When Your Dog Barks, What Does She Want You to Know?

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

types of dog barks

Story at-a-glance -

  • Barking is a natural form of canine communication, though some dogs bark excessively (and annoyingly)
  • There are different types of dog barks to different occasions; understanding what triggers the behavior in your canine BFF can help you determine what, if anything, you should do about it
  • Some cases of excessive barking can be resolved with environmental or lifestyle adjustments; others may benefit from positive reinforcement behavior training
  • It’s ineffective to try to stop your dog from barking; instead, reward her silence

It’s hardly breaking news, but dogs bark! In fact, barking is a natural form of communication for the canine set. Of course, some dogs bark like it’s their job. Breeds known to be, shall we say, excessive barkers include the Chihuahua, toy and miniature Poodles, the Pekingese, and many types of terriers.

Some working breeds also tend to be very vocal, along with high energy or hyper dogs, as well as those with anxiety issues.

7 Types of Barks

If you’ve spent much time around dogs, you may have noticed they have different barks for different occasions. For example:

1. Barking to be noticed — Some dogs bark simply for attention — from their human or another animal. Your dog might also demand-bark for food, a treat, or some playtime. The more you reward his yappy behavior by giving him what seeks, the more likely he'll be to continue to bark for attention.

2. Barking in response to other barking dogs — If your dog answers when she hears other dogs barking, it's a social thing. She hears the barking of nearby dogs, or even dogs at some distance, and responds in kind. This type of social barking is often heard at animal shelters and boarding facilities.

3. Barking as a greeting — If your dog shows excitement when he encounters other people or dogs, his body is relaxed and he's wagging his tail, the barking he does at those times is his way of saying, “Hello! Good to see you!”

4. Concern barking — If your dog barks at what seems like everything — every movement or noise she's not expecting — she’s distress barking. Her body is probably held stiffly during this activity, and she may jump forward a bit with each bark.

5. Territorial barking — Your canine family member considers your home, yard, car, his walk route, and other places he spends a lot of time, his territory. If he barks continuously when a person or another animal approaches his domain, he's communicating that a stranger is invading his turf.

6. Frustration barking — If your dog is behind your fence and another dog passes by within view, she might bark excessively to signal her frustration that she can't greet her friend out there on the sidewalk. This type of barking is usually seen in dogs who are confined or tied up to restrict their movement.

7. Compulsive barking — If your dog barks continually, perhaps while performing a repetitive movement like running back and forth along the fence in your yard, he's demonstrating a bit of a compulsion. You might want to try to find a better outlet for his energy — like a rigorous walk or a long game of fetch. A tired dog is a quiet dog.

As you can see from the above examples, there are some types of barks that require your attention in the form of environment or lifestyle changes that help soothe your dog and reduce or eliminate his need to bark. And then there are the barks that serve no real purpose and require an intervention.

In under-exercised dogs who don’t receive adequate physical or mental stimulation daily, excessive barking can be a way to alleviate boredom. Dogs with separation anxiety also often bark non-stop or howl when they’re left alone.

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The Secret to Silencing Your Barking Dog

Since barking is a natural behavior and means of communicating for dogs, it’s counterproductive to try to prevent it. Instead, your goal with a dog who barks excessively should be to teach her to stop barking on command.

This training will be easier if you’re starting with a puppy, but it can also be done with an adult dog. With a puppy, you’ll need to train yourself first to ignore his cute little yips and squeaks so as not to reinforce the behavior. Keep reminding yourself those adorable puppy barks will grow louder and more annoying the older she gets.

“You don’t punish barking, you reward silence,” says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, founder of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. It sounds simple enough, but it doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

“There are many benign ways of training a dog not to bark,” writes Dodman. “Most of them involve utilizing a voice command, such as No bark! Some of them simply entail patience, where you wait until the dog eventually does stop barking and then you reward it with some highly sought after treat …”1

If you’re consistent in your response to your dog’s barking, she’ll start to reduce the length of time she barks. You may be able to speed up the process a bit by immediately following your verbal command to stop barking with words that indicate a treat is in the offing in exchange for her silence. When she starts barking, you say “No bark,” followed immediately by “Want a treat?”

Gradually reduce the number of treats she receives until you’re rewarding her with food only once in a while, and be sure to use only tiny pieces of healthy treats. (However, remember to always reward her with verbal praise and petting when she does what you ask her to do.)

Dodman also points out that some dogs may require negative reinforcement (which is not the same as punishment) through the use of a head halter with a training lead. When the dog barks, tension is applied to the training lead to remind him he’s performing an undesirable behavior. The reward for his silence is release of tension on the lead.

“Most owners make the mistake of feeling that they have to chastise or otherwise punish their pup for barking but the commotion and anguish that this causes does little to improve the situation,” writes Dodman. “In fact, in yelling at a dog that is barking may seem to it as if you’re barking, too.”

3 More Suggestions to Curb Excessive Barking

  • If loud noises set your dog off, a crate of his own that he can go in and out of at will, coupled with soothing music or a television on in the background can help. Tips and tricks for crate training your dog (including fearful dogs).
  • If she’s barking out of boredom, increase her exercise and playtime, take her on walks, to the dog park, or find other activities that give her both the physical activity and mental stimulation all dogs require to be well-balanced. The best way to encourage your dog’s silence is to exhaust her with exercise.
  • Changes in your dog’s routine and environment can cause stress, so as much as possible, stick to a consistent daily schedule he can depend on. You might also consider talking with an animal behavior specialist about desensitization and counter conditioning exercises for a stressed-out pet. Lifelong social interactions and positive training are also essential for your dog’s mental and emotional well-being.

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