Updated 15 May 2014

Why do dogs bark and can you stop them?

It's midnight and the neighbour's dog has started its nightly chorus. You'll be forgiven for thinking of taking drastic measures. So why do dogs bark? And can they be stopped?

It's midnight and the neighbour's dog has started its nightly chorus. You'll be forgiven for thinking of taking drastic measures. So why do dogs bark? And can they be stopped?

The following information on barking dogs has been collated from the answers given by a vet and an animal behaviourist on Health24's CyberVet forum.

Why dogs bark

Usually dogs bark with the mere intention of communicating to the other dogs and to their owners. They use different types of tones – and each tone has a different purpose. For instance growling is used when they defend and when they attack.

Dogs bark for a number of reasons and produce very different kinds of tones for every separate thing they want to communicate. Dogs often bark when they are seeking attention, especially from their owners.

Dogs also bark when strangers pass the house. This serves as both a deterrent to the stranger, and an alarm signal to the dog's owner. Some animal behaviourists say that the dog feels a sense of victory when the person disappears. This also explains why the daily battle with the postman is so exciting – the dog wins every time. And the postman comes back every day.

Shouting at a barking dog will not make it stop. The dog does not understand what you are saying and thinks that you are also barking - and will continue to do so himself.

Why dogs bark too much

Some dogs have also the bad habit of barking a lot when left alone. Dogs are pack animals and do not like being on their own much. If the owner leaves it and goes out leaving the dog unattended, it will then bark uncontrollably, so that it may attract the attention of the owner.

Problem is though, that the owner probably can't hear the dog, but the neighbours can.

If you leave your dog inside the house, at least the sound of the barking will be somewhat diminished and your neighbours might get some sleep. Some pet owners say that leaving a radio on seems to soothe dogs that do not like being left on their own.

What you can do

The best way for a person to stop their dogs from barking uncontrollably is by teaching it to bark only on command. Find out from an animal behaviourist exactly how to do this.

A dog should never be chained up, as it increases its frustration levels, and will make it bark non-stop. Ignore a dog when it is barking – if you give it any attention, you will merely encourage it to bark next time it wants attention. Turn your back, and don't cuddle or praise it, as you will merely reinforce unwanted behaviour.

If a friend comes to your house and your dog quietly looks at the person and does not bark, you have to immediately praise and cuddle it, so that it behaves in the same way the next time. Just remember that if someone is not a friend, you actually want the dog to bark.

There are collars that give off static electricity when a dog barks, but many animal lovers are not in favour of using this.

You can however reward the dog when it does something you asked it to do. Give it a real treat, so that it will become so used to that, that it would never want to miss those kinds of rewards.

Always reward it at the very moment that it does what you want it to do, not afterwards.

Read more:
Ask our Dog Behaviour Expert
People choose dogs that look like them
What to do when your dog messes in the house


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