You come home from work and find a note on your door from your next-door neighbor. Your dog has been barking all day and driving him crazy. How do you know if your neighbor is just being too sensitive, or if your dog's barking is excessive? Isn't barking normal for a dog?
Yes, barking is normal. So normal, in fact, it's rare to find a dog that doesn't bark. Certain breeds, like Samoyeds and Basenjis, don't typically bark, but most other breeds and mixes of breeds are very good at vocalizing when the mood strikes. To know if your dog is barking excessively and possibly for the wrong reasons--from a human perspective, that is--it's important to understand why dogs bark.
The Roots of Barking
While most canine communication comes in the form of body language--tail wagging, snarling, lying belly up--dogs use vocalizations to get their point across too. Dogs typically bark to defend their territory, when they are playing, or when they are anxious. They often bark to alert their human pack members to sounds and sights that are unfamiliar. They also bark when other dogs are barking, as part of a social display.
Some breeds bark more than others, mostly because they were originally bred to bark. Beagles, for instance, were developed to hunt in packs and to sound off when they caught the scent of their prey. Their constant baying alerted the hunter to their whereabouts as they pursued game. The Finnish Spitz was bred to bark relentlessly once it cornered prey in a tree, to alert the hunter of the game's whereabouts. Breeds originally developed as guard dogs, like German Shepherds and Doberman Pinchers, were bred to warn of intruders with a deep, persistent bark.
When you take the carefully bred characteristic of alert barking and remove its original purpose, you end up with a dog with a penchant for barking and no constructive outlet for his talent. Most dogs will find a way to put this inborn ability to use, whether it's barking at passing cars or yapping at the crows sitting on a nearby telephone wire.
Why Dogs Bark
Dogs do most of their barking when they are outside. This is because they are usually alone when they are outdoors, and have a variety of stimuli to trigger a barking attack. If you leave your dog alone all day long, he will get bored and lonely. He may bark in the hopes it will get you to come home, or because it might elicit barking from another dog in the neighborhood, making him feel less alone. Some dogs get so distressed at being alone for long periods of time, they bark out of sheer misery. Your dog may also bark when he sees or hears people or other animals, or if he detects unusual sounds in the distance.
The best way to know why your dog is barking is to think about his circumstances. Chances are, this behavior is taking place when you're not home. This is your first clue that boredom and loneliness are to blame. Ask your neighbors about your dog's barking. It is constant? Does it happen in spurts and then stop for a while? Constant, incessant barking is a sure sign of distress.
Occasional barking is probably a response to stimuli, like the sound of other dogs barking, wildlife or other animals coming in or near the yard, people walking by on the street or sounds in the distance. If you can't depend on a neighbor for help, consider setting up a webcam to spy on your dog when you're not at home. You'll be able to hear your dog barking, and may even be able to see what he's doing. This will help you determine what's going on when you're not home.
Teaching Your Dog Not to Bark
If your dog is barking because he's hearing and seeing things that are setting him off, try keeping him indoors during the day with a TV or radio on to muffle outside noises. If you're gone for long hours, you may need to hire a dog walker to come and take him out during the day or have a friend or neighbor let him outside for a while to potty. Giving your dog plenty of exercise in the morning before you leave can help wear him out and reduce his penchant for barking at every little thing.
If it turns out your dog is barking because of loneliness or boredom, you should find a way to remedy this, for your dog's sake, as well as your neighbor's. Consider taking your dog to doggy day care instead of leaving him alone all day in the yard. If he sleeps outside at night, bring him indoors to sleep. Dogs are pack animals and get very lonely when left alone for long periods of time. Remember that your dog is barking for a reason, not just to drive you crazy. The best way to minimize excessive barking is to find out the cause and work on a remedy.