It’s common to think of barking as your dog’s language, but it’s widely accepted that the majority of canine communication is through body language. Dogs in the wild rarely bark at all, though wild puppies do. Dogs have evolved through centuries of breeding and domestication to become more vocal.
Plainly stated, barking is not a bad thing. It can be joyful. It can alert you to danger. It can even scare off would-be attackers. But on the other hand, excessive barking or ‘nuisance’ barking is frustrating, annoying, and generally considered to be a very bad thing!
To control or eliminate nuisance barking, you first need to know why your dog is barking. Some of the most common types of barking are demand, greeting, boredom, frustration and alarm barking. There are other more specific types as well, including barking due to separation anxiety or certain herding breeds barking to control their flock, but most dogs are barking because they want something, they see/hear something, or they are bored.
Demand barking is asking for something, like a treat or attention. Often it will start quietly and build-up as your dog fails to get what he wants. Frustration barking is similar, but usually more fervently insistent. It’s often directed at something other than you, such as the cat walking by your yard or the favorite toy that’s out of reach. With demand barking, the first and only thing to do is ignore it. Don’t give your dog any attention or even eye contact. You want to reward only the desired, quiet behavior. This can be very difficult, especially if your dog has previously gotten the desired result from his demand barking. Basically, you have to be consistent in your training, and more persistent than your dog!
Alarm barking and greeting barking both occur because your dog has noticed something. With greeting barking, your dog wants to say hello to other dogs, neighbors, or whomever is on the other side of the front door. There are several training approaches to change your dog’s reaction to the doorbell. A good trainer or training book will help you condition your dog to go to ‘her place’ when the doorbell rings, or accompany you to the door quietly. Even before training begins, try to be aware of your own reaction to the doorbell (or a ringing phone, if that sets off a barking frenzy). Since dogs are body language communicators, they recognize an important event by reading your body language. If somebody knocks at your door, you jump up off the couch, or subtly tenseup thinking ‘Who could it be?’ Or you loudly proclaim ‘I’ll get it!’ To your dog, these are all indicators of an event worthy of barking.
Alarm barking can be important. Heroics often start with alarm barking. For example, your toddler has wandered out a door accidentally left open; the kitchen is on fire; or somebody is breaking into your house! Sometimes it’s not a real emergency though. It’s a teenager cutting across your lawn or a nature documentary on TV. When it sounds like an alarm bark, investigate first. That way you’ll know whether your dog deserves a great big thank-you or a cue for quiet, which is another action you can train with patience and persistence.
Boredom barking is exactly what it seems. Your dog is bored. She’s been alone in the backyard or the basement all day – or worse! For this type of barking, try changing the situation. Let your dog spend more time with you, watching TV or laying nearby while you make dinner.
Don’t yell at your dog for barking – a loud, boisterous ‘correction’ may encourage him. Think about it – you’re yelling ‘Quiet’ or ‘Stop it!’ but to your dog it’s just human barking!
All dogs, whether nuisance barkers or not, could benefit from more exercise. In addition to your daily walks, try a visit to the off-leash park for a high-energy romp. Or invest in a new ball and play fetch. That’s the attention your dog wants, without having to bark to get it. The unconditional love you get in return is definitely not a nuisance.
And now for something completely different…
Maybe excessive barking isn’t the worst thing in the world. The Basenji breed, a dog of African heritage, doesn’t bark at all. Instead, it YODELS, GROWLS, WHINES or screams!