they are fearful of certain things in their environment. If your dog barks excessively on leashed walks when they see other dogs or people, this can be a sign of leash reactivity or fear-based aggression. Just like separation anxiety, leash reactivity and aggressive barking should be addressed with the help of a certified professional who can help you help your dog overcome their fears and learn better ways of reacting when they see something that worries them.
It’s also important to make sure your dog isn’t barking or vocalizing due to pain or other health issues. Barking for seemingly no reason, or increased barking behavior that has developed recently, can be related to canine cognitive decline or issues such as vision or hearing loss. If your dog’s excessive barking is a recent development, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a check-up.
How to Train Your Dog Not to Bark Excessively
First, define why your dog is barking. This will help you address the underlying cause rather than just reacting to the barking when it happens. If barking is due to anxiety or fear, connect with a certified professional trainer and your veterinarian to begin treatment.
If your dog is barking due to boredom, think about what kind of mental enrichment you can add to their daily routine. Ditch the food bowl and work their brains with a food puzzle for meals. Sign up for a fun training class to burn excess energy and encourage more relaxation and quiet when your dog hangs out at home.
If your dog is demanding to bark, you’ll also want to explore mental enrichment and exercise throughout the day. Take note of what they are demanding, when they tend to demand bark, and how you react. Does their bark make you respond in any way? This can include looking at them, touching or petting them, or talking to them — even if it’s with reprimands. All your dog learns is barking gets your attention!
If you think your dog is about to demand a bark, be proactive and ask them for an alternative and appropriate behavior, such as a sit or a touch. Reward them with what they wanted in the first place, attention, or play. If you’re busy and can’t interact with them, redirect their attention to an appropriate activity that they can enjoy on their own. Another option is teaching your dog that barking at you for attention has the opposite effect — it makes you go away. If your dog barks, turn your back, walk away, or leave the room entirely. Pair this with teaching them politer ways of asking for your attention.