Why Do Dogs Bark?

Growing up, when my dogs would bark, I would always try to understand why they were “talking.” Although I cannot speak dog, I’m sure all of us would love to know what our dogs are thinking. Even though we can only minimally communicate with our dogs, over the years research from dog behavioral specialists has been able to help us understand what different barks mean. For us who have dogs, this research allows us to determine if we might have a watch dog, nuisance barker or a challenger of dominance.

Watch Dogs

When many people describe what they think a watch dog is they will say big and loud- a dog that is always on guard looking out windows and willing to chase away any bird or squirrel that dares to come into your yard. Yes, these dogs are often on the go and loud, but they are not considered actual watch dogs. Due to you being so used to hearing them barking and running around they are less likely to be taken serious in a real event of an intruder. I suppose they would be consider the dog that called wolf too many times.

Real watch dogs are the complete opposite. They tend to lay around, are quiet and nonintrusive. They are often believed to be lazy and too sweet to hurt a fly. These dogs may be extremely sweet to your family and friends, but they have a switched personality that will come out in the event of danger. They are constantly checking surroundings and have their ears open for any noises that seem off. In the event of an intruder your dog will not hesitate to protect you.

Nuisance Barkers

The dogs that we may have perceived as watch dogs since they are constantly barking at strangers, other dogs or chasing away small animals are considered nuisance barkers. If you live in a community you may hear these dogs throughout the day or in the evenings. You may even be able to raise your hand and say yes, I have a nuisance barker. I will admit to being one of those people before when one of my dogs was younger. Ok, I’ll be honest six months ago that was my house in our neighborhood before we where able to break the habit with our youngest dog. Nuisance barkers bark at things that do not pose any real threat to your safety. They often do this because they are bored. A dog needs physical and mental attention and activities to keep them feeling fulfilled.

If your dog is often home alone, spends its time just hanging out in the house and/or backyard they will become bored quickly. We may not have a lot of time to spend on activities with our dog so finding ways to keep them busy can help prevent nuisance barking. If you can devote 15-30 minutes outside playing actively with your dog or make sure they go on a walk daily, you will help their mental and physical energy. During the day Kongs stuffed with treats, ice, or Kong stuffing can keep a dog occupied for an extended time. It is important to get a Kong recommended for your dogs’ weight to get the most benefits.

If your dog only barks outside in a fenced area it could be due to what is called Barrier Reactivity. The dog is often barking at what is blocking it from being on the opposite side where its mind wants to go even if they physically cannot. However, fear, insecurity and protecting its territory can also lead to fence barking. Outside of the fence the dog is often completely different in behavior. If they are protecting their territory this can be very difficult to break. In the dogs’ mind it is barking away a passersby, other animals or other “threats” because the person keeps walking or small critters run away. They feel proud believing it is their barking which is making the “threats” go away. In these cases, and moderate to severe cases of nuisance barkers, seeking a dog behavioral specialist is often the most effective treatment.

Challenger of Dominance

       Dogs that bark at you when you are trying to correct them or discipline them are challenging you for dominance. This behavior often forms while they are puppies and in the training phase. If not corrected immediately then this may carry on to their adult years. With any animal it is essential that they know who is the alpha which is always their owner(s). With that being said with couples a dog may only challenge one member but obey the other. This is due to the dog respecting and submitting to the person who showed higher dominance than itself while training and giving discipline. Both owners in a couple need to show higher dominance than the dog to not have any challenges. This is as well true for children in the household.
How do you get that status of alpha(s) in your dog’s mind? While the dog is still a puppy going to puppy training classes will help you learn safe ways to train, how to hold your body and voice that shows power and will also help build a boud between you both. Pushing a dog down to teach laying or sitting, screaming to get the dog to listen and using any type of physical abuse will not show your dominance but instead induce fear which can lead to aggression. Sometimes even with proper training as a puppy a dog will still challenge its owner due to their breed, personality or just being like any child and testing what they can get away with. Walking your dog on a tight leash will help rebuild and grow submission. If a dog has free roam on its leash, then they will believe they have control. Try walking with him/her right by your side. If they try leading instead of following then stop, make them sit and wait. Once you feel you have their full attention start walking again. If your dog is getting distracted often and wanting to pull away to the side, then turn around walk a few steps back then turn back to the way you were originally walking again. This may take multiple tries before they ignore what catches their attention. Sometimes turning around and not going back is needed if the distraction is too obvious such as kids in a yard, another dog or lawn mower. If things are too severe or different tactics are not working, then professional behavioral health will be needed to help breakdown what is causing the rebellious attitude and what actions you can take to improve it.

Dog Behavioral Specialist

We have discussed the three main categories for barkers to be placed in. It is important to remember that each dog is different, and some will not even be placed in one of these categories. If your dog barks when you get home or leave, when the doorbell rings and friends arrive, when playing, hearing other dogs bark, wanting attention, to go outside or want to eat are all various categories that they can be placed in. Some might be because of excitement, fear or trying to get your attention. These behaviors are not a reason to need professional help from a behavioral specialist and may just need some basic training with a trainer unless they are causing a severe problem.

If your dog does fall into the nuisance or challenger categories, then seeking a specialist could help significantly. Finding a specialist can be a little tricky. Typing into Google “dog behavioral specialist” will bring up many different dog training businesses in your area. You need to be careful with this since obedience dog training is not the same as behavioral training. Often trainers will use to word behaviorist too freely and are not adequately training in what this term really means and how to bring it into practice. To prevent wasting money and time on a trainer who isn’t educated in this field it is recommended to make an appointment with your vet. Come in with Fido and talk about your concerns. Vets have many connections and will be able to help direct you to a company that they believe will be able to help you, your dog and their specific behavioral problems. I personally would not call for a recommendation due to the staff not always having all the knowledge about organizations as a vet does who meets and works directly with these companies.
Remember there is always hope for a better behaved dog! It may entail time, money and patience but the outcome can be a beautiful relationship for everyone. After all, they say a dog is a man or woman’s best friend, so give them a chance to prove that!

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