Why Do Dogs Bark? Understanding Barking Behavior and Body Language
Woof! What Are Dogs Communicating When Barking?
When asking the question "Why do dogs bark?", you must then ask, "Why do people talk?" I'll use some anthropomorphic comparisons to help explain the reasons dogs bark.
I have a friend who seems to think dogs bark just to annoy us, I really don't believe this is true; I can't imagine a dog being this disrespectful. My belief when it comes to a dog barking is that it's the same as when a human talks. Humans speak, and so do dogs. The two have more in common than you would think:
- Humans talk to express emotions; dogs bark to express emotions.
- Humans talk to communicate with each other; dogs bark to communicate with each other.
- Humans talk to dogs to tell them something; dogs bark at humans to tell them something.
We can watch our dogs playing and barking at another dog, and what they may be conveying is unknown to us. However, when they turn their vocal interactions to humans, we must learn to determine what our K9 companion has to say.
Most Common Barking Styles
Humans get loud; dogs bark. When a child gets loud, he is requesting something or telling you something. When asking why do dogs bark, the answer is very similar. A loud child communicates that he is hungry, lonely, hurt, or needs to be changed by the act of becoming loud or crying. A barking dog communicates that he is ready for his meal, misses you, has an injury, or needs to be let outside—all by the act of barking.
Knowing the different barks your dog is using when trying to tell you something may take some time. After you have lived with your canine for a while, you will understand his vocalizations and personality much better.
A dog may seem to be barking at absolutely nothing. We ponder: What is he doing and why? Be reassured that your dog is NOT barking for NO reason! He has a reason, and—to him—it is a good reason!
- The first thing to recognize is if he is barking at things like a chair, a wall, or some non-visible thing; this kind of mystery barking can indicate he is having an emotional or physical problem and may need to be seen by your veterinarian.
- But in most cases what we see as mystery barking occurs when your dog is hurt, hungry, wants to go for a stroll, or has heard or seen someone outside the home. Humans don't have the keen hearing and scent skills like that of a dog, and as such, we may not uncover the sounds and smells of danger that our dog will.
In some cases, the dog that seems to be barking non-stop may need a refresher course on proper doggy manners or a (non-pain-inflicting) bark collar. I recommend spray or scent collars versus electric shock collars; I am not fond of causing my pet pain when another method can be just as effective.
However, if you observe the non-stop barker for a few minutes (or even seconds), you will notice his snout is pointing in a constant direction. He is more than likely looking at something he really wants while barking at the same time. If you see his 'red bouncy dog toy' sitting just out of his reach—well, you have solved the barking mystery.
This is very common behavior for your dog to display, so it remains your job to learn and understand what it is that your K9 is attempting to convey. This non-stop barking is an indication that a need your dog has strong feelings about is not being quenched.
As mentioned before, you may need to give your dog a refresher course on his vocal manners, because you won't always be there to meet his need every minute of the day. This could cause your dog extreme anxiety if he's not given proper direction.
When dealing with a dog that talks back—that is, one that barks or makes grumbling noises at you when you are telling him to do, or stop doing, something—it should be considered as an act of defiance. It parallels when your 15-year-old talks back to you defiantly. Not all dogs misbehave in this manner, just like not all 15-year-olds talk back. If you have a situation where your dog barks at you when you direct him to sit, stay, or drop something from his teeth, you have a defiant K9 on your hands.
Once you recognize this behavior, you must use compliance training to reign him in and remind him that you are the top-dog and pack alpha. This does not mean you should get overaggressive or hit your dog. Like your dog's ancestor the wolf, you need to remind your dog by way of deference actions, respect, and pack allegiance as to how he must act.
Understanding Barking Behavior Is Important for Training
If you take the time to understand the reason behind your dog's barking behavior, you will have an easier task at revising it. Most barking behavior we assume to mean "Feed me," "I need water," or "Let me out." If the barking behavior your dog is displaying is caused by anxiety, fear, or dominance, you will need to consider retraining your dog in an attempt to prevent a good dog from going bad and taking his aggression to a whole other level.
What If I'm Afraid of Dogs?
Some people mistakenly think the fear of dogs is good because it brings greater caution when dealing with them. In my opinion, this NEVER works. When we are scared or frightened of something, we are likely to run, scream, or make furtive motions and even react inappropriately. These things tend to trigger a dog's senses, causing the dog to move closer, rather than keeping him away.
I understand that dogs can and do bite on occasion, but this is less often than you might think, and, by following a few simple rules, you can all but ensure that no one is going to get bit. Learning dog body language and behavior has to be the number one goal. The more we understand something, the less apt we are to be frightened of it; this includes dogs.
Many humans are scared of dogs because they don't know what the K9 might do next. Dogs communicate primarily by use of body language. A basic knowledge of body language can help you understand what a dogs' true intentions are going to be.
Greeting a Dog: Dos and Don'ts
The Dos to remember when greeting a dog for the first time (or any time):
- DO approach the dog in a calm manner. Quick or furtive motion in a dog's direction can scare them.
- DO look at the dog's feet when you greet him. Dogs can feel threatened when looked in the eyes, causing an aggressive act to follow.
- DO make certain the dog sees you coming before you get close. If you surprise a dog, he may nip out of fear.
- DO make a fist with your hand and then allow the dog to sniff it. If a nip does occur, less damage to knuckles than to outstretched fingers.
- DO avoid injured or sick looking dogs. Dogs that are limping, have bandages, dried blood or other signs of injury or sickness should never be approached by untrained people. Even professional handlers tread cautiously under these circumstances.
The Don'ts to remember when greeting a dog for the first time (or any time):
- DON'T put your hand or fingers into a car window, crate screen, cage or box that a dog is confined in. The dog may be uneasy and nip at you because he has no way out or he feels the need to protect his environment.
- DON'T approach a dog that is tied. This dog may bite out of fear or to protect his territory. He may also jump and cause injury to a small child or to himself.
- DON'T approach a mother dog with her pups. It is a natural maternal drive that causes the female dog to protect her pups. Have no doubt, this bitch will bite.
- DON'T put your face against a dog's face. This action may startle the dog or aggravate him causing him to snap, and this nip will be to your face.
- DON'T sit on a dog's back (or let your kids) no matter how big the dog is. This may cause the dog pain which can cause even the sweetest of our canine friends to bite. Even if you have done this a hundred times in the past, it only takes one careless pain inflicting second to ruin the relationship between you and your long time K9 companion.
Canine Body Language by "Dogs for Defense K-9"
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.