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Why Do Dogs Bark at Night?

Walk through any neighborhood at night and you'll hear it: the sound of barking dogs. It seems that night barking is just a part of life. But what causes dogs to sound off so much at night? Why does your dog bark when the sun goes down, even to the point of keeping you and your neighbors awake?

Causes of Barking

The truth is there's no one answer to why dogs bark at night. It really depends on the dog and what is going on his environment. Most dogs who bark at night do it while they are outside, which means causes of the behavior are related to the outdoors. Here are a few clues that can lead to understanding the barking-at-night phenomenon.

  • Noises. Dogs have very good hearing, and it's significantly better than ours. They can hear sounds that we can't begin to notice. So while you may not hear anything while standing in your backyard at night, your dog might. If your dog is noise-sensitive and reacts to strange sounds with barking, you can be sure faraway sounds will set him off.
  • Wildlife. Most dogs are interested in wild animals, whether it's a squirrel, raccoon, or deer. Although you can't see or hear wildlife near your yard at night, your dog can. Jill Goldman, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist located in Laguna Beach, California, shared her exprrtise on dogs and wild animals. "Dogs will bark at sounds and movement in the night, and raccoons and coyotes are often the culprits,"
  • Other dogs. Social facilitated barking, or "group barking," results when a dog hears another dog barking and follows suit. Since dogs are pack animals, they are very reactive to the behavior of other dogs. The assumption is that if a dog in the neighborhood is barking, there must be a good reason. So your dog and all the other dogs in the area chime in. Jill Goldman adds, "There are coyotes in my neighborhood, and every so often, one visits our street at night. The neighborhood dogs will alarm bark, which will trigger social facilitated barking, and of course, territorial barking to any foreign visitor. Depending upon how many dogs are outside and in ear shot, a group barking bout may ensue."
  • Boredom. Dogs become bored easily when they have nothing to do, and will make their own fun. Barking at every sound they hear, joining in with the neighbor dogs in a group barking session, or just barking to let out energy are all reasons behind night barking.
  • Loneliness. Dogs are very social animals, and they become lonely when left outside alone at night. Howling is one way dogs express loneliness, but they can also bark incessantly in an attempt to get human attention.

Solutions for Barking

If you have a dog who barks during the night, you can take steps to put a stop to this behavior. If your dog is outside at night, the only real solution to the problem is to bring him in. Leaving him outdoors will expose him to sounds that will trigger him and may cause him to bark from boredom or loneliness.

If you have a dog who barks at night while he's inside the house, he may be looking out the window or hearing sounds outside that are setting him off. "If he is reacting to things he sees in the window, close the shades and prevent him from visiting the window," says Goldman. You can also consider keeping him in a room of the house where he can' see outside.

If your dog is barking at people walking past your house, it's especially important to prevent him from seeing them. "Barking at trespassers and observing them leave the premises is very reinforcing and increases the likelihood of barking the following night," says Goldman.

If your dog is indoors but reacting to other dogs barking outdoors, consider putting a white noise machine in the room where he sleeps to help drown out the noise coming from outside. You might also put on the TV or radio, as long as it won't keep you up.

Another way to discourage night barking is to exercise your dog before bedtime. A good game of fetch or a long walk can help tire him out and make him less interested in barking at the moon.

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