While it might not be the most endearing dog behavior, dogs bark to communicate with others. They might be attempting to communicate with their pet parent, dog trainer, a random passerby, or other animals. There are different schools of thought surrounding what dogs attempt to rely on by barking.
To the untrained ear, one dog’s bark could sound almost exactly similar to all the pups playing in the dog park. And yet, many dog parents swear that they know the sound of their dog vocalizing, the same way a parent will recognize their child yelling “Mom!” in the grocery store.
Dog parents and scientists agree: dogs have unique barks with unique meanings.
Recent research has concluded that dogs have plastic vocal cords. That does not mean that their vocal cords are literally plastic, but there is more room for variation than we once thought. This is also known as a “modifiable vocal tract.”
When studied more, researchers found that there actually is a difference in a range of barks. Anything from the frequency, pitch, and timing can be slightly different in different dogs (or even in the same dog at different times).
While these findings are certainly interesting, these variations are usually still not discernable to human ears. This brings us to another fascinating conclusion.
Why Do Dogs Bark at Other Dogs?
Whether you’re on a walk or sunbathing by the window, you might notice your dog bark at dogs that pass by.
They may do so in greeting, in warning, or something else entirely. Humans are only partially fluent. While we can usually tell the difference between a “play” bark and a “stay away from my mailbox” bark, we probably don’t know it all.
The incredibly subtle differences in their barks might mean more to other canines than their loving human family members.
Identify What Your Dog Usually Barks At
Really take the time to observe your pet’s behavior. Are they much more likely to bark at a squirrel on a branch than another dog? On the other hand, maybe they bark at people walking by but seem uninterested in cars? How about a TV show featuring cats?
By determining what exactly it is that sets your dog off into a barking frenzy, you are better equipped for the next step of the process. Now, you can figure out the potential causes behind your dog’s constant barking.
With the investigative work done, it’s time to redirect this natural dog instinct into something a little more socially acceptable in a human-centric neighborhood.
Your Dog Might Be Barking in Greeting
This is a polite type of barking, but it still could easily be disruptive to your day. If your dog is barking at the outside stimuli as a greeting, they are simply trying to say hello!
Dogs are likely capable of picking up intricacies in each other’s barks that we are not. It is entirely possible that this is your dog’s way of trying to convey a positive message.
Does your dog seem relaxed and happy? Is their posture at ease, perhaps with a wagging tail? These are all signs that your dog is just trying to be friendly, even if it is in the loudest way possible.
It Could Be Territorial or Alert Barking
A significantly less friendly form of barking than our previous entry, your dog could also be barking as a form of warning. If your pet sees a fellow dog, a person, or anything else inside of what they perceive as their territory, they could be on alert.
A key way to distinguish this kind of barking from the other types is to observe your dog’s body language. If there is some kind of perceived threat passing by your front door, it could easily prompt an emotional response that results in a barking dog.
Here are some of the ways that you can confirm if this reaction is telling them to scamper off:
- Excessive barking
- Unexplained spinning or circling
- If your dog tries lunging at the “threat”
- Making prolonged eye contact with whoever is outside
This Could Be an Attention-Seeking Behavior
Since dogs are slightly limited in the number of ways they can vocally communicate with humans, they often resort to one of a few options.
They might whine on occasions when they feel threatened. Or, they could growl or bark. Barking is an effective way to get anyone’s attention since it is a loud and often unpleasant sound.
When you hear your dog’s bark, your immediate instinct is likely to give them some kind of attention, but it’s often best to resist this urge in this situation. Not acknowledging them could feel counterproductive, as you want the barking to stop. However, using positive reinforcement is the best way to shape behaviors (more on that later).
Your Dog Hears Other Furry Friends Barking Outside
Although this explanation might seem the same as a greeting at first glance, that is not necessarily the case. For a proper greeting, your dog would not have to hear a dog barking nearby. Instead, they would just see a person or dog walking outside, and that is enough to get your dog to bark.
Even if there are no visual stimuli, your pooch might still hear a fellow dog barking nearby. Keep in mind that even if you can’t hear another pet, dogs have incredibly astute hearing (except when you’re telling them that it’s time to leave the park). As a result, it is entirely possible that they are aware of a sound occurring much farther away than you are.
When our canine companions hear a fellow doggy howling at the moon, they are often compelled to join in the fun. They do this as a means of communication, as well as something instinctive. If you are not entirely certain why your dog is barking, it might just be their “witching hour” — the time around dusk and dawn when dogs join together for some good, old-fashioned community chats.
Other Common Explanations for Barking
If you regularly find your dog barking with absolutely no apparent stimulation to speak of, it is worth considering several other options. First, when was the last time your dog went potty? It is possible that they simply need to go outside. Maybe their favorite ball rolled under the couch, and they need your opposable thumbs to grab it.
If you are in another room or your dog feels alone, they could feel stress due to separation anxiety.
What Should I Do To Make My Dog Stop Barking at Everything That Passes By?
Let’s move on to our tips and tricks on reducing your pet’s barking habit.
Give Your Dog Something To Fulfill Their Natural Instincts
Whether your dog wants attention, mental stimulation, or tends to stress and obsess over their surroundings, there is a way to help them.
This method is simultaneously effective while also being fun and adorable, and it is all about toys. By having a wide variety of toys available for your dog at all times, they are much less likely to make a fuss (or mess) in the first place.
Typically, a dog is barking as a result of their natural instincts telling them to react to something. Instincts are never going to go away; they’ve been carried through generations to help their descendants survive and thrive.
However, these instincts can be nurtured in a productive way that fulfills their innate desires while making them suitable roommates for life.
Distract, Don’t React
If your dog is baking more than you would like, they might just be bored. In that case, look for interactive and puzzle toys that provide mental stimulation (and a whole lot of fun).
For example, you can fill your KONG® classic with peanut butter, dog cookies, or even frozen healthy fruits and veggies. Your dog will follow the treat-dispensing toy, sniffling for their favorite goodies; that’s mental and physical stimulation all rolled into one quiet, peaceful house.
Train Your Pet To React Calmly
Your dog will eventually stop barking, and that is when you give them the attention that they want so much. At this point, you can pet them, hand out some dog treats, praise them, and offer other forms of positive reinforcement.
This is one of the most effective training methods for stopping your dog from barking for attention. Remember to be patient, as this will require multiple training sessions to fully sink in for your pet.
Continue to reward your pet as people walk by, and they do not react. This desensitization will help even the most reactive dogs calm down.
Something Smart To Bark About
If you are perplexed by your dog’s barking, take some time to figure out its reason. If your troubleshooting doesn’t work, it might be time to reach out to a certified professional dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist.
What Are Dogs Saying When They Bark? | Scientific American
A Comparison of Hearing and Auditory Functioning Between Dogs and Humans | Research Gate
Diagnostic Criteria for Separation Anxiety in the Dog | ScienceDirect