If you’re bothered by your dog’s barking, it’s not your fault. Behaviorist shares six reasons why we humans find it so challenging

Dog barking
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Have you ever found yourself jumping out of your skin at your dog's sudden barking? Perhaps you feel frustrated by all that incessant yapping? Or maybe you're simply at your wit's end trying because you feel like you've exhausted every possible option and nothing seems to change?

If any of these feel like where you're at right now, rest assured, you're not alone.

According to expert behaviorist Renee Rhoades, feeling agitated by your dog's barking is very normal — and it turns out, there's a ton of super cool science behind why we find that noise so incredibly difficult to deal with.

Why is it so important to understand this? "Because the more we understand about our role in our dog's behavior the more progress we can make when trying to change theirs," Rhoades explains. 

In a recent Instagram post, Rhoades dives into six reasons why our nervous system has such a hard time dealing with barking. You'll still want to keep a bag of the best dog treats on hand for helping to lessen reactive barking, but knowing why you respond the way you do is a crucial part of the training puzzle. 

1. It's your limbic brain: "Loud barking can trigger the amygdala, activating the body's flight or fight response and causing physiological symptoms like increased heart rate and breathing due to the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol," explains Rhoades. Regardless of the reasons why your dog barks, this response is a survival mechanism that activates even when no danger is present. 

2. It's how you evolved: "Humans have evolved to be sensitive to potential threats in their environment, resulting in an exaggerated stress response in modern contexts where the perceived danger is not direct," says Rhoades. "For example, a dog's bark can be perceived as a warning signal or as an indication of a nearby threat."

3. It's how you evaluate it: The frontal cortex is the part of our brain that affects how we interpret our dog's barking. "If we perceive the barking as non-threatening or understand its reason, the emotional impact is lessened," Rhoades explains. However, when your dog is barking repetitively and/or when there appears to be no cause, the brain can't find a rational explanation and this triggers frustration and annoyance. 

4. It's your sensitivity: "Individual differences in noise sensitivity can affect how bothersome one finds a bark," says Rhoades. Some of us are more sensitive to sensory stimuli, so excessive barking is going to grate a lot more on our nervous system than it will with someone who doesn't have a high level of sensitivity. You may also find barking bothers you less when you're in a calm state versus when you're feeling stressed.

5. It's cultural and personal: Did you know that your personal experiences and your cultural background can influence how your body responds to barking? It's true! "Someone who has had negative experiences with dogs may be more likely to respond negatively to barking," explains Rhoades. "Also, if you do not understand that dogs are sentient animals, you are more likely to get annoyed by barking."

6. It interferes with thinking: "Barking can interfere with concentration, communication, and rest, contributing to the annoyance. The disruption of calm and the inability to control the noise source can exacerbate feelings of irritation," says Rhoades.

While it's wonderful to understand the science behind why your dog's barking makes you feel the things you feel, you may also be keen to learn how to calm a reactive dog so that barking becomes more of an exception instead of a norm. 

As with training any skill or behavior, reducing barking takes time, patience, and consistency, but working with a qualified trainer or behaviorist can provide you with some support and help make the journey a little bit easier. Check out our guide to how to spot dog trainer red flags to ensure that whoever you choose knows their stuff. 

Zesty Paws Advanced Calming Bites 
$33.97 at Chewy

Zesty Paws Advanced Calming Bites
$33.97 at Chewy
Tasty chews that help provide support to your dog's nervous system during times of stress, they feature suntheanine—a super-premium form of L-theanine that helps promote a sense of relaxation and calmness.

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.