Barking is a natural way for your dog to vocalise, even though it may sometimes seem like they’re barking about nothing. Dogs actually bark for many different reasons – to communicate, to show excitement, to give warning, or to simply gain attention. Barking only really becomes problematic if an occasional bark turns into excessive barking.
If your dog barks excessively, it means that one or more of their doggy needs is not being met. So in this way, barking can be viewed as a symptom of some other behavioural, environmental or lifestyle problem in your dog’s life. So what causes your dog to bark too much? While the exact circumstances will differ for every dog, there there are five main reasons why your canine friend may become a chatterbox:
- Dogs that are left alone with nothing to do and excess energy to burn, may bark to fill the void. This is often the case if your dog has an environment which is lacking stimulation. A big backyard can be just as boring and unfulfilling as a small outdoor area, especially if your dog spends long periods of time alone. Unlike you, your dog can’t easily find other ways to pass their time, and so pending alternative entertainment, your dog may bark, and bark, and bark.
- Attention-seeking. Dogs often bark when they want something such as going outside, playing, or getting a treat. We can sometimes inadvertently reinforce the self-fulfilling nature of attention barking by providing a response. Your dog quickly learns that if they bark for long enough, eventually someone will give them attention. Dogs aren’t fussed about the nature of the attention they receive either, so even if you yell at or scold your dog, they still see this as a positive outcome.
- Protective Behaviour. It’s normal for your dog to give warning about intruders or threats to their territory, and it’s a behaviour that many dog owners encourage. Dogs are social animals who see their human and non-human family members as part of their pack. This means that they feel responsible for keeping their pack safe. Your dog also extends this field of protection to their home territory, and use barking as a defence mechanism. Barking is how your dog warns intruders that they are unwelcome and also to alert the rest of their pack of potential danger.
- Separation Anxiety. As dogs are social animals, they can become anxious when left alone. If your dog never lets you out of sight when you’re at home or if they complain by whining or scratching at the door whenever they’re alone, then your dog may be displaying signs of separation anxiety. This high level dependency on your presence can create stress for your dog whenever you’re not around. Separation anxiety can lead to barking as a way to release stress and vocalise your dog’s dissatisfaction. This behaviour can be self-reinforcing – the lonelier your dog is, the more they bark, the more upset your dog becomes, the more they bark – and so the cycle continues.
- Dogs can sometimes bark when startled by people they don’t know or when they hear loud noises such as fireworks, thunderstorms or lawnmowers. This is a stress response caused by something which is unknown to your dog. Your dog barks as a way to warn off whatever it is that they have been upset by. This means that the barking may continue until the source of canine discontentment has been removed.
Many problematic dog behaviours start because your dog feels in some way like their needs haven’t been fulfilled. By meeting your dog’s basic requirements, it’s much less likely that you’ll have an excessive barking problem to manage. So aside from providing your dog with food, clean water, shelter and social contact, it’s important to also give your dog adequate exercise and plenty of positive bonding time. A happy dog is the best way to ensure a calm and quiet dog.