“My dog barks too much!”

Excessive barking can be a problem. But to stop all barking would be like expecting a person to stop talking forever. It’s not a reasonable expectation. Reducing how much your dog barks, though, is possible.

All behavior serves a function. That includes barking. So, why is your dog barking? Here are some possible reasons.

  • Alerting you to the presence of an intruder or delivery person.
  • Excitement because there’s a SQUIRREL!
  • Attempting to increase distance from something scary.
  • Invitation to play.
  • Getting your attention to play, get food, or something else.
  • Distress or anxiety of being left alone.
  • Frustration from not having access to something fun, possibly due to a leash, fence, or other barrier.
  • Over-arousal.
  • Boredom.

Some of those reasons are greater cause for concern that others. I know many border collies who bark their way through an agility course while others are relatively silent. You might find that barking annoying, but it’s probably excitement or over-arousal. And typically the dog stops when they finish the course. Barking nonstop while home alone? That’s likely a bigger problem for your dog, for you, and possibly for your neighbors.

“But why does it matter? Can’t you just stop my dog from barking?”

Let’s suppose for a minute that I could instantly make your dog stop barking. Great, right? Not so fast. Your dog then replaces that barking with lunging and biting. That can easily happen with a fearful dog who is prevented from barking or growling as a way to communicate that they need more space. The fear is still there. The dog still needs space. Can you imagine someone telling you that you can’t scream when you’re afraid? Or when you need help?

Beneath every behavior there is a feeling. And beneath every feeling there is a need. And when we meet that need rather than focus on the behavior, we begin to deal with the cause, not the symptom. — Ashleigh Warner

Unless I address the fear, the dog is still going to express their need for space. If barking is not an option, then it might just be something worse.

Meeting the Need

Barking is just a symptom of some underlying feeling or need that hasn’t been fully met. Suppressing the barking will not make the need or feeling go away. But correctly identifying and addressing the feeling or unmet need will decrease the barking behavior.

So, if you have a dog who barks excessively, ask yourself these questions. When and where are the barking occurring? Is this a regular problem or something that only occurs under certain circumstances? Is the barking always a problem or only at certain times or in certain places? What triggers, or sets off, the barking? What are you doing (or not doing) when your dog starts barking? What else is going on inside or outside the house or yard? Answering those questions will help you identify the function of your dog’s barking. From there it becomes much easier to address the real problem: unmet needs or big feelings.