Your dog’s bark has a very specific meaning. Your job is to understand it. Sounds like a translator is needed, right? Maybe not. Is your dog barking? Is this one of the rare quiet moments? Are you wondering what he’s trying to say with all the barking? Would you like to know what your dog’s bark means? You’re in the right spot. In this article, I will help you understand the most common reasons a dog will bark. I will also suggest solutions to help your dog to be quieter.
It can be frustrating when you have a barking dog. Not only for you but also for your neighbors and those around you and your dog. It may take a bit of digging and perhaps a visit to the vet and maybe even an animal behavioralist, but it’s worth every effort to have a dog, a furry family member, that fits well within your family. Additionally, eliminating the noise from your barking dog (and possible liability issues), while gaining a happy dog is a win for your dog budget! Besides, a happy child (even a furry dog child) is priceless!
Let’s look at the possible reasons your dog is barking.
Barking could mean: “I’m in pain.”
There are many times that a dog will bark when he’s in pain. I always recommend that a new-to-you dog is checked out by your veterinarian.
I also recommend that you take your dog for annual checkups to your vet. If your dog suddenly starts a chorus of barks or growls, which is out of character, he may have a medical problem. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive to any situation.
For instance, if your dog finds a bee to play with and gets bitten, he may need to be examined by your vet.
Have your vet examine your dog. He will probably prescribe some medication or other options to relieve the pain. If you need a low-cost vet option, the Humane Society has a list by state here.
Barking could mean: “I’m hungry.”
Just as you don’t like to be hungry, your dog doesn’t enjoy it either. If the dog bowl is licked clean with each meal, this could certainly be an issue.
You may need to increase the amount of food you are feeding your dog with each meal. Or perhaps increase the number of meals a day. For example, a puppy or a dog that is in heavy training will need more food. If neither of these solves the barking issue from lack of food, then you may need to change the type of food. In this case, I would recommend talking with your vet for a recommendation that will work with your dog’s needs best.
Barking could mean: “I’m bored.”
Remember during summer and you say to your mom, “I’m so bored!” This is your dog’s way of saying it to you.
Try some challenge games, a Kong toy, a play date, taking him on a long hike or walk, playing fetch, or taking him to doggie daycare and letting him play with other dogs for a day.
Barking could mean: “I’m spoiled and need your attention.”
If you’ve been showering your dog with attention and now you’re busy, he may start barking for his attention.
Divert your dog’s attention. You can try to get a toy to have him focus on it. If you are now away from home, you can also try a dog walker.
Barking could mean: “I’m anxious.”
This can be separation anxiety. A new dog can be fearful that when they are left that they will be left.
Try to leave mind games for your dog. DIY dog stimulation games are great! My dog, Henry does very well with a calming OTC medication. You can even try a dog walker, try doggie daycare, or try Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.
Barking could mean: “I’m frustrated.”
This can be your dog seeing a dog he’d like to play with, but not being able to get to it because he’s inside the house or there’s some other barrier.
Try positive reinforcement training. I recommend using a word such as “quiet” in a calm, but firm way when there is no barking enticing element. You can also introduce the word “sit” or “go to bed” with “quiet”.
When the dog completes both commands easily without barking 20-30 times and you reward with a very small pea-sized treat and petting each time, then try introducing a frustrating element from a distance. This can be difficult, but try to keep your voice calm, say “quiet” and “sit” or “go to bed”.
If your dog responds even after a few minutes, reward with a treat and petting. Bring the other dog closer and repeat the process. This may take a while to do. If your dog is very persistent, then you may want to seek a trainer or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.
Barking could mean: “I’m scared.”
This could be an invasion, attack, or territorial issue. It could also be protection for his human.
For instance, I never heard my dog bark at anyone or anything until one day I was at the dog park with a friend. It was an on-leash dog park. As we approached a clump of bushes, I saw a dog hiding behind them. I could see it had a collar on with a tag. The dog seemed to like it was taking refuge from the wind.
My friend held my dog’s leash. I approached the hiding dog to get the phone number from the ID tag. The back of my hand was out with fingers tucked. I was walking slowly, talking very softly. The dog was calm. His ears were up. His fur was down.
Then all of a sudden he lunged, growled and barked at me. My little 14.5 lb dog became Godzilla in a split second! He barked like his life was on the line. My little dog was scared for me and was protective. I have never seen this side of him before or since.
In my situation, it ended rather quickly. No harm, no foul. If this is a regular occurrence at your house, find out what is making your dog scared. Is it a certain person? Is it a certain room? I had a rescue dog that was scared of long-haired men.
She was traumatized by some man with long hair. In this case, it’s best to try to desensitize the dog to the issue. Slowly introduce the barking enticing problem, and use positive reinforcement until the dog can be near the thing without barking.
In my case, I would slowly introduce a man with long hair to my dog, tell her “quiet” and to “sit”. For this dog, in particular, I would go very slowly because she would tuck her tail and pee all over herself at the sight of a long-haired man. She was very traumatized!
To be honest, at the time I had her, I didn’t know any long-haired men and her reaction was so extreme that I really didn’t want to put her through desensitizing training. I wanted her to just try to forget that horrible past and be happy. She really didn’t bark but once in a blue moon.
If your dog is barking at everything going on outside, then bring him inside and shut the door. Or if you can afford a wooden fence that may help as well. This falls under the theory of out of sight, out of mind. I have a friend who does this very successfully.
If this desensitizing and positive reinforcement approach doesn’t work for you, then I would strongly recommend a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.
Barking could mean: “I hear something scary.”
This can also be a bark to alert you to something. In most cases, this type of bark is welcomed. It’s only when the barking is ongoing that it needs to be corrected.
For example, my little dog woke me up a few months ago with a subtle little “ruff, ruff” at about midnight. My brother was visiting at the time. I rolled over and said, “Oh he’s just using the bathroom. Go back to sleep.” My little dog said, “ruff, ruff” a couple more times and sat in an alert position staring at me. A few minutes later a heard a very loud, “BANG! BOOM! BAM!” I leaped out of bed!
Yep, someone was breaking into my house. I ran into the hallway and yelled, which was enough for the intruder to turn and walk out the door he just broke.
So, my thought on alert barking is to give it a bit of thought. If it’s constant bark, correct it. If not, see what your dog is barking about. Dogs have a great sense of hearing.
If your dog is constantly doing a bark about a scary sound, and you cannot desensitize him, then I recommend seeking the advice of a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. I will be honest if your dog is alerting you to the scary sound of the wind, it’s really difficult to desensitize him. If he’s a rescue, it may have more to do with trauma from a previous experience.
Barking could mean: “I’m happy.”
Some dogs will bark when they get excited and playful. This can be when you come home or when your dog sees certain people. This is especially true with certain breeds, like smaller breeds.
For instance, my dog, Henry, is a rescue cockapoo. He plays like a poodle. Henry likes to jump, turn, and bark like a puppy when he plays. I live on two acres and since he doesn’t play with toys, this is his playtime. I don’t mind him barking during this time.
Although, some trainers will tell you to always correct a bark. I think we all need to blow a little steam now and then and play. This is his playtime. However, if your dog is barking all the time or barking at inappropriate hours when he’s playing, then his barking most likely does need to be corrected.
Again, I’m a big fan of positive reinforcement. Say to your dog “quiet” and “sit” or “go to bed” and reward your dog with a pea-size treat along with a petting when he does these commands.
This is great to do if you want to stop the over-excitement when you walk in the door. Do not reward any barking or jumping.
You can always introduce hand signals with these commands. I like doing hand commands with my dog simply because if I’m in a noisy area or I’m in a conversation with someone, I can show him a hand signal and have him respond.
If you need help, I recommend dog training classes. There are many good ones around. I’ve taken my dog to several. I recommend first talking to the trainer. Find out if they do positive or negative type training. I found that the trainer at my local PetsMart is very good. That might be an option for you. Their prices are generally pretty good and they often have sales on training.
Barking could mean: “I’m sad.”
This could be that your dog is depressed. Sometimes the loss of a pet or human friend, or even a change in environment will make your dog depressed. Just as you may mourn the loss of a friend, so can your dog. How your dog mourns can be very unique to your dog. For instance, your dog may be withdrawn, not want to eat, or even bark more.
Try to bond with your dog more with massage, walks, and playtime. However, if the symptoms continue or get worse, you’ll want to seek professional help from either your vet or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.
Barking could mean: “I don’t remember.”
Do you remember walking into a room and not remembering why, but remembering you had a reason for walking in there? Your dog can do that too at times. Or your dog might be a senior. He could have canine dementia.
If your dog is a senior, make sure your vet checks him out for canine dementia. Your vet will have some advice for you if you suspect this could be an issue.
Barking could mean: “I’m here. This is me!”
This is a compulsive or habitual barking dog. Your dog has a habitat of barking. He has learned to bark to do many things. This could be getting what he wants, entering a room, leaving a room, going pee, going to bed, seeing a car outside, hearing birds fly by, and so on. Barking is who this type of dog is at this point.
While stopping the barking of this type of dog is more of a challenge, it can be done. Although, to be honest, with these types of dogs when they’ve learned that barking is generally permitted for most things then, I highly suggest a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.
This is a bit of an odd one for why a dog barks, which also falls under medical issues.
I haven’t heard of many dogs who sleep bark. To be honest, I didn’t know dogs sleep barked until I got my little dog. He occasionally will do a little chorus of very low sleep barks. I suspect he’s playing with a bunch of pups in his sleep and having fun. It’s sort of like sleep talking for humans. My mom would carry on complete conversations in her sleep. It was hysterical!
If your dog is sleep barking a lot and waking you up at night, simply try moving his bed to another room. This should resolve the issue. Also, make sure your vet evaluates your dog to ensure there is not any other issue, such as a breathing problem. Generally, sleep barking is not a big deal, except for the nuisance of waking the humans.
What else can I do to stop my dog from barking?
Generally speaking, a tired dog is not as likely to bark. So, wear your dog out. Take him for a run, hike, long walk, or play with him. If you can’t do these activities, then try a playdate with a family member, friend, or their dog. If those aren’t options, then try a dog walker or doggie daycare.
What about bark collars?
Many collars are saying that they will stop barking.
Let’s look at these a bit closer at these collars.
Bark collars generally operate with a microphone embedded into the collar. Every time it detects a bark from your dog it emits a sound, shock, or sprays a small amount of citronella. This is an aversion training tool. When your dog does the undesirable action (barking), he’s punished with the annoying sound, painful shock, or yucky smell.
1. Increases stress behaviors
Often your dog will begin to show an increase in stress behaviors from the device by “yawning, freezing, trembling, (or lowering his body posture)”.
2. Aversion training
This is an aversion training tool and not based on positive reinforcement training.
I always ask people how they like to learn. Do you like to learn positively or negatively? When you’re at work how do you respond when you turn in a report you’ve worked really hard on and the boss throws a tantrum and says it’s the worse thing he’s ever seen? Do you shrink? Do you like your job a little less? That’s aversion training. Your boss is training his employees to function in an aversion training-type environment.
Now, think of that same situation. You work really hard on a report and proudly hand it to your boss. While your boss is disappointed because two things that were critical to include are not on the report, he doesn’t throw a volcano-type fit. Instead, he calmly sits down and says, “I see you worked really hard on this report. I need X and Y to be included because it’s required as part of our bylaws. Can you do that and have it to me tomorrow?” How does that approach make you feel compared to the first approach? This is more of a positive training environment.
Which type of environment do you want your dog to live in? If you cannot provide the environment you would like, then I highly suggest you seek out a professional who can help both you and your dog achieve the goals you would like.
3. Works for the period of use only
While these collars may decrease barking while they are worn, once they are removed, the barking generally seems to return at the same frequency.
What not to do to get your dog to STOP barking:
1. Bind muzzle
NEVER, EVER, under any circumstances tape, use rubber bands, cords, ropes, or other devices to bind your dog’s mouth shut. If you are thinking about this, please consider surrendering your dog to a no-kill shelter. Binding your dog’s muzzle shut is painful, inhumane, and simply cruel.
2. Bebark surgery
DO NOT have your dog “debarked”. This is a surgical procedure. The tissue on either side of your dog’s voice box is removed. It DOES NOT stop the barking. It does change the sound of your dog’s bark to a raspy bark. It’s a cruel option.
NEVER, EVER muzzle your dog for any amount of time unsupervised. A muzzled dog cannot eat, drink or pant. This is inhumane and cruel.
4. Encourage barking
If you’re trying to stop your dog from barking. DO NOT encourage him to bark. This only confuses the daylights out of him. Think if someone said “Don’t eat that chocolate. Stop! That chocolate’s poison.” You’d probably stop and not eat that chocolate. Then suddenly someone says “Eat that chocolate. It’s good for you.” Sound familiar? Does it confuse you? It does me. The same thing happens to your dog. Be consistent.
Summary of what does my dog’s bark mean
Your dog’s bark can mean many things. A few of his barks may mean he’s in pain, bored, needs attention, anxious, frustrated, scared, or there’s something scary, happy, or excited. It can also mean he’s a habitual barker, forgetful, and possibly has a medical issue, or is even a sleep barker. While there may be many reasons your dog barks, there’s are solutions. If you can’t solve your dog’s barking on your own with consistent and positive training, then seek out help from a professional. It’s always a good idea to know the style of your dog’s trainer. This simply means the trainer either uses aversion (negative) or positive reinforcement. As you can tell, I like positive reinforcement training.