Why Do Dogs Bark?


Expecting a dog not to bark is kind of like expecting a baby not to cry. Just as babies cry to vocalize their feelings, dogs bark to communicate. The difference, of course, is that unlike babies, dogs don’t ever learn to talk. That leaves dog owners struggling to learn “dog-ese” (or is it “dog-ian”?) and wondering why in the heck their pooch won’t pipe down.

Barking, like other dog noises such as whining, sighing, and occasionally even howling, is a normal part of dog behavior. And whether your dog is a problem barker or just has the occasional outburst, answering the question “Why do dogs bark?” will help you understand what your dog is trying to communicate, how you should respond, and how best to stop your dog from barking.

The most common reasons dogs bark

As a dog owner, you may already realize that not all of your dog’s barks are the same. There are play barks, angry barks, and bored barks. So, why do dogs bark, and why does it seem that some dogs bark at everything? Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons.

1. Your dog is happy to see you

Humans greet friends and loved ones with a friendly salutation, and happy barking is your dog’s way of greeting you, someone else he recognizes, or, in the case of a very friendly dog, everyone he meets. “There are a lot of dogs who simply can’t help themselves when their owners get home,” says veterinarian Gary Richter, DVM, founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition, “and will bark repeatedly because they’re so happy.” Of course, there’s a good chance your dog’s tail will also be wagging furiously when this happens. Here are some other things your dog’s tail may be trying to tell you, as well as what your dog’s facial expressions mean.

2. Your dog is being protective

If your dog senses a threat, whether that menace is the neighbor’s cat, another dog barking, or an intruder, he may bark aggressively. “Dogs bark as an alarm to other animals,” explains Dr. Richter. “They might be warning them that something is wrong, or they might be telling another animal—or even a person—to stay away because they’re getting a little too close. There are even times when the bark is for good reason, as your pet may be warning you of an intruder or some other sort of danger in your home.” You’ll probably be able to tell the difference between alert barking and play barking—if your dog’s hackles are raised, his posture is erect, or he’s leaning forward, he’s ready to defend his family or domain.

3. Your dog wants to play…or eat…or take a walk

Some dogs will bring you their leash, their toy, or even their empty food dish. Others will let out a series of playful barks to try to drum up some action, whether that’s for you to throw a ball, take them for a walk, or hand over the kibble. When out for a walk, your dog may bark cheerfully when he encounters his four-legged pals at the dog park. It’s his way of saying, “Hi, guys! I’m here!” If you’ve ever wondered what your dog is thinking when he does that, now you know!

4. Your dog is bored or lonely

If your dog barks to try to initiate play and you don’t respond, he may not pipe down until he gets what he wants or gives up in frustration. A dog, especially a younger pup, who doesn’t get to interact with his human or other dogs is likely to bark out of boredom or loneliness. “Dogs are pack animals,” says Dr. Richter, “meaning they want to be with you—the pack leader—as much as possible.”

5. Your dog has separation anxiety

Your dog’s boredom and isolation can grow into a serious barking complex if he’s left alone for long periods of time—and this is a real worry for owners heading back to the office after working from home during the pandemic. You’ll probably learn about it from neighbors who aren’t wild about hearing dog barking sounds all day long. If your dog starts obsessively chasing his tail, this could also be a sign that something’s amiss.

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