4 Tactics to Curb Unwanted Barking

Chihuahua Barking
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How can you address your dog's unwanted barking? Mikkel Becker shares her favorite strategies.

Of all dog behaviors, barking may be the most complex. It can be both highly desirable and highly undesirable, depending on your perception or need. Your dog’s barking can help alert you to a need or problem and can provide protection. Barking can also be of use in certain working roles like herding. But uncontrolled barking has the potential to become a major problem with far-reaching consequences for you and your dog.

As natural as barking is, it is one of the most misunderstood and mismanaged canine behaviors. Dog owners frequently assume that a barking dog is defiant or spiteful. Your dog does not bark to get a rise out of you, nor does he instinctively understand what “Quiet!” means. To address barking, we first need to understand why dogs bark.

Why Dogs Bark

Barking is a natural release for your dog’s emotions, as well as a way to communicate with other dogs, other animals and people.

Your dog may bark for a variety of reasons. He may bark to express frustration or excitement, or to ask for attention or invite another dog to come play. Barking can also be a warning that something is wrong or that a dog is preparing to aggress or bite. And some dogs bark simply because they are bored or enjoy barking.

The context and intensity of the dog’s emotion may influence the bark. Not all barks have the same meaning, and individual dogs may bark for different reasons in the same situation. I worked with two Cocker Spaniels who both barked at visitors: One barked primarily out of fear and anxiety, using her barks to warn new people to keep their distance, while the other barked in joyous excitement, begging new people to notice her and pet and play with her.

It is possible to change your dog’s barking behavior, but if you suspect that fear, anxiety or aggression is the reason for the barking, it is important that you seek professional help for your dog. Talk with your veterinarian about a referral to a reward-based trainer or veterinary behaviorist who can help with the barking.

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