Barking is the dog’s main form of communication, and barks have many meanings, depending on context and accompanying behavior (like chasing). The key to understanding why your dog barks lies in examining what is happening around him and observing his body language. Ongoing, repetitive barking, while instinctive for many dogs, is not appropriate for the domestic environment. The same goes for chasing. Understanding the causes of barking and chasing will help you encourage your dog to behave more appropriately.
Alerting to Danger
If the postman rings or an unannounced visitor appears on the front porch, Lucky is likely to bark. Lucky thinks he’s doing the right thing here. He’s a pack animal and he’s spotted a threat. Of course he’s going to tell his pack mates about it. A danger alert bark is typically accompanied by Lucky running around the house, looking for someone to come help.
Distress and Aggression
If Lucky feels that he’s dealing with a threat, he’ll attempt to avoid conflict by barking at the perceived problem. For example, if nobody comes when Lucky shouts “hey, there’s a strange man the yard,” his next step is typically to warn off the intruder with a more aggressive bark. A bark of aggression is typically accompanied by growling, eye contact and raised hackles.
Greeting and Excitement
When your dog is excited to see you, he may bark to show this. However, you may have already taught him to repeat this behavior. If, when he first barked through excitement, you gave him a lot of fuss and attention, you most likely reinforced this behavior. Now Lucky thinks you want him to bark, so he uses his bark as a greeting.
Chasing is a big part of play. As dogs are burning off energy and exploring the world around them during play, they will naturally run about. When the dog doing the chases catches up to his playmate, the chasing activity becomes self-rewarding, as the chase has a positive end result. If the dog then chases a person during play, and the person being chased continues to play with the dog, this further reinforces the behavior. So next time they see someone running, they think it's play time. It’s normal for a dog to chase during play if encouraged.
Some dogs, especially breeds like border collies and Australian cattle dogs, have a strong herding instinct. They are stimulated by movement. This drives them to follow people and animals around, attempting to control their movement. Sometimes a keen herder will nip at the heels or legs of the person he is chasing, as he would a rogue sheep, to keep them in the flock. Naturally, this is inappropriate and you should discourage this behavior during training.
By Simon Foden
About the Author
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.