Updated: Oct 30
Dogs bark. It’s a fact.
It’s their way of communicating with us so as much as we find it annoying, it’s only fair that rather than screaming “JUST BE QUIET” at them, we should take the time to understand what they’re trying to tell us.
Without properly understanding why your dog is barking, there is very little chance that you’ll improve the behaviour. Dogs don’t tend to bark for no reason, it might feel like they are, but most likely there is a reason why they need to vocalise their feelings. Once you have an idea why they’re barking, you can work out how to approach the problem.
Barking is a huge topic, it’s impossible to cover every possible reason for barking or every way to improve it, so it’s always advisable to seek help from a professional trainer or behaviourist who is able to work with you to look at why your dog is barking and what positive solutions will help.
For this blog, we’ll look at some of the most common reasons for barking in the house.
Barking out the window
We have to remember our dogs don’t always think like us. We understand that when people walk past our house, they are very unlikely to pose a threat to us, they’re simply passing and minding their own business.
However, to some dogs, especially guarding breeds, they will feel suspicious and fearful when they see people come near to their space. Barking is merely an expression of these feelings.
The problem is, it’s an incredibly self-reinforcing behaviour. To a dog it looks something like this … “Person coming near house *must warn them away with barking*, person keeps walking and doesn’t come any closer *barking was successful* REPEAT”. We know full well that person was simply continuing on their way, regardless of the dog barking, but to the dog - barking worked!
Now your dog has successfully warned away a few people who were passing the house, they will keep repeating the behaviour because it appeared to work. This can quickly spread to other things; they may start to hear noises which link to people being outside (e.g. car doors, people talking) and bark at these things. They may look for anything passing the house from other windows or from the garden and use the same method of barking to warn them away too. It doesn’t take long for strong associations to form and for the behaviour to escalate.
How do you deal with this when it starts to become a problem:
Look for the early signs. If your dog is beginning to watch people passing the house but they don’t bark yet, start to call them away from windows and prevent them continuing to watch. If they can watch calmly then it’s not a problem but if you see any signs of them fixating a lot or any barking, then move them away and avoid them continuing to watch
Manage the situation. Every time your dog practices the behaviour, they will be reinforced, and the habit will be harder to break. Prevent them from practicing it by blocking access to any trigger points or covering windows with window film so they can’t see out
Work on the problem. With management in place, you can work on it by rewarding your dog anytime they see/hear a potential trigger. Set up short sessions where your dog can see out the window and you can reward every time they see something which may trigger barking. Keep sessions short because this can be stressful for your dog
If they do start to bark, call them away calmly and reward away from the trigger point. It’s good to keep rewarding even if your dog is barking out the window because it will help to calm them more quickly. You won’t reinforce the barking behaviour at this point
Encourage your dog to settle in places where they can’t watch out the window
Barking out the window won’t improve if your dog continues to practice it, you can train as much as you like but you need to prevent the behaviour being practiced first. If you’re not around t