If your dog barks at literally everything they encounter then I’m sure this is leaving you feeling pretty frustrated. You might be questioning why your dog’s doing this repetitive behavior and how to reduce the noise.
Dogs bark for many reasons. It could be due to the specific role their breed was created for. It can be caused by a variety of emotions such as fear, arousal, isolation-distress, or frustration. Your dog could be in pain or over-tired. Or it could be that they’re responding to other dogs barking in their local environment. They may even be bored and need some more enrichment in their life through fun walks or chewing on the longest lasting dog chews. Whatever the reason, the bark is there to communicate a specific need that requires addressing.
As a canine behaviorist, one of the most common challenges pet parents come to me with is barking. Barking can be anti-social. It can cause you embarrassment out on walks or might impact your neighbors if it happens within the home. Either way, it’s a stressful behavior to live with every day.
Don’t stress if mastering how to stop a puppy barking didn’t prove fruitful in your dog’s younger years. There are many ways to support a dog whose barking is driving you to distraction but let’s start first with three key reasons why your dog might bark at everything.
Three reasons why your dog barks at everything
1. They’re scared or anxious
If you’ve got a dog who finds the world a scary place to be, barking could be an outlet for the distress they’re experiencing. Anxiety in dogs can be caused by a perceived threat in their environment - such as a stranger, another dog, or even traffic.
When a dog has a negative experience, such as hearing a loud sound or being attacked by another dog it can have a lasting impact on them. It will make them feel less comfortable around those ‘triggers’ in the future and some of that emotion may come out through barking. When we think of the word ‘e-motion’ as ‘energy in motion’ you can understand why some dogs lunge and why some bark, it’s a way of releasing that internalized energy. Understanding their triggers and gradually desensitizing them using positive reinforcement methods can help reduce their anxiety-driven barking. Desensitization for dogs is a great training tool for dogs who suffer from anxiety.
One of the most common situations my clients experience their dogs barking due to anxiety is when they’ve been left home alone. Here, the dog is suffering from isolation distress of some kind and barking to convey their unease or distress or in an attempt to receive attention and support. For some dogs, barking can be a coping mechanism to deal with stress.
2. They’re bored or frustrated
We hate to think we’re not fulfilling our dogs’ lives, but sometimes they can get bored! As highly intelligent creatures, dogs need a mental workout as well as a physical one. However, it's important to not get carried away - too much of a good thing can create an overtired dog who cannot rest as easily. It’s all about balance!
Boredom is a common trigger for excessive barking in dogs. When left alone for extended periods or without sufficient mental and physical enrichment, dogs can become restless and bored. In an attempt to seek attention or relieve their mood state, they may bark persistently. This behavior can be particularly problematic for dogs living in busier environments where there are other dogs in local backyards who are also barking - in this situation the opportunity to bark can become socially-facilitated and more enjoyable.
Frustration is another emotion that can lead to excessive barking. Dogs are creatures of habit and thrive on routine. When their daily needs aren't met, they may feel frustrated. For instance, a dog might bark excessively if they cannot access something they want, like a favorite toy or the best dog treats, or if they are prevented from interacting with other dogs or people. This frustration can manifest in persistent barking as an outlet for their pent-up energy and emotions.
Frustration can also come when we aren’t clear about what we want from our dogs. Either by teaching them what works in your home - or through training sessions when we confuse our dogs by not being clear about the goal we’re trying to achieve.
3. It’s in their genes!
A large majority of my behavior clients are Dachshunds - a breed well known to like using their voices. Other well-known ‘barky breeds’ include Schnauzers, Beagles, Chihuahuas, and many Terriers. These dogs are doing their job. They were bred to hunt, to guard and protect, or to alert to certain situations - and vocalizations are an important part of their skill set.
Dogs that have been bred to bark can be more inclined to use that form of communication over another when they’re worried or anxious, so it’s even more important that we support their emotional well-being to ensure they’re only barking when it’s necessary.
How to stop your dog’s repetitive barking
Happy hormone-boosting activities
Chewing and sniffing are both shown to increase endorphins - it’s like adding happy juice to the brain! Calmer, happier, and more relaxed dogs are less likely to bark. Plus, for most dogs (there’s always an exception), when they’re busy chewing or calmly sniffing, they aren’t able to bark simultaneously. Or it tires them out as one of our writers discovered when they tried a 45-minute 'sniffari' with their high energy border collie.
Manage your home environment
Reducing stimulation at home by putting temporary frosting on your windows and having white noise playing can help your dog be less vigilant about passers by outside your home or car doors slamming. This can help enormously with territorial or alert barking.
When barking comes from a place of frustration it’s important to understand if you’re being clear in your expectations of your dog. When your dog gets frustrated - try asking them for a super simple behavior you know they can ace. If they can’t show you that behavior it might be that they just needed a break - some time to process. If your dog needs a ‘time out’ then scatter some treats on the floor to let them have some calming sniffing time before you try moving forward.
Change your language
Think about what you’d like your dog to be doing instead of what you DON’T want them to be doing. Instead of trying to ‘stop’ the barking - think of behaviors you’d love your dog to display instead. Try saying that you’d like “your dog to feel calm and happy” when it sees the mail being delivered, rather than desiring “your dog to STOP barking”. How does that feel? When we think of what we’d like our dog to be doing, instead of what we’d rather they didn’t, we have a goal we can positively work towards.
Add in a positive interrupter cue
When it comes to alert barking rather than emotional barking, we can think of the number of barks we’re happy with and then introduce a “thank you” cue that directs our dogs onto another behavior. Practice when there’s no external disruptions and say “thank you” followed by throwing a treat to a specific mat or bed. Over time your dog will pair that cue with running to its mat and waiting expectedly. By also using a positive phrase - ‘thank you’ - instead of a usual ‘shut up’, you might also trick yourself into thinking you were grateful for those initial few barks!
Seek professional support
There are some situations, such as when our dogs are left home alone, where your dog’s barking might need some more in-depth behavioral support. If you’re finding your dog suffers from isolation distress, it’s worth filming their response when left home alone just for a minute or two, then reaching out to a force-free behaviorist to help guide you. Simply leaving your dog with something to chew or lick isn’t going to address this complex anxious response.
A dog’s bark should never be punished. It’s a way to express emotion and gives us a chance to offer better support for our dogs as we get to understand their needs.
Tracking your dog’s behavior: how frequently they bark; in what context; and how their day has looked. This can help us to build a picture of what is normal for your dog and thus allow us to work out what situations encourage more barking.
Barking may also be displayed as a signal of an underlying medical issue - particularly when it comes to the area of pain. If your dog’s vocalizations have changed in frequency, pitch, or are being heard in new contexts, these could be signs a dog is in pain and you should take them for a full veterinary examination.
As frustrating as barking can be, by responding with patience and empathy you can help your dog to feel more secure and slowly build their confidence over time. In return, they’ll give you the gift of silence!
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Caroline Wilkinson is a Certified Animal Behaviourist. She is a Full (assessed) Member of the APDT and INTODogs – as well as a Registered Training Instructor (ABTC). Caroline is also a Certified Real Dog Yoga Practitioner and an Applied Canine Zoopharmacognosist.