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San Diego Humane Society

Barking: What's the Fuss About?

Your dog barks to communicate, and there are a variety of reasons why. Social barking, territorial barking, attention-seeking barking, warning barking and request barking are all examples of barking that are generally short bursts, and are specific to a certain event/occurrence. These specific types of barking usually stop once your dog’s needs are addressed. Prolong barking or excessive barking generally occurs when a dog’s reasons for barking are not addressed. They may be experiencing a psychological issue requiring a visit to the vet, or they may have a medical condition such as hearing loss, loss of sight or limited mobility.

How we react to our dogs when they bark can also encourage or discourage the barking behavior. It’s important to understand what our dogs are trying to tell us when they bark — and to know what reinforcements we can give to promote positive behavior.

The Main Reasons Dogs Bark

Territorial Barking

This serves two purposes: to alert family members that there is an intruder and to warn the intruder that they have been spotted.

It’s possible to adjust this type of barking by teaching your dog an alternative response — such as fetching a certain toy or laying down and staying on a mat. Practice these actions and reward your dog with a treat when they perform the appropriate behavior. This cue can be simulated by having someone ring the doorbell or knock at the door, and you can progress into using the cue in real-life scenarios. Your dog will need some coaching and prompting the first few times in the real-life situation. A non-family member should help you practice these scenarios, to get your dog used to people coming into the home.

Request Barking

This is your dog’s way of telling you that they want something NOW. This can be a request to open a door or go somewhere, a request for attention or food, or a request to get closer to another dog.

When they want something, dogs will experiment with various behaviors to see if any of them work. Most dogs will quickly figure out that barking gets their owners’ attention. If you don’t like your dog to bark, don’t reward them with attention, door-opening services, releasing from crates, etc. Even telling your dog, “Stop” or “No,” can reinforce the unwanted behavior because you are still giving your dog and their barking attention.

Rather than your dog choosing when they go out, take your dog outside at regular intervals, making sure the outing isn’t preceded by barking. Don’t let your barking dog out of a crate until they’re quiet. Ignoring your barking dog will help them quit the habit, but it might take a while to change their behavior if you have previously rewarded this behavior. Incentivize not barking by giving your dog a chew toy or treat when they’re silent.

Barking When Alone

It is very common for a dog to bark when they are alone as an attempt to get you to come back. This is common with dogs who have never been left alone and/or are left alone in unfamiliar environments. Although giving your new dog or puppy attention is perfectly normal, it’s also important to teach them the skill to be able to be left alone. 

If your dog is experiencing destructive behavior and or self-injury when left alone, please visit our resource titled Separation Anxiety and consult a professional
behaviorist. (To learn about veterinary behaviorists, visit dacvb.org. To learn about certified applied animal behaviorists, visit animalbehavior.org.)

Here are some tips and guidelines for helping your dog learn to be left alone:

  • Practice "semi absences" by preventing your dog from following you from room to room when you are home. Try confining your dog in a different room by using a baby gate, crate or closing the door. Make sure to ignore any barking, refrain from making any eye contact, talking to your dog or reprimanding your dog. Instead reinforce your absence by frequently returning to the room and dropping off high-value treats such as chicken, cheese, etc., while they are quiet. 
  • Come and go frequently from the house. Remember to ignore your dog when they are vocal. Wait until they are quiet for at least 30 seconds, so you don’t risk rewarding the noise making. 

Spooky Barking

When something in an environment makes a dog uncomfortable, they may be barking to say, “I’m dangerous!” or “Don’t come any closer!”

This can be the case when puppies are not properly socialized. Expose your dog to plenty of places, experiences, sights and sounds; and make it all as fun as possible with praise, games and treats. If you didn’t have your dog as a puppy, you can still make up training and socialization with your adolescent or adult. Try to isolate what might be causing this fearful reaction, and associate it with something positive, like food and treats. If you are trying to create these positive associations about what's causing this fearful reaction in an adult dog, remember that it will take time for them to become comfortable with new situations.

Boredom Barking

This can happen when your dog doesn’t receive their daily minimum for exercise, mental stimulation and social stimulation. Essentially, your dog is bored and is trying to tell you. Try scheduling time to make sure your dog has a daily dose of attention and stimulation, and they will always reward you in return with loving companionship.

Tips for Preventing Excessive Dog Barking

  • Dogs are a highly social species and prefer companionship to long periods of isolation. Consider having two or more dogs, taking your dog to doggie day care or having a dog walker come at lunchtime if you work all day.
  • While you’re home, increase the amount of physical and mental stimulation for your dog. In nature, animals are used to expending huge amounts of energy to track and hunt their food! Remember to exercise your dog and provide stimulation with games and toys.
  • If you know you’ll be gone for an extended time, try to tire out your dog in advance. A walk around the block won’t cut it as exercise for some dogs. Consider adding some high-intensity games to your dog’s routine, such as fetch, tug of war and hide-and-seek, as well as play dates with other dogs.
  • You can also stimulate your dog during meal times. You can hide treats around the house, scatter them in your yard or hide them in a hollow bone or Kong toy. You can also use this time and food to work on basic manners or teach your pup some fun new tricks. 
  • You can be as imaginative as you’d like with your training to avoid your dog being understimulated.
  • Toys are also a wonderful tool to keep your dog busy while you are out.
    • Incorporate toys into your play time to help keep your dog interested in them.
    • You can teach your dog to find a toy that you’ve hidden in the room and then celebrate finding it with tug of war or fetch.
    • You can also encourage your dog to bring you a toy when you arrive home, and reward them with a game.
    • Make sure your dog has toys to keep them stimulated while you’re out.

Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing behavior@sdhumane.org or filling out our Ask a Trainer form. We aim to respond within 7 days, but responses may take up to 2 weeks. Thank you for your patience!

Questions About Public Classes

San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.

Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, it will also strengthen the bond you share.

Our website includes a current schedule of training classes or call 619-299-7012, ext. 2398. 

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