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San Diego Humane Society

Why Does My Dog Bark?

Your dog barks to communicate, and there are a variety of reasons why. How we react to our dogs can also encourage or discourage this 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. Here are the main reasons dogs bark:

Watchdog Barking

This serves two purposes: to alert pack 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 comply. This command can be simulated by having someone ring the doorbell or knock at the door, and you can progress into using the command 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 acknowledging the barking.

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. It’s most likely that this type of barking is associated with a form of separation anxiety. When you get a new dog or puppy, it’s best to refrain from smothering them with your constant presence and attention. Come and go frequently and don’t give excess attention when your dog is being vocal. Wait until they are quiet for at least 30 seconds, so you don’t risk rewarding the noise making. If your dog already has a barking habit when you are away, you can follow these steps:

  • Don’t let your dog follow you room to room when you are home: Put your dog in a different room away from you to practice “semi-absences” and ignore any barking. Do not give in to inclinations to reprimand your dog, as they could see this as a form of reward.
  • Practice periods of brief absences every day, leaving for even a few seconds to a few minutes at a time. Do it in a matter of fact way, and don’t make a big deal about your departure. Mix up the lengths of time you leave as your dog is getting used to your absence. This way, your dog will learn that your departure doesn’t always mean long periods of isolation. Keep all of your departure and arrival greetings low key, and don’t enter when the dog is barking. Wait for a quiet period of at least 30 seconds.
  • 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. Make your dog earn food and treats by practicing obedience exercises or 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 his find 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 had toys to keep them stimulated while you’re out.

If you think your dog displays excessive anxiety, read our article on Separation Anxiety.

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 spooking your dog about an environment, and associate it with something positive, like food and treats. If you are trying to resocialize 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 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.

Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team

Behavior Helpline

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing or filling out our Ask a Trainer form

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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