What does my dog’s barking mean?

By | Published On: June 24, 2022 | Categories: Behaviour, Dogs, Training |

Helping you work out what type of bark you’re witnessing is about context as well as sound pattern and volume.

If your dog barks lunging forward and then backing away repeatedly (there’s a specific sound that they make too, it has been described as a ‘woo woo’ bark!) it’s most likely that your dog is uncertain or afraid. Movements will usually be ‘approach and retreat’, which is how we describe it in the behaviour world. Here the dog isn’t really very confident and they perhaps want to get closer, but aren’t really feeling confident enough and so continually back away again. Or they might be lunging to chase away what they see is a threat. They’re not bold enough to really do it (at the moment), so they lunge forward and then back again, forward and back.

If your dog is simply chasing something in a more predatory way, it’s unlikely they would bark in the first place. Why would a dog warn a rabbit if they were going to run after them?

Dogs can of course just bark out of sheer excitement, however in the same way that your dog might bark when you’re playing ball with them, dogs can also bark for other reasons so in this situation it could be frustration, where they can’t get to something. The tone of the bark will be different, more of a ‘yipping’ sound.

If you want to know more about how dogs think and live, you can get my book ‘Being a Dog – the World from your Dog’s Point of View’ – right here! 

The main thing for humans, that tends to cause problems with barking, is our reaction to it. A dog learns that when they bark, something else happens as a consequence, and that consequence rewards it in some way. Even just by paying attention, even if you’re sounding harsh, it’s still going to be a reaction. That means that the dog is most likely going to do the same thing again. And again.

It’s quite easy, in fact, to unwittingly train your dog to bark more and more, and for longer and longer.

Simply by asking your dog to be quiet next time your dog starts to bark, first of all think Is this the kind of breed that would normally be more vocal? If so, you will need to spend a bit more time keeping them calmer and genuinely helping them to do things other than bark whenever anything exciting happens!

If your dog barks a lot at people and other dogs, please be very cautious not to tell them off. You will only make things worse. Instead, you can help your dog by teaching them how to relax in all sorts of situations with a sensible behavioural training plan. Please don’t use daft devices that are meant to magically switch off the noise. They work by frightening the dog, so it’s up to you if you want to scare your dog every time they see a person/dog in the surroundings. Frightened dogs often end up biting.

This takes a lot of practice and sometimes professional help while you build up the distractions gradually. Please don’t give up because it really is better for your dog to be calmer and less barking – more peace and quiet for everyone.

Download my handy ‘Ssh! Stop your dog barking’ manual below.

– Karen Wild

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