You may remember an old cartoon character, Fred Bassett. In one of his clips we saw a few images of him sitting or lying down, with his floppy ears, and speech-bubbles above him that said, “Sometimes I bark because I’m hungry. Sometimes I bark because I’m thirsty. Sometimes I bark because I want to go for a walk. And sometimes I just bark. Must drive the neighbors crazy.”
Every bark has a meaning. Yes, incessant barking can drive neighbors crazy and is often cause for dispute, even among the friendliest of neighbors.
It can help to know why your dog is barking. Let’s take a look at bark-types; see if you can identify them when your dog barks again. Once you can identify them, you may well be able to remedy the situation positively without punishment of any kind.
Folks who have to go out to work and leave their dogs at home may, at some time, hear from their neighbors that their dog ‘barked (or howled) non-stop while you were out’. Some can’t understand that dogs, like us, do get bored rather easily. They are active animals regardless of breed, and have daily requirements when it comes to stimulation. They need to smell scents, walk, run, socialize when possible, and play. In some cases, people who leave their dogs in the yard while they are out will return to a worn-out patch in their garden, where their dog has spent most of the day pacing up and down, trying to keep themselves active and stimulated. Some dogs may even try to dig a hole to escape their boredom in surroundings that lack stimulation.
Others may leave their dogs indoors and come home to World War III… by nuke and asteroid combined! These are sure signs that the dog is not getting what they need when it comes to necessary stimulation.
Walks, playtime, toys, running, a few predatory-behavior release exercises (like chase, hide-and-go-seek, and tug-of-war) and balanced, timely meals can remedy this. Keep in mind that walking your dog does not need to take long. In their case it is quality vs. quantity. A ten-minute walk – if that’s all the time you have – can be good enough if you let your dog stop at each and every point they want to stop at. The reason for this is that, for dogs, sniffing and smelling other scents are highly stimulating and satisfying actions. A fifteen-minute walk, allowing your dog to stop when they want to, can actually be more satisfying for them than a half-hour walk with you pulling and urging them to ‘hurry-up’.
Dogs understand routine very well; they live for it, really. If you make time for them and create a routine that suits your lifestyle while fulfilling their needs at the same time, you shouldn’t have too many problems.
There are some requests that are viable and some that are not. For example, barking because they need to go outside to the loo should be something you praise them for – better that than having to clean-up after them. They know where the door is and will usually bark at the door to ask you to let them out. Another example is when your dog loses their toy under a chair or hard-to-reach place. Again they will stand at the point that they need your attention and help, and bark until you’ve helped them. They may also bark on seeing you return home – “I’m so glad you’re home! Now I get to have food, and can we go for walk, and can you make a fuss of me, and can we play…” Those request barks can be considered fair.
Then there are others. Here’s where dogs aim to see what they can get out of their owners; similar to the way a child would ask for an expensive toy at the store – “May I have this toy?” – “No, you may not; it’s too expensive!” – “Sheesh, I was just asking, Mom… no need to bark at me!” Although, children can understand English whereas dogs cannot.
And here’s where owners can either make or break a dog’s behavior. When they bark at the table, fridge, or cupboard for food – or if they bark because they want to be fussed or played with – when the owner does as they ask, this reinforces the dog’s behavior. For example – “May I have that piece of chicken on your plate?” – “Sure, here you go!” Once you’ve done that even once, you have given your dog the green-light; saying that barking for food from your plate is rewarded positively… and it will happen time and time again.
When this happens the first time, the best thing to do is choose the route of ignorance. They may bark four or five times, even longer, but soon they will realize that they’re not getting any response from you and they’re wasting their time. Then they’ll sulk in their bed and look oh so cute, making you feel oh so guilty… do not buy into it!
It is very important that you stick to your guns in all cases. Confusing your dog by saying ‘yes’ at one time and ‘no’ the next is simply not fair. It’s never quite fair when that happens to us, either. Remember, they can only ever learn by having their behaviors reinforced either negatively (withholding reward) or positively (giving the reward).
This happens often among dogs who have not been habituated as well as they could be. Quite simply, they see something or hear something that they do not recognize, and they will bark at it to let whatever it is know that it’s been seen or heard. The dog is sending out a warning that he has seen the stimulus and is ready to take whatever action necessary to defend himself from it. An example would be a dog who sees a man with a hat for the first time – “What is that thing on your head? Is it dangerous? OMG, it’s eating your head! Get it away!” The bark may also be accompanied by a seemingly panicked shrill.
It’s a little easier to spot this kind of barking because the dog will usually appear nervous i.e. barking while walking backward, perhaps with his tail between his legs. Some braver dogs may take a moment to investigate, but will likely end-up in the flight or fight response if the unfamiliar stimulus remains unfamiliar.
When your dog barks this way at a person, take heed as they will be highly alert at this point and may well resort to the fight response. Rather remove the stimulus until you’ve habituated your dog to it. Never force or coddle your dog into accepting a stimulus they are unsure of. You’ll need to work on getting them habituated to it via positive reinforcement training.
This kind of barking is usually assertive with the sole purpose of alerting either his pack members or you of something that poses a threat. The difference between this bark-type and spooky barking is that there is usually more of a willingness to move forward; making themselves look bolder and bigger than what they are, ordering the threat to disappear… or else. They may approach the threat faster than they would if they were spooked by it.
While you don’t necessarily want your dog to bark at everyone that comes to your door, you also do not want one that sits on the couch and offers that the intruder gets himself a snack from the fridge while he’s in your home. And so, take heed when your dog barks with seeming intent to move forward and toward the threat; they may well be trying to save your life… and theirs.
Overall, training your dog in a few simple exercises – especially the come and sit exercises – can solve a number of issues. For example; if there is an intruder in your home, you’ll need a moment to assess the situation before taking action. ‘Come-sit’ while you do this can prevent unnecessary panic. But in order for this to work your dog truly needs to trust your judgment, even a little more than their own. Positive reinforcement training is the only way to achieve such trust.
If you have any questions about this article don’t hesitate to drop us line.