Barking

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Barking is one of the most common "nuisance behaviours" that people complain about once their dog hits about 4-5 months of age. What we humans tend to forget is that barking is a normal form of communication for dogs and there are so many reasons they bark! 

We often adopt dogs and then quickly want to learn how to "make them stop barking" but that's like adopting a 5 year old child and wanting to "make them stop talking"...! Our expectations are a little out of whack here, so let's start by reining them in. We cannot expect dogs to never bark - it's not realistic, nor is it really humane... But, we can learn to understand our dog better so that we can respond appropriately when they do vocalise and therefore reduce any undesired or "excessive" barking. 

Let's look at the most common reasons dogs will bark: 


Alert-barking occurs when a dog hears a noise outside or is startled by a trigger (doorbell, knock on the door, shutters banging in the wind, a racoon on the property, etc...). 

Some dogs are more prone to this than others, but most dogs will alert bark. Rather than trying to quash their alert-barking, respond to it and relieve them of their duties. 

Here's how to deal:  

  1. The dog barks
  2. You approach the space where they are barking (the front door for example) and listen for a moment. Say "thank you!" and encourage your dog to follow you away from the door. 
  3. If the dog continues barking, you may have to prevent access to the trigger (white noise machine to block auditory triggers, using window film on the window to block visual triggers, etc) 
  4. Occupy them with another activity while blocking access to that zone for a while.  

Attention-barking looks like this: you are occupied with an activity, the dog is staring directly at you, barking, waiting for a response, barking again, and repeat. They may become more insistent over time if you try to ignore them. Sometimes it seems like they're trying to tell you something. 

Here's how to deal:  

First, you need to rule out whether or not your dog actually needs something (potty break, fresh water, food, an activity due to boredom). If your dog is pottied, fed, and watered, you can try offering them a food puzzle or activity to keep them occupied until you are able to take them for a walk or play with them. If this continues, the last step is this: 

  1. The dog barks
  2. You say "quiet"
  3. The dog continues barking
  4. You say "too bad"
  5. You walk away into another room and close the door. Count to 15 and then return as if nothing happened. 
  6. Repeat until saying "quiet" stops the barking and you don't need to do anything more! 

Visit our Roadmap for Time-Out Protocol for more in-depth information! 


Demand-barking for a toy usually occurs during a game of fetch with a fetch-motivated dog. You bring out the tennis ball, they bark at you to say "throw it! Come on! Throw it!" and you finally toss the ball to shut them up. Now they know that barking makes you toss the ball and they do it every time. 

Here's how to deal:  

  1. The dog barks
  2. You say "quiet" in a calm tone
  3. The dog continues barking
  4. You say "too bad"
  5. You put the ball away, out of sight and disengage for a moment.
  6. When your dog is quiet, you can ask for an alternate behaviour that you know they will do in this environment. Once they perform the behaviour, you bring out the ball and throw it right away. The throwing of the ball is the reward for the behaviour and it doesn't involve barking! 

Demand barking for your food or their food is a common issue at mealtime. I'm a big fan of crating or confining dogs during human-mealtime so that you don't have to train while trying to eat and connect with your family or have some quiet peace in your day. Make mealtime an event for your dog so that they eat at the same time, away from you, and in a way that prevents access to you or the table. 

Visit our Kitchen Manners Training so that meal-prep is a dream and then manage at mealtime. 

If you're simply having a snack or you're preparing their meal and they are demand-barking for it, you can issue a time-out: 

  • The dog barks
  • You say "quiet"
  • The dog continues barking
  • You say "too bad"
  • You swiftly but gently remove the dog and place them in a time-out in another room. Close the door and count to 15 seconds and then open the door and allow them out. Sit back down and resume your activity.
  • Repeat the whole process until saying "quiet" stops the barking and you can say "good work!" and reinforce with either a bite of their food, or (if you are not against sharing your dog-safe snacks, a piece of yours).

Fence-fighting with another dog or person in the backyard is frustration-based experience. If your dog is barking at people or dogs in the adjoining yards or spaces, you will have some hard work for a few weeks that will pay off for a lifetime. 

If you've known me for more than five minutes, you'll know that management and prevention are everything here...as usual...so we'll tackle that, but first we have to teach our dogs what we actually want them to do in the moment!

Click here to check out our FULL Quick Win on this topic


When a dog is barking at a person, dog, or novel sound/object: 

This may be fear-related. If so, help your dog "get to safety"; this means: 

  • gently and calmly move them away from the trigger
  • advocate for your dog "please don't approach" or "no thank you" should suffice
  • if both dogs are off-leash, ask the dog's guardian to call or get their dog "now"
  • if the dog is off-leash and yours is on-leash, food-bomb the other dog in the face and turn and jog away with your dog
  • move your dog away from the trigger (sound or object)
  • manage the environment (turn on the music or a TV to block the sound until it has passed)
  • do not use punishment
  • do not encourage your dog to get closer or check it out
  • do not force your dog to stay close to the trigger to "get used to it" or "get over it"
  • do not ignore this behaviour
  • do not ask the person to feed your dog treats 
  • get in touch with us to help you change your dog's emotional response 

When a dog is barking during play with you / another dog I often see this as "laughing" and "egging on" if they're both having fun. Unless it's going on for a long time or causing stress to the other dog or your neighbours, I tend to let it go a little and consider taking arousal breaks so that it doesn't escalate. 

You can always treat this in a way that teaches them that play ends when barking begins, but I try not to squash my dog's happy barks when playing with friends unless it's really problematic. 

A little leniency is okay. Dogs need to have some fun! 


Growling

Growls are another component of canine communication and are perfectly normal! How else were you expecting them to communicate? Words? 😉

Dogs will growl for a few reasons; play, fear/threat-response, uncertainty, discomfort/pain. 

Over time you will learn what each one sounds like, I'm sure, but for now, we must combine the growl with the rest of the body language and that is the easiest way to decipher its meaning. 

If a dog is growling with a lowered body and tense ears pulled back, they are feeling fearful and warning that if the threat doesn't go away, they may have no choice but to escalate to a bite. In this moment, it's best to remove the threat and give the dog space. 

If a dog is growling with a stiff body and side eye while hovering over an item, they are feeling threatened or worried that their valuable resource (food, toy, "found" object, etc) may be stolen. Do not try to teach your dog a lesson here by removing the resource - instead, speak calmly to reassure your dog and move away, showing them that you are not a thief. More on resource guarding here. 

If a dog is growling with a lowered body but is still moving toward the "threat" with curiosity, they are feeling uncertain or apprehensive. Their curiosity is still strong but they're simply a little spooked. Getting closer is not always best as dogs in this state may be easily spooked into fight/flight mode. 

If a dog is growling in play, I don't see a problem as long as their body is loose, wiggly, silly, and they have soft eyes. If the game is not as loose and silly and the dog is jazzed up (like when playing tug or fetch, you may not see as much wiggliness or soft eyes - more so excited eyes, and that's okay too. I tend to watch that it doesn't escalate too much, so play for a minute, take a break, play again, take a break. Even a 15 second break is a good reset! 

If a dog is growling while being handled, they may not be enjoying the experience at all and are warning you that this is not their jam. "If you keep doing that, I will have no choice but to bite you. Please stop." Stop the handling and work with them to make it a better experience. Find another way to move them rather than forcing them - a food lure or tossing a treat or toy is fine in the interim! More on body handling here. If the dog is in pain, this is a conversation for the Veterinarian for sure! 

If you're concerned, get in touch

Always assess the rest of the components while the growl is occurring, or if you feel unsafe, give the dog space. 


The growl is a gift.

Never punish it or try to 'stop' it. Simply listen. Heed the warning and accept this as communication. 

When we punish the growl, the dog stops growling and instead will jump from subtle signs of discomfort straight to a bite.

We do not want a silent biter! 


Deciphering the Language of Barks

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