Barking is a natural way for your dog to communicate. It could mean “I’m excited”, “I’m scared” or “watch out!”. However if your dog is barking so much that it keeps you up at night, disturbs your neigbours or frightens passers-by, there may be an underlying medical or psychological issue that requires treatment.
Signs/symptoms of excessive barking
The extent to which your dog barks depends on a lot of things: his or her age, breed, gender, temperament and living environment. However, if your dog is barking excessively, you will probably know about it.
Telltale signs include:
- Neighbours complaining about the noise when you are out
- Increase in barking
- Barking at phantom objects or overreacting to small sounds, like leaves rustling
- Not being able to be easily calmed
Causes and Treatment
While some barking is normal for dogs, excessive barking is usually symptomatic of an underlying medical or psychological problem. It is important you first seek advice from your vet to rule out any medical issues.
Boredom is one of the most common causes of excessive barking, as it is a way for your dog to communicate his or her frustration. Signs your dog is bored include:
- Barking for no apparent reason
- Low levels of activity (such as walking)
- Misbehaving, such as digging up garden beds
- Barking reduces when your dog is sufficiently stimulated
Boredom can be easily treated with a few changes to a dog’s routine. Increase your dog’s activity, either through longer or more frequent walks. If you have a busy schedule, organising a dog walker or occasional dog day care might be a good solution. When you are not at home, hide chew toys in the garden alternate them from day-to-day to keep your dog stimulated.
Separation anxiety is a dog’s emotional reaction to being away from his or her owner. As dogs are pack animals, it’s normal for a puppy to become attached to its litter and then subsequently to the human that becomes its master. Sometimes, this anxiety does not disappear with adulthood and needs to be treated. If your dog has separation anxiety, you will probably notice the following signs:
- Loud barking when you leave the house
- Barking when you engage in activities that signal you are leaving the house, such as brushing your teeth, packing your bag or grabbing your keys
- Neighbours reporting loud barking when you are out or at work
- Barking ceases to be a problem when you are home
Separation anxiety can be a complex condition to treat. You need retrain your dog so he or she no longer feels anxious in your absence. In some instances, anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed. Our article on Separation Anxiety [insert hyperlink] provides more comprehensive information on causes and treatment.
Some dogs bark excessively when they are afraid. Fear triggers could include:
- Noises, such as loud banging or high-pitched frequencies
- People entering their territory
- Fireworks or thunderstorms
- Appliances, such as lawn mowers and vacuum cleaners.
It can be difficult to eliminate your dog’s fear entirely. The best treatment is to minimise your dog’s exposure to these fears and eliminate the stimuli. For example, if your dog hates thunderstorms, put your dog in a safe room before the storm hits and play quiet music to dull the sounds from outside. If your dog’s fears are hard to eliminate (such as routine noises, other dogs or children), seek advice from your vet.
Dogs are naturally territorial and their barking can be great for alerting us to unwanted guests. However, for some dogs, marking their territory can manifest as excessive and unwanted barking. Behaviours could include:
- Barking at anyone who comes to the door
- Not being able to distinguish between visitors, passers by and potential intruders
- Barking only occurs when there is a noticeable “threat” to his or her territory
Territorial barking is your dog’s way of protecting you, so it’s important you do not scold your dog if he or she excessively barks. To treat the problem, you need to retrain your dog to understand the difference between a safe visitor and a threat. Following the steps below will help socialise your dog to passers-by but could easily be used for other triggers as well:
- Do not ignore or scold territorial barking
- Pre-empt when someone is passing your house
- Encourage your dog not to bark at the passer-by, by calming him or her with toys and affection
- Reward your dog when he or she refrains from barking at the passer-by
- Positively reinforce barking at the “right” thing
- Repeat the steps above until you feel you dog is more socialised
Excessive barking can only be properly treated by addressing the underlying cause. Just as you can’t treat a chest infection with cough syrup, you can’t treat excessive barking by just stopping the bark. While anti-barking collars stop your dog from barking, he or she will often develop another maladaptive behaviours, while the underlying issues remain untreated. For this reason, anti-barking collars are not endorsed by the RSPCA.