Whether your dog is a chatterbox or usually quiet, you probably are curious about why your furry little friend decides to bark or howl. Dogs have a limited vocal range, so if they have something to say, they only have a few ways to say it. Like people, some dogs are chattier than others, and if you have one of those talkative types, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. Dogs can bark for a variety of reasons, including greeting people and other dogs, to express a need, responding to perceived threat, expressing their territory, or just playing around. If your dog seems to be barking at nothing, it could be because you can't see what they're responding to, or it also could be a symptom of old age.
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Greeting or Play
Barking can be a sign of happiness and excitement, especially if your dog hasn't seen you in a while! If your dog barks while wagging his tail when you arrive home, or he runs up to you, drops a toy and barks, he is happy to see you and ready to play, according to Banfield Pet Hospital. As long as this barking doesn't escalate into spins, running rampages through the house, or other uncontrollable behavior, you should consider it a compliment. If he jumps on you when he greets you, you may want to discourage this. Even if you don't mind, it is a bad habit that can cause problems if he decides to greet others this way, particularly children or the elderly.
One reason dogs bark is because they feel anxious. If they are barking at a stranger, it may because they are nervous or worried, or perceives them as a threat. If your dog barks at people out of anxiety, get him out more, take him for frequent walks so he can get used to being around people he doesn't know. It will take some patience, but he will learn that there is no reason to be worried when he sees a stranger. Dr. Kristina Spaulding, a certified animal behaviorist tells PetMD, "Typically, if a dog is barking in an aggressive context, it's actually fear based... it seems to just be a display to keep them away from something they find scary."
Your dog also might be experiencing separation anxiety if they bark often when you aren't home. According to the ASPCA, dogs can become agitated if their owners are about to leave or leave them alone for a long time, especially if they aren't trained and aren't used to this occurring. You can work with these behaviors by teaching your dog how to enjoy being at home alone or occupy their time until you get back, like teaching them to associate being home alone with good food or puzzle treats. You can also find professional behavior assistance to help train your dog how to be less anxious and afraid when you leave. Remember, dogs need mental stimulation and can bark and whine when they are bored, so make sure to play with your dog and take them on walks often.
Your dog may also bark at people, including you, because he is feeling territorial. If he barks along a fence line, at the door or window, or when standing over his food dish, he is probably saying "stay away." While some barking — for instance, to let you know there is someone at the door — is acceptable and maybe even appreciated, aggressive barking at people walking down the sidewalk or at you when you enter the room while he's eating needs to be addressed. Work out these behavioral conditions with an expert trainer or animal behaviorist to help your pup learn what is and isn't appropriate.
Expressing a Need
Because barking is one of the few ways your dog has to communicate with you, he may be using his voice to let you know he needs to go outside or he's hungry or thirsty. If he comes to you and barks, or goes to the door or his food dish and barks, he is probably trying to let you know he needs something. If you acknowledge him and give him what he needs, he will soon learn to reliably repeat this behavior, which is very convenient, particularly when he has to go outside.