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Dog Barking: Why It Is Not Always a Bad Thing


Barking dogs have become so synonymous with danger that owners will often get nervous just hearing their hound let off a yip. In reality, dogs bark for a myriad of reasons, only one of which being when they feel threatened. It is how they communicate, not only with each other, but also with you. For example, my dogs always bark when I get home from work. It is how they show excitement and recognition.

Greeting Barking

As with my dogs, many dogs will bark as a greeting. If you take your dog to a dog park, for example, you will see dogs barking at each other in a very non-threatening way. They are just saying hello and acknowledging one another. Dogs may bark when friends or strangers come up to the house (keep in mind that they cannot always immediately tell which is which), or even just in excitement seeing their owner after a day of work. These barks are not accompanied by any growling or aggressive behavior.

Social Barking

Sometimes, a dog will bark just because other dogs are barking. Our neighbors have four dogs who live outside in their yard. Sometimes, once they get started barking at each other or at a visitor, our two dogs will start barking, just because their friends next door are doing it. If your pup hears another one barking, even distantly, it may encourage him to let out a few as well, just to acknowledge this other dog. It bring to mind the scene from 101 Dalmatians, where the dogs of England bark a message across the country to save the puppies.

Frustration Barking

Because dogs have no other way of communicating their frustration, it will often lead to barking. If they are kenneled or chained up, away from their friends or owners, they will give off a few bursts, just to show that they are fed up with a situation. When we have small children over at the house, or friends who are wary of dogs, we have a room we can put our dogs in. After a while, when they are bored of wrestling with one another, they will bark at the door, obviously tired of being locked away when they know that there are people to play with just beyond the door.

Anxiety Barking

This is probably the most common kind of barking for nervous dogs. Like barking in greeting or socially, this is a non-threatening noise, one that is meant to convey anxiety to an owner who can comfort a stressed out puppy. This kind of barking is likely to happen in a new location, if there are individuals in the house that make the dog uncomfortable, or (as with my two hounds) at the vet. Sometimes other dogs, especially other aggressive dogs can make yours nervous, and he may bark at you just to say that he is not feeling safe.

Barking for Attention

Like barking when frustrated, dogs who feel they are not getting the attention they need or deserve will often let off a yip to draw their owner’s focus. This is often a learned behavior. Over time, as you give attention to your dog when he barks, he will learn that barking gets him attention. If you are withholding a reward, he may also bark, thinking this may earn him that reward, especially if tricks or simply trying to grab it out of your hand have failed him.

Barking as an Alarm

Dogs who alarm bark are likely to be territorial. If you are out on a walk and he sees another person approaching and he barks, he is likely just trying to let you know that someone he does not recognize is coming your way and that he is offering protection. It can be easy to confuse alarm barking with greeting barking, as they both happen when a person approaches you or the house, however alarm barkers will usually tense up and appear more aggressive than if they were simply baying in salutation.

Most dogs are very aware of who is in their pack and who is not in their pack. When they are alarm barking at someone not in your pack, it is because they believe that person to be a potential threat. Keep in mind that dogs who alarm bark are not necessarily going to be aggressive towards a stranger, especially if that stranger treats them appropriately.

Which Kinds of Barking Are Acceptable?

Many owners would prefer it if their dogs never barked. It can be loud and irritating, especially inside a house. However, this behavior is an essential means of communication, and one that should not be discouraged, when it is in the right context. Some people want to train their dogs not to bark when someone comes to the door, and this can be corrected with training. However, training your dog to not respond to his innate instincts about a person can be detrimental.

Dogs can sense when someone is threatening their territory or pack, and that is barking that you want. He can alert you to a dangerous situation before you are cognizant of it. I often travel with my dogs, and when we stop at a gas station, I am often grateful for their barks. They know not to react just because there are people in the area, but if anyone ever approaches the car, they are loud and appropriately territorial until I give them a signal that things are alright.

Instead of training our dogs not to bark, we can train them to bark only under the parameters we establish, and we can train them to settle down on our mark using tools like training collars. Most kinds of barking are simply a communication, and when we recognize the underlying reason behind the barking, we can remedy the situation and cease the constant barking.

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