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Barking: What Does It Mean?

Why is your dog barking and what the heck is he trying to say?

Barking is your dog’s form of communication. Although, it is not a distinct language and does not serve the same functions as human language, it does serve a function!


There is always a reason why your dog is barking. Most commonly, it is a way for dogs to alert. Alerting because someone is at the door, something is outside, they need to go out or its time to eat, desire attention, or even because a burner in the kitchen was left on. It can also be a build-up and release of anxious or stressful energy.


Finding out why your dog barks is key in order to stop them from barking inappropriately!

Ongoing and Excessive Barking: territorial, frustration, or alerting

This is often a distress signal. Your dog’s needs are not being met somewhere along the line. Most commonly it is proper exercise.


  • Frustration barking occurs for a dog when they can't get access to a resource, whether it is a person, another dog, their food, or energy release.  A good walk will help exercise the physical and mental.


  • Alerting typically occurs when your dog hears something outside of the house or yard such as the mailman, a squirrel running by, or perhaps even something you didn’t hear or see yourself. Your dog is trying to alert you of something that has caught his attention and bring your attention to it as well. He may also be alerting whatever or whoever is outside, letting them know that he heard them pass by.


  • Territorial barking can form when your dog is left in the yard for any period longer than 30-45 minutes. When left out, they will more than likely develop excessive barking habits. If those habits are formed, the first step would be to secure them inside the house while you’re away.


When the excessive behavior is occurring indoors, blocking out a level of sight and sound is very helpful. Put the blinds down, turn on music or the television. Give them proper mental stimulation while inside, such as stuffed Kong toys, rawhide, or other food-toys that keep him busy and make him work for the reward.


Barking as greeting or as a social gesture:

Does your dog bark when someone is at the door? When they see another dog? If another dog in the area is barking? Do they bark when you withhold affection or food?  These behaviors can indicate that your dog is alert to what’s around him, but can also be attention-seeking behaviors and are often coupled with other behaviors such as jumping or “mouthing”.


  • Don’t encourage him! While we may find it to be funny or cute when a dog “talks to us”, unless you don’t mind that your dog barks, jumps on you, or pulls on your sleeve whenever he wants attention, never encourage this behavior!


  • Teach your dog alternative appropriate behaviors, rather than barking. When the doorbell rings, teach your dog to go into their “place” (usually a dog bed) and wait patiently for a reward. Their reward comes when they are calm, not frantic or rowdy.  You can also teach your dog the “touch” command - to greet a visitor by touching their nose to an open palm to receive a treat in return (either from you or from the visitor himself). Teach your dog that when they channel their energy into positive interactions and desired behavior, they will be rewarded. That reward may even be something as simple as getting to meet who was at the door in the first place!


So, when is barking appropriate?

Barking is appropriate when your dog starts barking either on their own and ceases once the distraction or alarm is gone, or with a verbal or hand gesture command. For example, if the kettle is whistling and your dog barks, and they stop barking when you remove the kettle, that is appropriate. If the dog barks when the doorbell rings, and they stop barking once the door is answered, or shortly thereafter, that is appropriate.


Can excessive barking lead to other problem behavior?

Yes! Frustration can often escalate from barking into chewing, nipping, and even biting. If your dog is not provided proper exercise, stimulation and socialization to those stimuli around him, he may eventually begin to act out beyond barking. If your dog is showing aggressive tendencies, please consult with a local trainer, vet or veterinary behaviorist. There are plenty of people out there who can help!

DISCLAIMER OF LIABILITY: Any advice provided by Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia ("CNKP") is for informational purposes only. The Community Help Desk is managed by volunteers of CNKP and does not necessarily represent the views of CNKP. Behavior and training advice and suggestions provided through its Help Desk are not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a professional animal trainer or qualified animal behaviorist. Any and all advice from CNKP regarding housing assistance, surrender prevention, or veterinary referrals is to be used for informational purposes only and does not substitute for the advice of a professional. CNKP expressly disclaims any and all liability, expressed or implied, with respect to the service and advice received via its Help Desk. Your reliance on the advice provided and/or content of CNKP's website or Help Desk communications is solely at your own risk.

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