My Dog Barks at Everything - Excessive Barking
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Just as with human beings, some dogs are more vocal than others. We may have a very chatty friend who can talk competitively. It is only natural we have some dogs that do the same. While breed and genetics will be a factor, there are many other reasons some dogs bark more than others. It is also important to remember that dogs bark for a reason. They are trying to communicate something to those around them. Often they are trying to communicate with us, their guardians. Accepting a certain level of barking is normal, but when you find that my dog barks at everything, it can mean there is a failure of communication.
At AnimalWised, we understanding the causes and treatment of excessive barking in dogs. In doing so, we stress the importance of understanding our dog's own personality and behavior to determine whether their barking is indeed excessive or simply idiosyncratic.
Why do dogs bark at everything?
As stated in the introduction, barking is a form of communication. There is no single reason for a dog barking just as there is no single reason for a person talking. Excessive barking will have some specific reason behind it, a reason that can be due to internal or external factors, as well as a combination of the two. Internal factors are related to their physical and emotional wellbeing, whereas external factors are influenced by their environment.
There are too many people who either excuse or explain behaviors of dogs solely on their genetics. Education, socialization and even basic care are much more important in determining a dog's behaviors and wellbeing. In saying this, a dog's level of barking is influenced by various genetic factors. This not only includes how the bark will sound, but also how much they bark and whether they bark at everything.
Some general factors in terms of breed and barking include size. Smaller dog breeds tend to be more vocal than larger dogs, for example. This is partly due to Terrier type dog breeds which were traditionally used to hunt vermin and alert their masters with a bark when doing so.
Although we cannot change a dog's genetics, there are somethings we can do to help ensure their barking does not become problematic:
- Redirect this behavior: the first thing we need to do is redirect their barking to appropriate situations and environments. For example, taking several walks a day with our dog will allow them to expend energy, interact with other individuals and express themselves freely in outdoor spaces. This way they can bark without being a nuisance.
- Education and training: once we have shown them there appropriate times when they can bark, we then need to educate them so they know when barking is excessive or inappropriate. This requires various factors, including training, cognitive stimulation and environmental enrichment, among others.
Some potential guardians may have reason for not adopting a very vocal dog, such as sensitive hearing or a delicate living situation. For this reason, they should consider researching dog breeds that don't tend to bark as much as others.
Stress is one of the most common causes of excessive barking in dogs. It is often related to a sedentary lifestyle and/or a poorly enriched environment. Dogs that cannot exercise their body and mind on a daily basis tend to accumulate a lot of tension. At some point they will need to release it. It is here that different behavioral problems associated with stress and boredom can arise, among which we find destructive behaviors and exaggerated reactions such as excessive barking.
A common excessive barking issue is when your dog won't stop barking while you're not at home. This is because they feel insecure or even bored, something that can lead to stress in the dog. Not only will they need more interaction, exercise and mental stimulation when you are around, but you will need to ensure they have enrichment options to keep the dog entertained when you are not at home.
Changes in routine or environment
Something that also generates a lot of stress in dogs are sudden changes in their environment and/or routine. All dogs need a steady routine to feel secure, with some dogs being more vulnerable than others to change. Such changes can be moving to a new home, the arrival of another pet or even something as seemingly benign as changing their dog food.
If you recently moved with your dog or have new neighbors at whom the dog barks, you may see excessive barking. Dogs barking at their neighbors is fairly common since they do not know who they are. This is especially common in dogs that are known for their guarding capabilities. You may also have moved somewhere with more noise, so their barking is a response to overstimulation.
You should bear in mind that some dog senses are more developed than ours, so they can perceive an almost infinite number of sounds, smells, movements and stimuli in general that go unnoticed by humans. When you think your dog is barking at nothing, they are most likely responding to some stimulus you cannot perceive.
Old age and health problems
Another situation in which a dog barks a lot is when it is in pain or vulnerability. This is common in dogs which have an illness or health issue that affects their senses and/or nervous system. In these cases, the barking can intensify because the dog uses it to avoid contact or interaction which can make them feel discomfort or pain. This is seen when a dog is barking at everything all of a sudden or is doing it in an exaggerated way.
Another common issue is the aging process. When dogs get older, both their physical and mental wellbeing will deteriorate to some degree. This can lead to physical pain, but neurological deterioration can cause the dog to be more easily confused. In these cases, excessive barking may be a symptom of a neurological disorder in dogs. IN any case, take the dog to a veterinarian for an assessment and determine how we can either treat the disorder or generally maintain a good quality of life.
Wake up call
The nature of a dog's relationship with their guardian is a great influence on their general behavior. For this reason, issues with their behavior such as excessive barking may be related to the relationship they have with you.
If a dog wakes you up regularly by barking, it can have some positive connotations. It can mean they are excited to see you and want to spend time with you. However, even in this case, it means there is a problem. Dogs need a routine, but they also learn how to respect that routine. If you have not educated them to know when is and isn't appropriate to bark, it can lead to problem barking.
In addition, dogs which are understimulated become bored. This can make them agitated and beg for stimulation. If you do not spend enough time interacting with your dog, they will let you know. Barking outside your bedroom door to wake you up is just one behavior dogs with insufficient stimulation can enact. Also, if we have an erratic sleeping schedule it can cause the dog to be confused and even insecure about where their next meal will come from.
Improper training is much more common than you might imagine. Many dog tutors end up unconsciously reinforcing certain behaviors in their dogs, especially when they are still puppies. Speaking specifically of barking, it often happens that guardians offer food, treats, toys or other types of prizes when their dogs start barking very intensely in order to stop them from doing so.
While this may have an immediate effect and the guardian can get the dog to stop barking because they are distracted by something they like, the long-term result is a systematic reinforcement of this behavior. Consequently, the dog assimilates the idea they must bark every time they want something or want attention from their guardian.
How to stop a dog barking at everything
Excessive barking needs to be looked at in context. There is a difference between a dog barking at everything and them barking at one specific stimuli. For example, some dogs may bark when the vacuum cleaner is being used. This does not mean they have an excessive barking problem. It means they don't like the cleaner and we shouldn't use it when they are around.
Generally speaking, the following can help to stop a dog barking at everything and reduce their barking to an appropriate level:
- Promote a calm environment: a peaceful home encourages the dog to also be at peace. This is the case if the dog is regularly overstimulated, but it will not be of significant help if the reason they bark at everything is pathological.
- Socialization: especially when they are a puppy, proper socialization is paramount. Without it, they will almost certainly develop behavioral issues. This does not only mean barking a lot, but it can lead to aggression. Socializing both puppies and adult dogs requires them to respond appropriately to the stimuli in their environment. For example, if we do not socialize a puppy with regular walks, they may bark at bicycles or cars that pass since they do not understand they cause no danger.
- Adapt your home to the needs of the dog: prepare an environment where your best friend feels comfortable and safe to rest, play and feed. Also invest in environmental enrichment for dogs to optimize its physical and mental stimulation, and don't stop reserving time to play with your furry friend and give it the affection it deserves.
- Regular exercise: walk your dog at least 2-3 times a day and, if necessary, consider introducing them to a dog sport. This can include canicross or canine agility training. This will help them to expend energy in a healthy way, improve their physical health and develop their cognitive abilities. All of these are helpful in stopping a dog barking at everything.
- Positive reinforcement: using positive reinforcement to teach your dog the behaviors that favor a good coexistence will help them to better understand when is and is not inappropriate to bark. Scolding and even using physical violence may work in the moment (although not necessarily), but the long-term repercussions will be behavioral problems and it will be counterproductive to the training.
- Consistency: do not encourage behavior in a puppy that you do not want to see reflected in the behavior of an adult dog. Do not offer rewards in exchange for your dog to stop barking if you do not want your dog to resort to barking every time they want something. This is because they will have internalized barking as something which gives them a treat.
- Preventive medicine: the best way to prevent diseases and health problems that can affect the behavior and quality of life of your best friend. Make sure you keep their vaccination and deworming schedules up to date. Try to take him to the vet at least once a year for a health checkup.
What to do if your dog barks at everything
All the guidelines we saw above will help you prevent your dog from barking a lot. You will have noticed that the most recommended solution depends fundamentally on identifying the cause of excessive barking. The first thing we should do is consider a physical health problem, so take them to a veterinarian if they have started barking at everything all of a sudden. The vet will give them an examination and provide treatment if there is an issue.
If they are healthy, we need to find out if there is a particular stimulus that bothers them. Check our home and be considerate of any changes we have made recently. For example, if you have adopted a new dog, then it is likely their excessive barking is related, even if they do not bark at the dog directly. In this case, you will need to find ways to ensure the two dogs get along.
We will also need to check our own behaviors and see if there are any aspects of our care which are lacking. For example, we should check their diet to ensure they are being fed correctly or check to ensure we are providing enough exercise.
Lastly, a dog's barking may be related to their reproductive activity. Female dogs in heat or male dogs which detect females in heat may bark to try to copulate. Spaying and neutering the dog can help reduce nuisance barking, among many other benefits. It is best to ensure the dog is neutered before they reach sexual maturity.
Learn more with our article on the benefits of neutering a dog.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Barks at Everything - Excessive Barking, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.