Barking is one of the most common, and frustrating, problems owners seek help for with their dogs.
When dealing with any behavior problem, barking, biting, running away, scared of strangers, peeing on my couch, etc. the first question to ask is “Why? What is the reason for this? What need is my dog meeting by engaging in this particular behavior?” By first assessing why does this dog do this we can get to the root of the problem to fix any issue.
In the same way that my foot could be sore for various reasons (broken toe, stepped on a nail, wearing too tight shoes) all of which would require a different solution to make it feel better, animal behavior requires different responses depending on the reason why the dog is engaging in the behavior in the first place. For example, here are some reasons why dogs bark, each one requiring a different approach to deal with it.
When it comes to dogs misbehaving, the simplest answer is normally the correct one. As the famous saying goes: ‘If you hear hoofbeats, think horse, not zebra.’ The reason that most dogs make too much noise is they are not getting sufficient exercise. They burn off energy by overreacting to stimulus and barking excessively.
Boredom is the cause of excessive barking for 90% of dogs. If you find yourself with a noisy K9 at home, first assume your dog is not getting enough exercise. Take note of what happens to your dog’s noise levels if you increase their amount of daily mental and physical activity, especially first thing in the morning. As winter settles in, early walkies might be unappealing, but without it your dog may not be able to settle during the day and will not be able to stop themselves from barking.
The exception to this is elderly dogs who may start barking if they are in pain or start to lose their bearings at home. If you have an older dog whose behavior has suddenly changed, first get your vet to see if there are any physical issues happening.
It is common to assume any noisy dog has separation anxiety, but this is actually a rare condition. Real separation anxiety is a severe and complicated problem that can take months to resolve and luckily it occurs very infrequently. Using a product or medicine designed to help with ‘anxiety’ without increasing exercise won’t have a lasting effect. If you think ‘my dog has anxiety’ try instead ‘my dog needs more activity in his life’ and you will probably find your dog’s happiness and sense of peace will go through the roof!
Barking is a normal dog behavior, while it can be infuriating, it is not the sign of a disorder. Dogs have been bred for generations to bark if something interesting is happening or might be approaching. Until they learn otherwise, all puppies bark and wail when left alone. All breeds will instinctually to join the bark festival if the dogs down the road are marking noise. To stop dogs from barking is not realistic, what is do-able is to minimize the behavior as much as possible.
In addition to more exercise, try these tips to reduce barking:
Karis Nafte Pet Custody Specialist is a certified dog behavior consultant and divorce mediator. She helps separating couples make the best custody decisions for their pets in divorce.