We’ve all been there: that moment peace and quiet is shattered when a nearby dog begins to bark with no sign of ever letting up. Unfortunately, dogs do not get tired of barking. In fact, barking is a “self-reinforcing” habit, meaning the very act of barking is soothing and can make the dog want to bark more. Other examples of this kind of behavior include chasing and chewing.
While the experience may be disruptive, it’s entirely normal for dogs to bark in response to some social or environmental cues. In some cases, a dog’s natural ability to keep alert and raise an alarm is a major asset to its owners. But when should excessive barking for prolonged periods become a cause for concern? Is this behavior a sign of stress or some other underlying issue? Let’s explore the evolutionary reasons, behavioral triggers, and stress impacts of excessive barking in dogs – and how you can manage them.
Table of contents
- Why do dogs bark?
- Which breeds are more prone to barking?
- When is barking a cause for concern?
- How can you reduce excessive barking?
- How can Ellevet’s CBD + CBDA help with barking?
- Bottom line
Why do dogs bark?
Like humans, dogs are social creatures – pack animals to be exact. While they have many different modes of canine communication, from body language to pheromones, vocalization is the most apparent to a pet owner. The vocabulary can span yelps, whines, howls and growls along with the trademark dog bark. Dogs evolved these methods of communication to establish hierarchies and territories among packs, so the impulse to bark in certain situations is a hardwired response in many dogs. And like humans, dogs are individuals. Certain dogs will have a tendency to bark more than others, though genetics and socialization can play a role.
When it comes to the motivation behind the bark, there are a variety of triggers:
- Making contact – Barking can be a straightforward response to your dog sensing another dog and calling out to it. In situations where the dog is relaxed, this is the canine equivalent of a greeting or conversation. Socialized barking is when two dogs converse from a distance.
- To establish territory – Your dog’s canine ancestors were pack animals with territories in the wild marked by scent cues and defended for the protection of resources and breeding females or offspring. This instinct prevails in our modern-day pups, although it now typically extends only to the boundaries of your home or yard. When an unknown human or dog visitor encroaches on this boundary, it can provoke a barking reaction as a threat to respect the dog’s territory. The age-old example is that of the animosity between dog and mailman, which your dog may perceive as a repeat interloper on their turf.
- To offer protection – An extension of the territorial instinct is a dog’s reflex to protect “their pack,” most often you and your family. Some dogs even feel threatened when others approach their pack while on a leash, out in public, or even in the car. This instinct serves as a warning to the outsider to keep away, although it can be an unwelcome response that suggests aggression.
- To express needs – While some barking is a response to an external stimulus, others suggest your dog may have unmet needs.. A dog that is left alone for long stretches of the day or given little attention or stimuli might resort to barking for long periods. “A tired dog who’s had adequate physical and mental stimulation is less likely to bark inordinately,” according to the American Kennel Club. Similarly, a dog may bark to alert the owner when they’re hungry, thirsty, or in need of the bathroom.
- Seeking attention – A dog who suffers from separation anxiety may resort to prolonged and repeated barking during an owner’s absence as a calming mechanism in response to the anxiety of separation.
- When feeling threatened or aggressive – For a dog that has suffered abuse in the past or has some underlying emotional issues, barking in response to the smallest sound can be a way of expressing self-soothing in a stressful situation. That is the reason many dog kennels and shelters are noisy places since many of the residents are stressed by the unfamiliar environment.
- Loss of hearing– Finally, in older dogs or those with a predisposition to hearing problems, fits of barking might indicate deafness. While frustrated or confused by reduced hearing capacity, a deaf dog may show changes in vocalization.
Which breeds are more prone to barking?
Certain types of dogs have historically been specifically bred through genetic selection to vocalize more loudly and more often, typically for hunting and guarding purposes. These breeds include:
- West Highland Terriers
- Yorkshire Terrier
- German Shepherd
When is barking a cause for concern?
As discussed, certain barking behaviors are a natural, evolutionary response to external stimuli or a characteristic of genetics through breeding. However, the frequency and length of these barking episodes are important factors in determining whether you should take steps to address the behavior. According to the RSPCA, “when dogs bark excessively (for many hours of the day or repeatedly in certain situations), this usually indicates an underlying issue.”
It’s important for the pet owner to identify when compulsive barking indicates a deeper problem. Sometimes you may not be aware of the problem, especially in case of separation anxiety, where the dog only barks excessively during your absence. In this case, your neighbors may be more than willing to raise the issue.
How can you reduce excessive barking?
There are several steps you can take to begin breaking your dog’s barking habit. Firstly it’s important to observe and identify the likely trigger behind your dog’s excessive barking, which will allow you to determine the underlying issue and address it accordingly. Many of these steps can be enforced through regular training and mindful interactions at home. However, if you feel concerned there is a deeper issue at play, it’s worth bringing your dog to a trainer or the veterinarian to get a professional opinion.
Here are some at-home steps to help curb excessive barking habits:
Exercise, and lots of it – As previously outlined by the AKC: “ A tired dog […] is less likely to bark inordinately.” We’ve discussed how pent-up energy, excitement, anxiety, or aggression can result in periods of barking. Regular physical and mental exertion, in the form of walks, games, or time outdoors, can release energy and subsequently make your dog calmer once back at home. Make an effort to establish a daily exercise plan for your dog that fits your schedule. If your dog is a very active breed, it may require multiple exercise sessions per day. If possible, hire a dog walker to visit during the day if you work away from home.
Puzzles & Toys – Alleviate boredom and distract your dog from performing negative habits, like barking or chewing, by providing them with interactive games. Before you leave the house, supply a variety of toys to occupy your dog’s attention – items like chew toys and balls will allow them to entertain themselves in your absence. Dog puzzles that contain a treat they must work to extract are particularly effective.
Cultivate a calm environment – Take steps to make the house a sanctuary where your dog will feel relaxed and less prone to barking while home alone. Try leaving the radio or television playing to approximate human presence in the home and give the illusion of daily routines. To reduce visual stimuli, close the blinds before you leave the house to prevent your dog from becoming provoked by the sight of a passing squirrel or neighbor.
Demotivate – When addressing problematic barking behavior, there are certain responses you should try to avoid. While it can be very unpleasant and jarring to endure, the instinct to shout at your barking dog can be counterintuitive, causing more excitement or stress in your dog and reinforcing the desire to bark. Wait until your dog has quieted down before you give them what they want. Avoid responding to the barking until they have quieted down, at which point you can offer positive reinforcement by giving them attention and treats.
Establish a directive – An extension of demotivation is to train the “quiet cue.” When your dog is barking uncontrollably, use a firm, calm voice to command them to be quiet. Once they respond correctly, reinforce that behavior with rewards. Repeat this step until your dog learns the positive outcomes of the quiet command.
Try a bark collar – The use of bark collars, an automated collar that will send a small electric shock when your dog begins to vocalize, has been hotly debated. Many sources label the bark collar as inhumane and even abusive. Consult with your veterinarian and if you do decide to try one, use it sparingly and with the help of a qualified dog trainer. Used incorrectly, a bark collar can cause significant stress and fear and create long-lasting problems.
How can Ellevet’s CBD + CBDA help with barking?
ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA chews, soft gels, and oils can offer support for dogs’ stress by helping their stress levels decrease and return to a normal state of balance. CBD + CBDA calms without sedating, which is key to allowing dogs to handle stressful situations without engaging in negative and self-reinforcing behaviors like compulsive barking.
There’s no denying that barking is part of the package when it comes to dog care. As a key method of communication with humans and other dogs, a certain amount of barking is a natural canine response. However, long and frequent periods of relentless barking can be indicative of a deeper problem that needs attention. Your dog may be trying to tell you something or express underlying stress or anxiety.
Consult your veterinarian if you feel your dog’s behavior is not normal. For any questions about ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA products, give us a call (844-673-7287) or send us an email ([email protected]). We are here to help.