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Inappropriate barking is one of the most annoying behaviors dog owners have to deal with—whether your dog starts up in the middle of night or barks at every little wisp of air, the first thing you must do to stop the problem is identify what’s causing the behavior. To do this, you have to understand a little about why dogs do what they do. As much as you may not want to believe it, dogs always have a reason for doing what they do—including barking.

If you’re not sure what sets your dog off, you have some homework to do. If, like most owners, you are away from home when the barking occurs, you should invest in a remote monitoring system that alerts you when it detects noise. Most of these systems also record the event so if you’re not able to log in right away and see what’s upset your dog, you can watch the event later.

Here are some of the most common reasons why dogs bark and solutions on how you can fix the problem:

  1. Communication: One of the most common purposes of barking is to communicate. This might be a way to scare prey out of hiding, talk to a friend over the fence (much as we might do when asking for information or just saying hello to a neighbor), letting others know they are displeased (or pleased) with any event, or to warn a fellow dog about a potential threat. Solution: This is a tough thing to stop, as your dog is about as likely to stop talking as you are. However, there are things you can do to lessen the frequency of communication. Teach your dog a “quiet” command by following these instructions.
  2. Boredom: This is one of the most common reasons dogs bark; they might simply be bored with their lives. We see this a lot with dogs who are left outdoors, tied to a tree for hours on end or have owners who work long hours. Solution: It’s going to be very important to keep your dog’s active during the times you’re home so he won’t become bored. The goal is to have him fall asleep into a long nap while you’re away at work. If it’s hard for you to get your dog out during the shorter winter days, consider doggy daycare or hiring a dog walker for a few days a week. The only effective way to stop boredom barking is to ensure your pets don’t become bored.
  3. Anxiety: Anxiety is another reason dogs bark. They might be missing their human companions, they might be fearful being left alone or they might be wondering if their owners will ever return. The noise your dog makes actually reinforces the behavior—he might be barking to “self-soothe.” Anxious barks tend to get higher in pitch as a dog becomes more upset, which can become particularly upsetting to neighbors (and your neighbor’s dogs). Solution: Alleviate anxiety by giving your dog a special shirt that smells like you; provide him with interactive toys and make sure he is tired before you leave. You can also try music; Pet Acoustics offers specially created tunes to help soothe pets.
  4. Play/Excitement: This is the type of bark you’ll hear while at the dog park or a special event where other dogs are. Solution: Read this article about how to reduce barking in public places for detailed instructions on stopping your dog from barking while in public.
  5. Warning: This is the “special alert” bark you’ll hear when your dog senses someone on the other side of the gate. It’s their way of saying, “I hear/see you and if you come over here, I’m going to stop you.” This is the type of barking you want your dog to do in most cases, but if it becomes excessive, you will need to address the problem. Solution: To stop problematic “warning barking” it’s important to teach your dog what constitutes “threats.” This means you’ll need to teach him the “quiet” command. (This video can help you do that.) You will also need to reduce barking opportunities by keeping your dog away from “triggers,” such as blocking access to part of the yard, keeping him out of a room with a window or other logistical solutions.

The most valuable thing you can do to stop barking is to keep your dog tired with plenty of mental stimulation. You can use smart toys, chew toys and activities (e.g., agility or new tricks training), as well as providing him with new sensory data, such as long walks or hiking. In addition, doggie daycare is a great way to get your hyper or stressed-out dog  active and more socially comfortable with other dogs.

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