Why do dogs bark?
Barking is one type of communication that dogs use, and it can mean different things depending on the situation. Even though barking can be inappropriate in certain situations, there are times when this vocalisation can be advantageous to us. Many lives have been saved by specially trained dogs who have alerted their people to emergency situations. Barking is also useful in determining location and as a communicative tool for many working breeds. For our pets, there are many reasons for barking, but here are some of the common ones:
Territorial/Protective: When a person or an animal comes into an area your dog considers their territory it often triggers excessive barking. As the threat gets closer, the barking gets louder. Your dog will look alert and even aggressive during this type of barking with their hackles up and trying to get to the threat to defend their space. This is common at home when your dog is looking out the front window at someone passing by, especially if they are walking a dog. Try moving your furniture so that they can’t jump on it and look out the window. Or keep the curtains closed at busy times of day. Or keep them out of the room all together.
Alarm/Fear: Some dogs bark at any noise or object that catches their attention or startles them. This can happen anywhere, especially if they are snoozing.
Greeting/Play: Dogs often bark when greeting people or other animals. It’s usually a happy bark, accompanied with tail wags and sometimes jumping.
Attention Seeking: Dogs can bark when they want something, such as going outside, playing, or getting a treat. However, this is likely to be an escalation of behaviour as they may have already tried to get your attention by bringing you a toy, nudging you, pawing at the door. You have either missed their ‘polite’ request or ignored it at your own peril.
Compulsive Barking: Dogs with separation anxiety often bark excessively when left alone. They also usually exhibit other symptoms as well, such as pacing, destructiveness and inappropriate elimination. The barking behaviour is a self rewarding behaviour so the more they bark, the more satisfying it is, so the dog will bark more. Often this is accompanied by the dog making repetitive movements, such as spinning in circles or running along a fence.
How to help reduce barking
Getting your dog to bark less will take time, work, practice and consistency. It won’t happen overnight but one of the first things you can try is to actually teach your dog to bark on cue. This might sound weird, but it’s actually a brilliant way to reduce barking and get your dog to stop barking when you ask!
Teaching ‘speak’ and ‘quiet’
- Have to hand in the rooms in your house a little jar of super tasty treats so that you can work on this training at any time your dog barks.
- When your dog next barks at their normal trigger, like the doorbell. Grab a handful of treats but keep them out of sight.
- While your dog is actively barking, use the verbal cue, “speak,” along with a hand signal to encourage the behaviour. We want them to associate the cue and hand signal with their barking.
- As soon as your dog pauses for a few seconds in their barking say ‘Quiet’ pop a treat in their mouth. You can also do a ‘shush’ hand signal when you say ‘quiet’ to reinforce the cue.
- Repeat this process, rewarding both the barking with praise and the ‘quiet’ with a tasty reward.
- When your dog is following your cues five times out of five, encourage them to bark (‘speak’) again, then say the word “quiet” with your hand signal. After 15 seconds of quiet, reward them with treats.
- Now add some duration to the quiet cue. Delay the reward by an extra 15 seconds each time until they stay quiet for longer periods of time. This will ensure that you don’t build up a chain — for example, your dog learns that barking and then stopping will receive an immediate reward, so they continue to bark again and again to get more. Whoops!
- When they are 99% perfect at following your cues, phase out the continuous rewards, just giving them praise when they comply with your cues. Occasionally give them a treat when you use the ‘quiet’ cue which will keep it on a schedule of variable reinforcement. i.e your dog thinks “I need to stop barking because this time I might get a treat”. you become a fruit machine, paying out just enough times to keep them interested in responding to your cue.
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