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A lot of people don’t want their dogs to bark. At all. They think that a well-behaved dog shouldn’t bark. That the only acceptable time for their dog to bark is when a man in a balaclava is climbing in their bathroom window. The problem with this view is that dogs have a different idea. Their bark is their voice and without it they lose their primary way of communicating with you and other dogs. Imagine if you weren’t allowed to speak!
The main point I want to make here is that barking is not a bad thing. You should encourage your dog to use her voice when it’s appropriate to do so. I think it’s great when my dog wants to talk to me and I always try to listen and understand. It shows that my dog is trying to communicate her feelings to me because she cares.
There does, however, happen to be a significant language barrier between humans and dogs and deciphering exactly what she is trying to tell me can be tough. It is, therefore, necessary to understand the reason why your dog is barking. You’ll need to use cues to determine what she wants to say. Like her demeanor and body language, the circumstances and the tone and level of her barking.
Dogs bark for a number of different reasons. Different breeds bark for different reasons and some have been bred to bark at certain things. Take Rottweiler’s, German Shepherds and Dobermans for example. They are guarding breeds and are expected to bark when a threat is perceived. Others have been bred for hunting. Like Beagles and Bloodhounds who are trained to bark when they pick up the scent of their pray. Other dogs just seem to like the sound of their own voice. Take the toy dog breeds like the Chihuahua and Pomeranian for example.
However, breed aside there are some things that will make just about any dog sing out.
Hunger, loneliness, boredom, fear or anxiety, something being wrong, wanting to play, seeing another animal or needing the toilet.
If your dog barks for one of these reasons it’s unreasonable of you to try and stop her. For how else is she supposed to tell you how she feels? It’s in her nature to bark at certain things and I would hope that you were aware of this when you adopted her. However there are times when barking is unwanted and unnecessary and dogs often try to use their voices to manipulate their owners.
Take this situation for example. I’m sure many of you can relate. Imagine you’re lying peacefully on the couch watching your favorite TV show. Your dog wakes from her nap full of energy and decides that it’s time to play. She picks up one of her favorite TufToys, comes over to you and drops it in your lap. You try to ignore her and continue watching TV but your dog is persistent. After a few seconds silence, she gives you a short sharp bark to get your attention. You look at her and she looks back up at you with those big eyes, her tail wagging in the air. You turn back to the TV and she barks again. And again. And again. Finally, you give in, get up, and take her outside to play. At which point her barking stops immediately.
Now, what just happened? Your dog just learned that to get her way all she has to do is bark until she gets it. So next time when she wants to play she knows that with a little persistent barking she will get your attention and get what she wants. Not exactly ideal for you is it?
Respect is an integral part of your relationship with your dog. You show her respect by taking good care of her even though it takes a lot of your valuable time. You show her affection which she understands and enjoys and you feed her nutritious and delicious food. Many people don’t realize however that dog ownership is not about equality. It’s about showing her who’s boss and establishing your position as master. Dogs are most comfortable and well behaved when they know you are in charge. A dog needs to respect her owner to be happy, well adjusted and well behaved. If you give in to your dogs every wish and desire she will walk all over you (sometimes literally) and you will never be in control. In the situation described above the dog wasn’t showing her owner respect. She wasn’t asking her owner to play. She was demanding it because she thought she was boss. She was trying to bully her owner into doing what she wanted. And because the owner gave in this belief was reinforced.
Obviously, your dog needs affection and needs to be taken outdoors to play. But these things need to be done on your terms, not your dogs. If your dog figures out that barking will get her what she wants your house will soon get very, very noisy. To show your dog she can’t always get what she wants is simple. Just turn the cold shoulder when she displays this type of behavior. Don’t just ignore her and continue to do what you’re doing but show her with strong body language. Turn your back on her. Be tough and don’t give in. Now at this time she may become confused and bark even louder. Especially if you have given in to this type of behavior in the past. This may take time and the barking will probably drive you mad but remember, giving in to stop the barking will only reinforce the behavior and make it harder to change later.
There may be situations where this method seems to be doing nothing but increasing the barking and it may call for some more extreme measures. In cases where you really want her to be quiet, it can be best to just use your hands. Now I don’t mean hitting her. I’m talking about a completely humane pain-free way of getting your message across. What you should do is give her a second to get it out of her system. You should always give her a chance to say what she needs to because remember she is trying to tell you something. Give her a minute then turn around and grasp her firmly but gently around the muzzle. She will try to pull away and shake you off so hold on to her collar to get more control. Hold on for a few more seconds until she calms down and is still. Wait a couple more seconds and then release her muzzle. Wait a second more, then praise her for being silent. This act will show you are the master and are firm but fair. Remember to wait until she is still as this will show that she has submitted to your authority and accepted you as alpha of the pack.
There are things that can be done to stop your dogs need to bark before it becomes a problem. The most common cause of unwanted barking is nervous energy that builds up in your dog if she doesn’t get enough exercise. Although different breeds have different needs it is a general rule that dogs should have at least one and a half hours exercise a day. I know this can be a big commitment for owners but owning a dog comes with responsibility and if this is unrealistic for you, you should consider getting someone to walk your dog for you.
Even if you think your dog is getting enough exercise her behavior may indicate that she’s not. Indicators could include an agitated demeanor such as fidgeting, restlessness, and destructive behavior. Try taking her out more often or for longer if you can. Take her to a wide open space where she can really get out and run. If you have to get up earlier or hire someone to take her out you might just have to if you want some peace and quiet.
Another reason why dogs bark unnecessarily is that they are lonely. Dogs are pack animals and love to be around people and other dogs. They need your attention and they need to communicate. Without this, they become anxious and edgy and will often bark to let it out. If your dog spends a lot of time at home alone and is acting out sometimes this could be the reason. Try spending more time with your dog or if you’ve got the heart for it a second dog can be a great companion.
When not writing about himself in the third person, Andy spends many an hour walking his dog Mr Wox, aka Soxy Woxy, a mischievous, mixed breed rescue. A leading authority on dog-related topics, Andy is highly respected, deeply appreciated and widely admired.