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If there is one canine behaviour that drives people nuts, it is barking.  Nothing is more likely to get neighbours upset or drive you around the bend than the sound of incessant barking. So why do dogs bark?  The obvious answer is that it is one of our dog’s primary communication methods.  But there is more to this story.


To get to the bottom of what motivates our dogs to bark, we need to do some detective work. The first step in addressing barking is to understand why your dog barks.  Once you have this information, you can address the underlying reason.


There are five main reasons dogs bark – we need to understand the ‘why’ in order to change the behaviour.

1. Social Isolation/Frustration/Boredom

Your dog may be barking out of boredom and loneliness if:

  • They are left alone for long periods of time without opportunities to interact with you.
  • Their environment is relatively barren, without companions or toys.
  • They are a puppy or adolescents (under three years old) and don’t have other outlets for their energy.
  • They are a particularly active breed of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who need productive outlets for their energy.


Expand your dog’s world and increase his “people time” in the following ways:

  • Walk your dog at least twice daily—it’s good exercise, both mental and physical. Walks should not only be considered “potty breaks.”
  • Teach your dog to fetch a ball or flying disc and practice with him as often as possible.
  • Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks and practice them daily for five to ten minutes.
  • Take a dog training class with your dog. This allows you and your dog to work together toward a common goal.
  • To help fill the hours you’re not home, provide safe, interesting toys to keep your dog busy, such as Kong®-type toys filled with treats or treat balls. Rotating the toys will make them seem new and interesting.
  • Keep your dog inside when you’re unable to supervise him.
  • Let your neighbours know that you are actively working on the problem.
  • If your dog is well socialized and you have your employer’s permission, take your dog to work with you.
  • When you have to leave your dog for extended periods, take him to a “doggie daycare,” hire a pet sitter or dog walker, or have a trusted friend or neighbour walk and play with him.

2. Territorial/Protective Behaviour

Your dog may be barking to guard his territory if:

  • The barking occurs in the presence of “intruders,” which may include the mail carrier, children walking to school, and other dogs or neighbours in adjacent yards.
  • Your dog barks at people and other dogs when left in the car.
  • Your dog’s posture while he’s barking appears threatening—tail held high and ears up and forward.
  • You’ve encouraged your dog to be responsive to people and noises outside.


  • Teach your dog a “quiet” command. When he begins to bark at a passer-by, allow two or three barks, then say “quiet” and interrupt his barking by clapping your hands and calling them to you. Reward them heavily for coming to you.
  • Desensitize your dog to the stimulus that triggers the barking. Teach him that the people he views as intruders are friends and that good things happen to him when these people are around. Ask someone to walk by your yard, starting far enough away so that your dog isn’t barking, then reward quiet behaviour and correct responses to a “sit” or “down” cue with special treats such as little pieces of cheese. As the person gradually comes closer, continue to reward your dog’s quiet behaviour. It may take several sessions before the person can come close without your dog barking. When the person can come very close without your dog barking, have him feed your dog a treat or throw a toy for him.
  • If your dog barks inside the house when you’re home, call him to you, cue a “sit” or “down,” and reward him with praise and a treat.
  • Don’t encourage this barking by encouraging your dog to bark at things he hears or sees outside.

3. Fears and Phobias

Your dog’s barking may be a response to something he’s afraid of if:

  • The barking occurs when he’s exposed to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, firecrackers, or construction noise.
  • Your dog’s posture indicates fear—ears back, tail held low.


  • Identify what’s frightening your dog and desensitize him to it. You may need professional help with the desensitization process. Talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication while you work on behaviour modification.
  • During fireworks, parties or other frightening times, create a ‘zen den.’  Mute noise from outside by leaving your dog in a comfortable area in a basement or windowless bathroom, and leave on a television, radio, or loud fan.
  • Some people have had luck with a thundershirt or ear muffs, but these often require training and acclimation for the dog to be comfortable wearing them.


4. Separation Anxiety

Your dog may be barking due to separation anxiety if:

  • The barking occurs only when you’re gone and starts as soon as, or shortly after, you leave.
  • Your dog displays other behaviours that reflect a strong attachment to you, such as following you from room to room, greeting you frantically, or reacting anxiously whenever you prepare to leave.
  • It may be accompanied by other signs of anxiety, including damage or destruction near the exit door, housetraining lapses in a dog otherwise house trained, frantic pacing or running around the home or from door to window repeatedly.
  • Your dog has recently experienced a change in the family’s schedule which means they are left alone more often; a move to a new house; the death or loss of a family member or another family pet; or a period at an animal shelter or boarding kennel.


Separation anxiety does not normally resolve on its own and does require the help of a specialist trainer and often your veterinarian.  Desensitization is the gold standard in resolving separation anxiety.  Successful treatment for some cases often requires the use of behaviour medication prescribed by your veterinarian to help address the behaviour more quickly. However, the process of resolving separation anxiety is still slow and often takes months to see tangible results. Consult with a professional dog trainer or your veterinarian.


5. Attention Seeking or Learned Barking

Your dog may be barking due to learned behaviour or attention seeking if:

  • The barking occurs only when you’re present and will bark, take a break and bark again.
  • Jumping up or nose nudging might accompany the barking.
  • You have reinforced your dog’s barking, either consciously or unconsciously.

Attention-seeking or learned barking can be difficult to resolve as it is highly reinforcing for the dog.  Often we unintentionally reinforce this behaviour with our dogs making it more challenging to resolve as the dog has learned over time that barking at you gets them what they want.  To address this type of barking, it may be worth consulting with a trainer as they can look at the whole situation objectively and advise you on what you are doing that is making the barking worse.


Ensure that after you finish training or playing that you indicate that the activity is over. You can show both hands or simply turn away. Your dog has learned that barking has worked to get attention, so the behaviour will eventually extinguish if you do not provide any attention. Be prepared for the barking to get temporarily worse before it gets better.


A final word on bark collars.

Bark collars include any type of tool worn by the dog that is designed to stop barking by shocking or startling the dog.  Bark collars include shock collars, e-collars and citronella collars.

There are several types of bark collars on the market, and I don’t recommend them. Bark collars do not address the underlying cause of the barking. You may be able to stop the barking, but symptom substitution may occur, and your dog may begin digging or escaping, become destructive or even aggressive.

Most dogs will learn to distinguish when the collar is on and off, so when the dogs are not wearing the collar, they will still bark – thus, bark collars may only provide a temporary solution.

You should never use a bark collar on your dog if his barking is due to separation anxiety, fears or phobias because punishment always makes fear and anxiety behaviours worse. Do note that a shock may not deter a dog that is highly motivated to bark. With any shock device, there is potential for injury and/or animal cruelty.


In summary, the five tips to reduce barking are:

  1. Understand why your dog barks and address those issues.
  2. Distract your dog from barking – reinforce your dog when they are quiet.
  3. Don’t leave your dog outside for extended periods.
  4. Entertain your dog mentally and physically – ensure they get plenty of breed and age-appropriate exercise and enrichment.
  5. Consult a professional dog trainer and veterinarian.

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