Decode the Barks: Why Dogs Bark and What You Can Do About It
October 24, 2019
We love life with dogs, but we all could use less barking in the day-to-day. Taking time to understand when and why dogs bark is a smart first step to restoring the peace.
How to decipher your dog’s bark
If you’ve lived with your dog for a while, you already know: Not all barks sound alike. Researchers and dog experts have discovered three different components of the bark — cadence, pitch and volume — and how we can derive meaning from these three variations.
- Faster, louder barks indicate excitement and arousal. These rapid-fire full-volume barks tell you the dog thinks something important is happening. If you hear this coming from the backyard or from another room, you’ll want to stop what you’re doing and see what’s going on. If your dog is alarmed by a non-event, quietly escort him to his kennel or a quiet room where he can calm down.
- What counts as important? It can be anything they perceive as a threat. If your pet is dog aggressive or wary of strangers, that can be plenty to set them off, whether they’re passing by or entering the yard.
- Some dogs were bred to pursue game. In some breeds, picking up the scent of a rabbit or a raccoon can be reason enough for loud, urgent barking.
- Excitement during playtime can also set off a barkapalooza. In which case, if the noise needs to stop, it’s time to transition to a calmer activity.
- Lower-volume, spaced-out barks can tell you your dog wants something, but it’s not urgent … not yet, anyway.
- If he issues a single bark, that indicates he’s caught on that it’s enough to get the message across. Perhaps he barks once to be let outside, or he’s alerting you of the arrival of a family member. This may also be his way of asking you to take up the other end of the rope toy to play tug-of-war!
- Think of these quieter, staggered barks as canine FYIs.
Equally important is the pitch of the bark, because that reveals how your dog feels about the situation.
- A high-pitched bark signals a friendly mood and state of mind.
- The dog might be expressing a desire for companionship. A dog that wants to be let out of the kennel, or let in from outside, may let off a series of high-pitched barks.
- High barks are also associated with greetings. Barking at neighbors walking past on the sidewalk or meeting the kids coming home from school at the door are two examples of this.
- A lower-pitched bark indicates the dog views the situation as serious.
- A low bark is often synonymous with a warning. It can occur when another dog in the house is trying to steal his delicious meaty bone or he’s alarmed by the delivery person dropping off a package on the front porch.
- Warning barks are accompanied by growling. If it escalates to baring teeth and rigid posture, that tells you the dog feels threatened and wants to appear menacing. His goal is to get the perceived threat to back off and leave before he attacks.
Other factors behind your dog’s barking
If you’re unsure what’s motivating your dog to make that racket, it may help to know that other dogs are pretty adept at bark interpretation. If there’s a second dog around, pay attention to how he’s responding to the barker. Does he seem defensive, puzzled, wary, playful?
While dogs share common ways of expressing themselves, keep in mind your pet’s unique personality along with the situation that’s setting him off. One breed’s “greeting” may sound more intense than a smaller breed’s “warning!” Get to know your dog’s bark style, and understanding your pet’s message should come much more easily.
What to do about the barking?
Stopping the barks can be more easily said than done. Take into account the dog’s breed, energy levels and age when you embark on teaching him better manners at the door, in the yard and in the kennel. Knowing what triggers your dog’s behavior can help you formulate your training strategy.
How to quiet a dog’s barking at the door
To a guest, your dog’s loud, excited barks can be intimidating or even fear-inducing, especially if they’re not acquainted with your canine’s sweet nature. Here’s one approach to achieving a quiet, calm entrance.
- Don’t give commands, don’t touch the dog, don’t look at the dog, and above all, don’t yell. Doing any of these would only feed into the excitement and give him what he’s seeking: attention.
- If necessary, you can escort him to a quiet room, or to his kennel until he becomes calm. Again, do this without looking at your dog, and don’t acknowledge him until he’s quiet.
- As soon as the barking stops, offer a treat, lavish him with ear rubs and praise, and let him rejoin the party — as long as he doesn’t bark.
Before your friends arrive, give them a heads-up that you and your dog are working on this behavior, and you’ll need them to refrain from petting or even acknowledging your dog until he’s done barking (and jumping).
How to get the dog to stop barking at the neighbors
If you’d like to stop your dog from barking at the neighbors or at people who are simply walking past during an evening stroll, it can help to first understand why they do it.
- He may be greeting them and soliciting attention. (As in, “Hi! Hello! I’m here! Come and pet me!”) And if they do walk over and give him a warm greeting and a scratch behind his ears, he’s learned that barking at neighbors is an effective strategy.
- Or barking could be his idea of a game. If the passersby continue walking away from “his” territory, he may feel his barking had an effect on their behavior, which is also rewarding.
To curtail this, you’ll have to commit to being outside when he is. It may take a few weeks, or even months, to change the behavior. Being present lets you respond to the barking immediately.
- One approach is to desensitize him. As people walk past, feed him treats, so he can’t bark. And continue doling them out until the strolling neighbors have gone past.
- As an alternative, you can bring him indoors immediately, preferably in a room where windows and doors don’t face his barking target.
When you “catch” him leaving the neighbors in peace without intervention from you, reward him with a treat. In time, whether it’s weeks or months, he’ll catch on.
Working with your dog to curtail the noise does take time, patience and understanding. But in the end, having a well-mannered dog will be worth it. (And your neighbors will thank you!)
You can learn more about decoding your dog’s barks and solutions to the noise in this episode of Raising Your Paws podcast by NutriSource, titled When Dogs Bark: Pets Speaking Their Minds.
Good behavior deserves a delicious reward. Your dogs will love the new NutriSource Jerky treats that come in four different formulas — one of which is NutriSource High Plains Select Jerky Treats. These are made with high-quality proteins, like delicious beef, salmon and turkey, all sourced from our trusted U.S. suppliers. Find them at your locally owned, independent pet supply shop.