Why Do Dogs Bark?

barking dogsI often hear the question, “how do I get him to stop barking?” But the first step to solving this issue is to figure out why the dog is barking. Dogs bark for many different reasons so it’s hardly a simple answer. Before we can go over the solution, I usually ask the following questions:

  • When does the dog bark?
  • What are they barking at?
  • What do you do when the barking occurs?
  • What have you tried to end the barking?

These questions help me identify what scenario actually triggers the barking and also what might be reinforcing that behavior. Here are some questions that go through my head: Is the dog barking at someone or another animal? If yes, is the animal prey? If human, how does the dog generally respond to strangers? Is the dog looking out a window? Is the dog on leash?

Outward reactions from dogs usually are one of two things: distance increasing or distance decreasing. Distance Increasing means the dog wants the object, human, or other animal to go away. Distance Decreasing means the dog wants the object, human, or other animal to come closer. This is when it is important to know your dog and whether they would like to go away or get closer to the trigger (scary thing).

Distance Increasing Behavior

Distance increasing barking occurs when the dog is scared of the object or animal and they want the object to move away. An example of this kind of barking would be when a dog barks at the mailman (stranger approaching the home) which is then reinforced because the mailman leaves the home. Most of the time it is fear based and it should be understood that it is an emotional response to the trigger. Once a management solution is put in place to prevent the dog from practicing this behavior, the best solutions should include counter conditioning which is done while the dog is under threshold and not barking. (See my article on “What is a Threshold?”) Keep in mind that you cannot reinforce fear, but you can reinforce the behavior of barking.

Distance Decreasing Behavior

This kind of barking is usually when a dog is frustrated on-leash or behind a barrier because they can’t go meet the other animal in the distance. They want the trigger to come closer to say “Hi.” Another example is when the dog is seeking attention, either good or bad, from the owner. If attention seeking behavior is reinforced, even occasionally, it will continue. The best solution for this type of barking is to teach an alternative behavior when the trigger (object or animal which causes this reaction) is spotted. You can also teach the dog to bark only on cue if you are a talented dog owner/trainer.

Here are some resources for solving your barking issues:

I am now also offering Online Video Consultations for those who do not have a positive trainer in their area.