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PET BEHAVIOR

What’s the Deal With Dog Barking?

Four Minutes Aug 31, 2022

Whether it’s a yip, a yap, or a full-throated woof, dog barking can have countless meanings. Some dogs just love the sound of their own voice, while others are actually trying to tell you something important. If your dog is barking excessively, that could also be a sign of a problem. Let’s take a look at some of the common reasons your dog might be barking. 

Why Do Dogs Bark?

Barking is an entirely natural behavior for all dogs. Just like their wild canine cousins, your friendly pooch uses their voice to communicate. Barks are just one form of dog communication, but it’s also the one that’s best at getting your attention.3 That’s reason enough for your pup to bark. By paying attention to both body language and tone of voice, you can decipher the message of the barking dog.

Defensive barking

If your pooch likes to shout at strangers, cars, other dogs, or their own reflection, you’re probably familiar with defensive barking. These barks are usually deeper and can go on for much longer than you’d like. It’s a clear response to something your dog is unsure about, and they’re barking to alert you as well.

Defensive barking comes in two general tones: territorial and afraid. If your dog is being territorial, their body will be tense and their head alert. If they’re afraid, they may lower their head and tuck their tail between their legs. Pay attention to what triggers your dog’s defensive barks. If it’s something in the environment that you can remove or change, doing so can help keep your dog calm and happy.   

Excited barks

On the opposite end of the barking spectrum are excited barks. These come in response to something your dog has noticed and is absolutely over the moon about. You might hear these high-pitched yaps when you come home, grab the leash for a walk, or when your pooch meets a friend in the park. Body language is a dead giveaway, too: wagging tail, alert posture, and “tippy taps” – a happy little dance some dogs do when they just can’t contain their excitement!  

An excited Shetland sheepdog frolics in autumn leaves.

Attention-seeking barks

Sometimes a dog will bark specifically to get your attention. They could be asking to go outside or waiting for dinner. This type of bark comes in quick succession, with pauses between each bout of barking. Their body language may be neutral, depending on how impatient your pooch is feeling.

This is one type of barking you want to be careful about encouraging. If your pup is loudly demanding treats, giving in will only reinforce that behavior.

Bored barks

Slow day around the house? If your dog is lacking physical or mental stimulation, they might let you know with a low “harrr-ruff!”  These vocalizations mean they want or even need to play. A bored dog may assume the “play bow” position or bring you their favorite toy, just to drive the point home.

Canine dementia

Dogs age, just like we do. Like humans, they can also experience cognitive dysfunction in their golden years. For many dogs this manifests as unexplained barking, usually at night.3 If you awake at 3:30 a.m. to your mature pooch barking into a corner, this could be a sign of canine dementia. Make an appointment with your veterinarian. They can evaluate your dog and give you tips on how to keep them comfortable at home.

How To Stop a Dog From Barking

It’s important to remember that barking is a normal behavior for dogs. Just because it’s annoying doesn’t mean it’s wrong, and you should never punish your pooch for barking. Yelling will only increase your dog’s anxiety and make them bark louder to match.4 Other “solutions,” like bark collars for dogs, are considered inhumane by experts.5 Even if they don’t cause physical pain, they will still increase your dog’s anxiety and only make things worse.

If you have an excessive barker, here are some healthy approaches to managing their inside voice.

Keep them busy

If your dog is barking because they’re bored, an easy fix is to make sure they’ve got something to do. Make sure you’re spending enough time on walks and playtime to meet their physical requirements. Don’t overlook their mental needs, either. Interactive toys help exercise your pup’s noodle and can keep them busy all day.6

Change the environment

A territorial dog who barks at every passing stranger makes for a stressful environment. Trying to distract them by closing the window blinds or playing music to mask the sound of a passing car.4 What your dog doesn’t know won’t hurt them!

Teach alternate behaviors

One way you can stop your dog from excessive barking is by reframing the triggers. If your dog goes on a yapping spree every time the doorbell rings, use high-value treats and verbal encouragement to lure them into a different room. Doing this enough times will teach your dog not to react defensively to the doorbell (or other triggers) and can even make them excited about the trigger that once frightened them.4

For Whom the Dog Barks

Barking can be annoying, but it’s also an important part of your pup’s communication. Rather than simply trying to get your dog to be quiet, consider why they’re barking. What are they trying to tell you? Pay attention to body language as well as the environment. Learning to understand your dog’s barks can help you form a deeper bond. It will also empower you as a pet parent to make sure all their needs are met.

Looking for other ways to keep your furry family healthy? Dog insurance can help you be prepared for the unexpected.2 So, if your dog’s barks reveal a deeper issue, you won’t have to choose between their health and your wallet. Learn more about how MetLife Pet Insurance works.1

Protect your Dog

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1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.

2 Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.

3 “7 Reasons Why Dogs Bark,” PetMD

4 “Excessive Dog Barking: Reasons & How to Stop It,” American Kennel Club

5 “Dog Collars,” The Humane Society of the United States

6 “Best Interactive Dog Toys to Beat Boredom in 2022,” Retrievist   

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