Medically Reviewed by Taylor Froiland, PharmD, RPh
Written by Adam McCown, PharmD
Dogs bark. It’s a vocal communication method they use to indicate everything from emotions they’re feeling to warning you that danger is near. Though some canine breeds or individuals can be quieter than others, all dogs are born to bark.
As dog owners, it’s important to understand that essentially all dogs are going to be vocal at one time or another and that it is abnormal for your dog to be completely quiet all the time. To ask your dog to never bark is tantamount to asking your child to never speak (let’s hope you don’t do that either).
With that said, many dogs can bark excessively. If you haven’t had an animal that liked to express themselves constantly and loudly, I’m sure you’ve probably heard a neighbor’s pet that has. Some dogs bark at every person they see, every other dog, every little critter, car, bug, leaf, cloud, and gust of wind they see or feel. In these cases of excessive barking, it can be helpful to have strategies and techniques to quiet your four legged friend down a bit.
Why Do Dogs Bark?
Before we dive into stopping your dog’s barking, let’s look at the reasons why your dog may be barking in the first place.
Protecting their Turf – If an unknown person or animal comes into the area that your dog considers their own territory, they will typically start to bark excessively. This may be done to both warn the trespasser to back off or to let their “pack” know that danger might be close by. As the perceived threat gets closer, your dog’s barking will often get louder and they will appear more alert and aggressive. Similarly, some canines bark at any noise or object that startles them, even when not in their own territory.
Greeting and Playing – In addition to barking when there is a perceived threat or danger, many dogs will bark when greeting people or other animals (especially ones they know). This is a happy and excited bark that is typically joined by tail wagging. Similarly, if your furry friend is being vocal it might indicate that they are in a playful mood and want you to join them.
Attention Seeking – As it is their primary way of communicating to us what they need or want, dogs will often use their bark to tell us when they want to go outside, are hungry, want a treat, or just want us to give them some attention.
Anxiety, Loneliness, Compulsive Barking – This is when dog barking can become potentially problematic. Dogs with separation anxiety often bark excessively when left alone and show other symptoms like pacing, destructiveness, and depression. Many will also bark if they are bored or experiencing some combination of being bored/lonely/attention seeking.
How to Prevent Excessive Dog Barking
Although there are many legitimate reasons for your canine to be vocal, if it seems excessive or like they are constantly barking to receive attention, it can become an annoyance. Getting your dog to bark less will take time, dedication, work, and consistency on your part. More often than not, owners respond to dog barking in ways that do not address the root cause or the long term behavior.
First off, it is important to know why your dog is barking. If they are barking because they are bored, then providing them with something to do may be the best and easiest option. This is especially true for larger breed dogs that are used to being outside, active, and busy. So, help them fulfill their genetic and biological imperatives by increasing their activity level. If your dog always barks and barks when around other dogs, then try limiting their contact with other canines. If they are always yelling at cars, try keeping them only in the backyard.
Sometimes, however, you can’t easily find the source of your dog’s constant noise making and simple solutions don’t work. In these situations you have to start at the basics and make sure all your little friend’s needs are being met.
Where to Start?
If you’ve got a chronic barker, start with ensuring your dog’s basic physical needs are met. Make sure you are feeding them on a consistent schedule, that they are eating the food, and that they have adequate water throughout the day. Next, as we already mentioned, ensure your dog is getting enough physical activity. Like with humans, exercise and playing naturally reduce stress and a tired dog is less likely to pay much mind to the squirrels and cars passing by.
If your dog is constantly barking at passersbys then it could be because they have not been socialized well enough. Try introducing them to the mailman or UPS driver or anyone else that frequently visits your house. You could also try limiting their sight of or access to things that trigger the barking. Manage their environment to prevent them from seeing the things that drive them to be vocal. This could be anything from privacy fencing to blocking their sightlines out the window.
What Not to Do to Stop Dog Barking
Although they can be very annoying, especially when they are not listening, avoid yelling at your dog. First off, they most likely don’t understand what “shut up” or any other phrases mean. Second, loud yelling can actually stimulate animals to bark more because he or she will think you are joining in on the fun. Don’t get overly angry at them either without trying to go after the root cause of the barking. Always remember that they either don’t understand what you want them to do, are trying to let you know that something is wrong, or just don’t know how else to communicate what they need.
Be patient, take the time to understand them better, and consistently train them to better act the way you want them to.