A popular adaptation film about Dalmatians has a poignant scene of a community of animated dogs barking in orchestrated concert to alert the pack of danger. This is a real-life scenario that plays out daily in our own neighborhoods and homes. It’s important to respect the communication of a dog’s bark and discern the intent behind their vocalization.
Dogs bark to communicate their needs, including an alert of stranger danger or to express their feelings (happiness, boredom, fear, isolation, stress). How you respond is based on your interpretation of the circumstances with some introspection and understanding.
The “alert” bark should be embraced as your dog is simply doing her job by letting you know there is an intruder on the premises (ex: Fed Ex driver, landscaper or someone walking by). How many stories have we read about hero dogs who barked like crazy to wake up their owners when a fire was raging in the home or an intruder had broken in? Indulge the alert, check it out, peer through the door or blinds then say “good job…all gone…good girl/boy”…and walk away from the disturbance like no big deal. If the barking continues, in the absence of true danger, distance your dog from the action with distraction. Turn her attention to something more exciting in the home (grab a favorite toy or run into another room). You can also bring your finger to your lips while softly saying “quiet” or “shhhhh”. Dogs are very good at reading our body language. Always follow with cheery praise or a treat the minute she’s quiet and pronounce “good quiet” or similar cue word to signal treat follows silence. Treats should immediately follow the desired action or the effect is lost on your dog.
If your dog is barking incessantly, she may be vocalizing for other reasons. Fear is often the culprit. This could be because your dog is afraid of certain people, other dogs, loud noises (hello vacuum cleaner) or some other trigger that promulgates discomfort. Past experiences may factor in and will simply take time to uncover before you can begin to desensitize this conditioned response.
It’s quite common for dogs to react by barking at other dogs while on a walk. First starters include keeping a distance from the other dog (move to the other side of the sidewalk), stop walking and/or change direction. You want to get your dog to focus on YOU and not the other dog. By creating distance, keeping treats handy to reward them when they focus on you and not the other dog, and/or signaling this “walk is over until you sit quietly” is the first step. This takes consistent practice every day until you can comfortably walk your dog without reaction on their part.
If your dog is uncomfortable when non-family members come into your home, and barks out of fear, a simple “bond by food” method can be employed. Have super yummy treats ready and enlist friends to enter your home, packed with a fistful of “high-value” treats (i.e. skip bland Milk Bones and shoot for cooked chicken cubes or other high-taste rewards instead). Instructions are to simply toss the treats in the dog’s direction without making eye contact, communication or touch. Your enlisted “visitors” must be calm and comfortably toss treats at your dog without engagement. As your dog gobbles the treats and looks to this “food source” for more, continue tossing treats until she gets closer and eventually accepts the food from their hand or is sitting directly in front of them. At that point, eye contact and communication can ensue with praise and soothing tones followed by petting and affection. If your dog is reluctant at first, or not interested in a treat at all, have your guest sit still and engage with you until your dog realizes this person is staying for a spell and may wander closer just out of curiosity. Then, begin the treat process for a double reward – reward for being quiet and for accepting this new human in the home.
Most dogs bark when they’re happy or want to play. You know that excited bark when you walk through the door as they are so delighted by your presence! Or the “let’s play” bark which is usually accompanied by dance moves while their wagging tails fan the room. This particular behavior is exactly why we have dogs; to be reminded of how much we are loved and needed.
However, if your dog is barking for no discernible reason, she may just be demanding attention. Assuming it isn’t meal time, she needs to potty or isn’t suffering from a medical condition causing pain or discomfort, be careful about your response to this. Even if you’re ready for a walk or game of fetch, wait until she’s quiet before you engage and indulge. Reward her “quiet” moment with a pleasurable activity or simple praise and affection. Do not respond by shouting “NO! STOP IT! SHUT UP!” as this negatively reinforces unwanted behavior.
It goes without saying that dogs left outside all day will bark compulsively to announce their loneliness. Farm dogs may be well occupied by their job tending to sheep and property, yet the average (non-working) dog does not deserve to be left alone all day; indoors or out.
You know your dog best. If you have recently rescued a dog or are training a new puppy, it may take some time to figure out their various barking messages and how to properly respond.
NOTE: Many dogs have benefitted by 24/7 attention during Covid isolation, yet it has its unintended consequences for them too. Too much attention and not enough outdoor stimulation may have created unusually high expectations for your dogs, if not extreme attachment to you and your family. Consider creating new routines, with periodic absences from you, while also ensuring they are kept physically and mentally active every day. Invest in toys to keep them busy during the day. Chewy.com is a warehouse for all things dog including multiple interactive dog toys to help you keep them happily engaged. See the Chewy.com link on our website PET STORE for a fun and vast on-line shopping experience @ https://doolittlesdoghouse.com/shop/
photo attribution: Robert Gramner on unsplash.com
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