Note – This is a general overview of barking. If you have any concerns about your dog’s barking we advise you to seek help from a Behavioural Vet and Qualified Behavioural Trainer. We do offer support to those who have received council complaints for excessive dog barking and to those who are just wanting some guidance, so please feel welcome to contact Calm Companions.
Why do dogs bark?
It is more than obvious that barking is a form of communication for dogs. So just what exactly are they saying? or shouting for that matter? That’s right they are shouting! As dogs generally speak using body language, vocalisation is used when dogs feel a need to be heard by whomever they are trying to communicate. So why do they ‘feel’ the need to be heard? Well, much like humans, dogs’ behaviour is driven by emotion. Ask yourself why you would shout or yell? Your answer will most likely relate to one of the following emotions: Excitement; Frustration; Fear. These are 3 main emotions that drive barking in dogs.
The underlying emotion can be determined by the context in which a dog is barking. Context refers to the environment, the object to whom the dog is communicating, the accompanying body language displayed by the dog and the tone/pitch of the barking. Some examples are: If you have just arrived home from a long day at work, chances are your dog is high pitch barking and will be bouncing around with quick, wriggly movements of the entire body, very puppy like due to excitement; On-lead, your dog might make short, sharp barks with whining at the beginning, in-between and/or at the end, whilst lunging and pulling on lead, play bowing and tongue lolling, if another dog comes into view. This very well could be frustration from being restricted on lead from displaying normal body language or meeting a new friend; If there is a stranger on the other side of the fence and your dog is making a low toned, gruff bark, possibly beginning with or including a growl and has their hackles and lips raised, than this would indicate fear. Although these are common examples, each dog is different and their body language and sound of bark may differ in the same situations, possibly indicating a different driving emotion, so the entire context must be taken into account. For more on body language review our Dog Body Language resource in our Free Useful Info tab or contact us via phone 1800376352 or email email@example.com.
Once the emotion driving the barking has been identified, it is then possible to determine the motivation for the barking. Motivation is the desired outcome from the dog’s perspective. Generally, this relates to distance or interaction. If a dog is barking due to excitement, then the motivation is usually distance decreasing, they want the object of communication to come closer and interact. Opposingly, if the barking is driven by fear the motivation is often distance increasing, they want the object of communication to ‘go away’ or not interact. Frustration can be a little more difficult when determining the motivator as the desired distance could swing in either direction, and this is where context and body language are important!
When is a dog’s barking inappropriate?
Often dog’s barking is completely normal! It would be an unpleasurable event if you had to suppress your excitement when greeting an endeared family member or friend, and could you imagine not being allowed to scream in fear if you saw a giant spider in your bedroom? It is normal and healthy to express our emotions when the situation is fitting. However, if you were to scream in fear every time you saw a spider on a T.V. program or greet every stranger that you saw on the street with an endearing hug and kiss on the cheek, then these behaviours would be considered inappropriate. Dogs barking excessively in contexts that do not warrant that level of communication need help! They will either never have learned how they should behave in such a situation or they are not coping in that situation due to a previous negative experience – fear or they have an underlying genetic predisposition to a mental health issue such as anxiety.
What should you do about inappropriate barking?
If issued with a council complaint, be aware that councils may provide “quick fix” recommendations. Beware there are NO “quick fixes” for behaviour! These punishment based recommendations often either turn excitement into fear and distrust, and fear into extreme fear and stress. Before acting according to the council’s recommendations follow these steps:
Try to redirect your dogs attention – remove the dog from the environment if necessary
Follow through with distracting your dog by providing them with something else to do – long lasting tasty chews work well.
If you have a persistent problem or the above is not working contact a Qualified Delta Accredited Behavioural Trainer and/or Behavioural Vet – see our list of recommend trainers in Links under Resources or visit https://deltainstitute.edu.au/trainers.php
Record it – this will help with determining the cause, finding a solution and monitoring progress.
Keep a diary of the barking – include things like the date, time of day, how long barking goes for, context, what is going on in the environment, the dogs body language at the time of barking, how did the barking sound. This will help to determine the underlying emotion and find an appropriate solution for you and your dog’s specific situation.
Bark’n Mad app – also called the Barking Dog Monitor & Control (Do NOT use the control aspect of this app) use to monitor the barking on a spare smart device.
Presence app – use to video record movement and sound in your home on a spare smart device.
Use other camera types to record, e.g. Arlo, Reolink, Zmodo etc
Implement management (control of the environment), behavioural training and if necessary the appropriate treament as per your Behavioural Vet/Trainer teams advice.
Write a letter to your neighbourhood and council explaining that you are acting upon the notice and request their patience and help to monitor and achieve your goal.
What you should NEVER do about inappropriate barking!
Punishment should never be used to stop barking! Why? because barking is the expression of an emotion and punishment causes fear and breaks trust.
NEVER EVER – Yell or shout at the dog
NEVER EVER – Smack or hit a dog
NEVER EVER – Throw or shake objects at the dog (i.e. chains or canned rocks etc)
NEVER EVER – Use an electric, ultrasonic or citronella anti-bark collars
NEVER EVER – Use aversive pressure harnesses, check/chocker or prong collars if walking
NEVER EVER – Use a muzzle, tie or tape to restrict a dogs ability to bark
NEVER EVER – Debark a dog
For more information please refer to our Why Not Punishment resource in our Free Useful Info tab or contact us via phone 1800376352 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.