Why dogs bark: Top causes of excessive barking in dogs

Is your dog constantly barking? We know that yes, dogs do bark. Some bark louder, and some have a more persistent yap. After all, barking for dogs is almost like talking for us. But what if your dog barks too much—so much so that it becomes intrusive? Maybe you don’t get enough sleep for yourself because of it? Or worse, maybe your neighbors aren’t getting enough sleep!

dog barking
Photo by Jan Lakota, cc

In this article, you will learn why dogs bark and the most common causes of excessive barking in dogs.

  • Dog seeks attention. And it works. One reason why your dog won’t stop barking is that there is a reason to keep it up. Do you let your dog in or out each time he barks? Maybe you feed him? Even yelling and scolding can provoke more barking because of the attention such things provide. The obvious solution is to completely ignore your dog’s barks consistently so he learns that it’s just not worth it. Alternatively, evaluate ways that barking for attention may not be seen as bad. For example, our dog barks to get inside the house and we are glad to let her in. After all, there has got to be a way for her to ask to come inside, and barking is much better than door scratching!
  • Dog is bored and under-exercised. Naturally, dogs have plenty of different activities to enjoy, such as howling, running, sniffing, barking, hunting, and chewing. However, if a dog has limited access to most of these, like if the owner never takes their dog for a walk so there can be no sniffing or running, the dog may fill this gap by barking and howling more.
  • Dog is defending you. Or himself. Barking is a well-known defensive vocalization for dogs. If a stranger is approaching your dog’s home turf, he will bark to scare the intruder away. Problem is, there’s always someone approaching in our urban world. But the dog? The dog starts to bark whenever someone walks by your yard, and as these pedestrians pass by, the dog can proudly conclude that his barking successfully scared the intruder away. So it’s hard to stop because this type of barking is seen as self-rewarding to the dog. If you conclude that your dog is in this situation, you should contact a professional dog trainer to help solve the problem.
  • Owner rewards barking. This happens unintentionally, of course. A common technique used to interrupt a dog’s barking is to call the dog over using food as a bait. But what does this teach your dog? In order to get food, one must bark. Sometimes owners intentionally reward barking at specific moments, but then wonder why their dog barks at other times, too.
  • Dog is calling you. Barking is a form of distance communication. When a dog is separated from its herd (or owners), dogs may bark to call out to them. If your dog mostly barks when you are away, he may feel isolated. This can range from mild distress to a severe condition called separation anxiety. You can learn more about it here.
  • Dog is playful. Dogs often incorporate barking when they play with other dogs or people. This is completely normal, but if you think it’s not appropriate, you can interrupt their playtime for a few minutes each time the dog starts to bark. Dogs are smart and should quickly understand that they can continue to play only if he is not barking. Though, aren’t those barks the most fun part about playing?
  • Dog is herding. This applies especially when you have a herding dog breed. When dogs guard sheep, they use several ways to keep them contained. Barking is one of them. However, when there are no sheep, these dogs may start to herd people! A big part of why this happens is that the owner does not tire their dog on a frequent basis with long walks and games. However, if your dog herds people, especially if it goes beyond the healthy act of keeping you out of trouble, you should reach out to a professional dog trainer.
  • Dog is fearful, stressed, and anxious. Barking is the most convenient defense mechanism for dogs. A fearful or stressed dog can bark and thus raise his confidence and sense of security. In such cases, the barking isn’t your problem; the fear and anxiety are. Contact a dog trainer to deal with these.
  • Dog is suffering from medical condition. While not the primary cause of excessive barking, always keep in mind that your dog might bark because he is ill. Mental disorders and the decline of senses in older dogs commonly cause dogs to express themselves through fervent barking. Visit a veterinarian if you do not see a clear cause for your dog’s increased barking, or if you struggle to solve the problem on your own.

Excessive barking is a very common dog behavior problem and identifying the cause is the main step toward stopping it. However, since barking can become a bad habit, it may linger even after the original cause has been dealt with. In such cases, a dog trainer can help you to identify why your dog barks and to modify the lingering behavior. Training your dog to be quiet on command is also possible. A general increase of activity and bonding time with the owner can prove beneficial when dealing with most boredom-related problems.