We’ve all been there: that moment peace and quiet is shattered when a nearby dog begins to bark with no sign of ever letting up. Unfortunately, dogs do not get tired of barking. In fact, barking is a “self-reinforcing” habit, meaning the very act of barking is soothing and can make the dog want to bark more. Other examples of this kind of behavior include chasing and chewing.
While the experience may be disruptive, it’s entirely normal for dogs to bark in response to some social or environmental cues. In some cases, a dog’s natural ability to keep alert and raise an alarm is a major asset to its owners. But when should excessive barking for prolonged periods become a cause for concern? Is this behavior a sign of stress or some other underlying issue? Let’s explore the evolutionary reasons, behavioral triggers, and stress impacts of excessive barking in dogs – and how you can manage them.
Why do dogs bark?
Like humans, dogs are social creatures – pack animals to be exact. While they have many different modes of canine communication, from body language to pheromones, vocalization is the most apparent to a pet owner. The vocabulary can span yelps, whines, howls and growls along with the trademark dog bark. Dogs evolved these methods of communication to establish hierarchies and territories among packs, so the impulse to bark in certain situations is a hardwired response in many dogs. And like humans, dogs are individuals. Certain dogs will have a tendency to bark more than others, though genetics and socialization can play a role.
When it comes to the motivation behind the bark, there are a variety of triggers:
- Making contact – Barking can be a straightforward response to your dog sensing another dog and calling out to it. In situations where the dog is relaxed, this is the canine equivalent of a greeting or conversation. Socialized barking is when two dogs converse from a distance.
- To establish territory – Your dog’s canine ancestors were pack animals with territories in the wild marked by scent cues and defended for the protection of resources and breeding females or offspring. This instinct prevails in our modern-day pups, although it now typically extends only to the boundaries of your home or yard. When an unknown human or dog visitor encroaches on this boundary, it can provoke a barking reaction as a threat to respect the dog’s territory. The age-old example is that of the animosity between dog and mailman, which your dog may perceive as a repeat interloper on their turf.
- To offer protection – An extension of the territorial instinct is a dog’s reflex to protect “their pack,” most often you and your family. Some dogs even feel threatened when others approach their pack while on a leash, out in public, or even in the car. This instinct serves as a warning to the outsider to keep away, although it can be an unwelcome response that suggests aggression.