Decoding 5 common dog barks
Here's what the barks mean.
“People should consider context — pay attention to the physical behavior of the dog who is barking and the individual dog's personality when assessing barking behavior,” Amanda Gagnon, founder and training director at Amanda Gagnon Dog Training, says.
Some barking may be cause for concern, so it’s important to know the types of dog barks and what you should do if your pup gets riled up.
Alert or alarm barking
Your dog may give an alarm if he senses a stranger or otherwise concerning situation. For this type of barking, it’s important to remember that dogs were historically trained to warn their humans of possible danger.
“It’s only recently that we have begun to favor silence in our dogs,” Gagnon says. “Therefore, it’s often unreasonable of us to expect our dogs to never utter a single woof. The goal when a person is dealing with problematic alert barking is to reduce the frequency and duration of barking episodes, not to eliminate them altogether.”
If this type of barking becomes habitual, you can teach and reinforce a more socially acceptable behavioral response to strangers and perceived danger, such as greeting a newcomer and then calming down.
Your dog may tell you he needs something by barking at you. Demand barking comes in the form of mid-tone barking that remains consistent until they get what they want or need.
As a pet parent, you have two options: Give your pup what they want, or wait it out. If you want this barking habit to stop, you should wait it out. It’s called behavior extinction, and the only way to do it is to patiently wait for your dog to stop barking at you. It’s going to take all the willpower that you have, but stick it out. If you’re unsure, your dog will know it, and the barking will only get stronger.
“If it’s infrequent, there is no reason for a person to try to change it. If it becomes bothersome or frequent, the fix is simple: When the dog barks, identify what they want. Avoid giving them what they want in response to the barking. Otherwise, they will assume that barking is the best way to get what they want. Wait until they’re silent, then reinforce that silence by giving them the things they want. You'll find that they learn that silence is more rewarding than barking.”
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Your dog may bark to play when they’re excited to get moving and want you to do something with them. This bark is usually accompanied by loose, wiggly body language like play bows, spinning in circles or zooming around the house, and perhaps by other vocalizations, like howls or yips.
If your dog starts play barking, go spend time with your pup! Dogs need lots of mental and physical stimulation to keep them happy and healthy. So get out there and hang out with your dog.
“Your pup may bark during bouts of play with other dogs or people, probably for fun or to request continuation of play,” Gagnon says. “Typically, a person doesn’t need to intervene unless it becomes incessant or irksome to neighbors. In which case, teaching dogs to play with toys and reinforcing silence during play tends to resolve the issue.”
Leaving your dog alone all day may cause them to become anxious or stressed. If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, you can often solve it by giving them a special treat or other distraction when you leave them alone for long periods of time.
Gagnon recommends that if the barking is severe or is accompanied by extreme signs of stress like having an accident inside or if your pup injures themself while home alone, you should contact a certified professional trainer immediately to work on the issue.
Reactive or aggressive barking
When a dog perceives a threat and seeks to create distance between themselves and the threat, they may bark in an aggressive way. This is notably different from alarm barking. When barking aggressively, your dog may appear scared, they may be growling and the fur at the back of their neck may be standing up. If your dog is displaying signs of aggression or reactivity, you should contact a certified professional trainer immediately for advice.
“Many people mistakenly turn to punitive methods in a desperate attempt to control the dog's barking. It’s very important not to use stress-inducing or punishing tools for fear-related problems, because they exacerbate the issue,” Gagnon says. “If the dog is already stressed due to a perceived threat and we punish or otherwise cause the dog pain and stress, they may stop barking temporarily, but they’re only burying that stress deeper and it will come out again later in more severe ways.”
Aggressive barking along with isolation and alarm barking are all rooted in fear and anxiety, so it’s important to get to the bottom of these issues as quickly as you can to keep your dog safe and healthy.
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