There’s no doubt about it: Dogs have some pretty impressive voices. Their barks carry across yards, parks and even through walls. And if you’re lucky enough to own a multi-story home with a fenced backyard, you may hear them as far away as the street.
It’s also true that there are many ways in which the sounds we humans consider “normal” come from our pets’ mouths. Whining, howling, snoring, chirping these are all normal canine expressions. But what happens when those same sounds start coming out of your dog’s mouth when he doesn’t know why?
Or worse yet, starts doing it only after something bad has happened? That’s when things get scary. These sounds could mean your pooch is expressing his fears, anxiety or discomfort, or maybe he just wants attention. Whatever the reason, knowing what causes your pet to bark can help you keep him safe and happy.
We spoke to animal experts who specialize in behavior problems like separation anxiety to learn more about what makes dogs bark. We’ll share what they said could cause your pet to go into barking mode on its own. Then we’ll offer solutions to stop it before it gets out of control.
What Makes Your Dog Start Yelling When He Doesn’t Know Why?
If your pet starts making noise and barking without any apparent reason, it’s time to take action. There are several reasons why your dog might start barking, including:
Separation anxiety. Whether your dog suffers from separation anxiety depends largely on whether he’s been trained properly. If he was socialized earlier, he should already understand that being left alone is stressful and dangerous. In addition, he should know that you will return eventually.
Anxiety over new experiences – Some animals get anxious over changes in routine. For example, if your dog has never gone swimming, then seeing you put on your swimsuit and walk into a pool could trigger anxiety. The best way to handle this scenario is by slowly introducing him to new situations, rather than rushing.
Fearful reaction to loud noises – Most dogs don’t bark because they want to alert people nearby. Instead, they often react to unfamiliar sounds with high levels of stress. It’s important to identify what kind of sound triggers the barking. Is it thunder? A strange car driving past? Maybe someone banging around inside your house? Once you’ve narrowed down the source of your problem noise, you can figure out how to deal with it.
Pain or illness – Illness, injury and pain can result in intense barking, especially accompanied by whimpering. In fact, barking is one symptom of pain that veterinarians use to detect pain in their patients.
Although there are different types of barking, you probably recognize two main varieties: aggressive and fearful. Aggressive barking occurs when your dog feels threatened or annoyed by another person or animal. This type of barking usually carries a warning message. Fearful barking, however, comes from anxiety or excitement. As such, fearful barking isn’t necessarily negative, although it can become destructive or disruptive if your dog goes overboard.
What Causes Your Dog to Bark?
The first step toward solving a problem situation is identifying the exact cause of the barking. Although the symptoms may seem similar for both aggressive and fearful barking, each is triggered by a slightly different set of circumstances. Let’s say, for instance, that you leave your front door unlocked during the day and you’d prefer your dog stay in the backyard while you’re gone.
On occasion, your dog wanders outside and discovers a squirrel sitting on a tree branch near the front door. Squirrels aren’t threatening by nature, so your dog’s barking begins. However, he knows you won’t allow him back inside until you see him safely inside the yard again. So now he’s confused. What caused his barking? Was it the squirrel? Did he accidentally bump against the front door when he stepped outside?
In order to determine what actually triggered your dog’s barking, you must ask yourself what set off the chain of events that led up to the incident. You may find that by looking closely at the bigger picture, you can pinpoint the exact cause of your dog’s outburst.
For instance, if your dog is afraid of fireworks, you would expect to hear him bark when you light a firework display on Independence Day. However, on July 4th, your dog also barks when you drive by with fireworks going off in other houses. Perhaps you inadvertently startled him by honking your horn.
Now, instead of barking in protest, your dog starts barking at every passing car. It seems that whatever sets your dog’s heart racing (whether it’s a large group of kids playing baseball or fireworks) leads to the same kind of response.
Once you’ve identified the stimulus that started the barking, you can begin to solve the problem. In this case, you need to teach your dog the proper way to express himself. In the next section, we’ll talk about solutions that range from simple training techniques to extreme measures.
Bark Control Solutions
Most cases of excessive barking fall under the category of generalization. Generalization means that your dog associates certain actions or behaviors with a specific unpleasant outcome. For example, if you used to reward your dog whenever he took his food from the table, he may develop a phobia of the dinner plate.
To correct a problem like this, you must break the link between the unwanted behavior and the positive reinforcement. In this case, you can replace the treat with a toy or object that he likes. Forcing your pet to wait a few moments before eating can also prevent him from developing a fear of the dining room table.
Another solution involves changing the environment. For instance, if your dog is scared of thunderstorms, move his bedtime indoors. Also, be sure to supervise your pet when he’s left outdoors. Make sure he’s familiar with where he’s allowed to roam and don’t leave him unattended.
If possible, avoid situations that lead to tension or anxiety in your dog. Stressful environments include fireworks displays and shopping centers, among others. Take extra precautions with cars that have children in the vehicle. If your dog becomes agitated upon hearing music, turn the volume down on your stereo.
You should also pay close attention to your pet’s body language. Watch for signs that indicate distress, like trembling, pacing or urinating frequently. Learn basic obedience commands, such as sit, lie down and stay. Using these skills will give you the opportunity to gain control of the situation quickly. If you’re unsure of exactly what to say to your dog, consult a professional trainer.
One last word of advice: Don’t yell at your pet. Even though yelling is tempting, yelling can escalate a tense situation. Remember that dogs can hear better than humans, so yelling can scare your pet and increase his fear. After all, the goal is to deescalate the situation, not create a worse one.