Vocalization is a key way that dogs communicate. Moans, growls and howls are among the noises that dogs make, but the first sound that comes to mind when most people think of dogs is barking. So, why do dogs bark? Barking is how dogs vocally communicate to each other and to us about everything from a squirrel on the back fence to wanting their dinner.
Because dog barking is about communication, dogs also bark to try to impact the behavior of something or someone, like when they want you to throw the ball. Dogs may also bark when they are in pain or afraid in an attempt to keep something scary away. Did you know that dogs around the world bark differently? Psychology Today has a great list of the way dogs bark in 60 different languages! Dogs “hau-hau” in Arabic, “blaf-blaf” in Dutch and “gau-gau” in Vietnamese.
Why do dogs bark? Different barks for different scenarios
Dogs bark if they are anxious, excited, bored and seeking attention, or in response to other dogs. Researchers at Eotvos Lorand University, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, Hungary, studied the way that people interpret and understand dog vocalizations. They found that low-pitched vocalizations tend to indicate that a dog feels threatened or upset, whereas high-pitched sounds tend to mean a dog wants to engage with someone or something. However, long, high-pitched sounds might mean a dog is anxious or fearful.
The researchers also discovered that people understand the tone of a dog’s bark — similar to the way we notice different tones in a person’s voice. The study states, “people use the same rules to work out how their dog is feeling as they do to determine the emotional state of other humans.”
Another study by Csaba Molnar, ethologist at Hungary’s Eotvos Lorand University explored dogs and barking from the angle that the behavior is very common in domesticated dogs, but infrequent or nonexistent in wild canines. This research shows that not only are humans skilled at understanding the meaning or context behind different dog barks, but dogs who are playing exhibit the most varied types of barks.
Dog barking varies by individual dog and by dog breed
I share my home with three dogs and I can recognize each of their individual barks. If you have multiple dogs, it’s likely that you can do the same, or that you can tell your dog’s bark apart from the barks of other dogs playing together in the park. Different breeds of dogs have different tones to their barks from high pitched to deep, often related to their overall size. For example, my Chihuahua mix has a higher-pitched bark than my Newfoundland. Charlie, a Golden Retriever in Australia, holds the Guinness World Record for loudest bark.
Some dog breeds were actually bred to bark. From herding, to flushing out game for hunters, to alerting people to danger or the presence of intruders, many dogs like Beagles, German Shepherd Dogs and Shetland Sheepdogs were all bred in part for their barks, which doesn’t necessarily make them great apartment dogs. My first dog was a Lhasa Apso, which is one of the world’s most ancient breeds. Lhasa Apso means “bark lion sentinel dog.” Don’t let their small size fool you, these feisty little dogs were bred to alert humans to any intruders in the Tibetan monasteries. The Basenji, another ancient breed, is known as the barkless dog. However, Basenjis do make a variety of vocalizations, including a very unique yodel.
Think you’re pretty good at identifying different dog barks? Check out this fun game created by The New York Times, which recorded the barks of different show dogs. Try to match the bark the dog that made it!
How to stop inappropriate dog barking
Excessive barking can be an aggravating behavioral issue for canine parents. A dog who barks a lot is also challenging to navigate with neighbors, roommates or landlords who don’t appreciate incessant dog barking. Have a dog that barks a lot or inappropriately? Here are a few ways to combat inappropriate dog barking:
- Exercise: Inappropriate dog barking often signals that a dog is bored, or lacking enough stimulation. If your dog is barking a lot, aim for more exercise — both physically and mentally. Trick training is a great way to bond with your dog and burn off some of his mental and physical energy. A tired dog is not only a happy dog — a tired dog is often a quiet dog.
- Stay calm: If you start yelling “quiet” or try matching your volume to your dog’s loud barks, you are only adding to the arousal of the situation. In that moment, you are in a yelling match with your dog — and it’s not very fun or effective.
- Don’t reward: Dogs bark to communicate their needs and wants to us. If your dog is barking, wait until he is quiet to let him out of his crate, or throw his ball. Otherwise, you may inadvertently reinforce that barking is a great way to get what he wants.
- On cue: It sounds counterintuitive, but a great way to teach your dog to stop barking is to teach him to bark on command by pairing his barking with the verbal cue you want, like “speak” or “talk” and rewarding him with a tasty treat. Once your pup is consistently barking when you give the “speak” command, you can start adding an “enough” or “quiet” cue.
- Seek support: If your dog’s excessive barking persists, consult with a professional trainer. Your dog may be exhibiting symptoms of separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a long-term and challenging condition that benefits from a consultation with your vet, professional trainer and/or a behaviorist.
Get more tips on how to stop dog barking on Whole Dog Journal >>
Thumbnail: Photography ©Page Light Studios | Thinkstock.
Sassafras Lowrey is an award-winning author. Her novels have been honored by organizations ranging from the Lambda Literary Foundation to the American Library Association. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Trainer, and assists with dog agility classes. Sassafras lives and writes in Brooklyn with her partner, a senior Chihuahua mix, a rescued Shepherd mix and a Newfoundland puppy, along with two bossy cats and a semi-feral kitten. Learn more at sassafraslowrey.com.
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5 thoughts on “Why Do Dogs Bark? Reasons Dogs Bark and How to Stop Excessive Dog Barking”
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My dog seems to need an exciting stimulus before he is able to bark. Critters and folks approaching or near the house always elicit a bark. Other than that he is quite. He does not even bark when I come home. For eight years I was unable to figure out how to get him to “talk”. He always howls like a wolf whenever someone leaves a message on the answering machine. I recorded it and he would howl along with himself when he heard it. I would give him a treat. He quickly figured out that I wanted him to respond, but what was evident to me was that he was having extreme difficulty trying to bark on cue. I could see he was trying, extending his neck and making empty barks. The breakthrough was when I used chicken which he absolutely love as the treat. APparently this was the stimulus he needed to finally bark. To this day he still has obvious difficulty making himself bark on command. My conclusion is that he simply is not hard wired to bark on command without sufficient stimulus. Glad he is a quiet companion that does however alert me when strangers arrive.
I have found your pages very informative & helpful. Thank you.
Do you have any helps for an escape artist dog? I know there are the elect fences but honestly I cannot afford one or to have it installed. Jetta just loves to run , :-(, she has a big back yard & its fenced, but she digs under. I have C.O.P.D. so short on air. I would appreciate any ideas you may have. Thank you, Cheryl Henry