What they mean and how to manage them
Did you know that there are basically seven types of barks that our dogs exhibit? Each bark has a different reason and remedy. Without further ado, here are the seven bark types and some information about each type:
1) Alert/Alarm Barking - This is the dog who saves his family from a fire, tells us that Timmy’s in the well (Think Lassie), scares off the rapist, barks at the dogs on Animal Planet, and goes bonkers every time someone walks past on the sidewalk outside the picture window. Alarm barkers can save lives - but sometimes their judgment about what constitutes an alarm-appropriate situation can be a little faulty.
- You can manage alarm barking by reducing the dog’s exposure to the inciting stimuli.
- The Fix: Always investigate. It could just be the UPS driver leaving a package on the porch, but it might be something serious. Sometimes Timmy really is in the well! Investigate, use a positive interrupt to stop the barking, and then reinforce the quiet. I also like to thank my dogs for letting me know something important was happening.
2) Demand Barking - This is one of the most common and easiest to extinguish early. Essentially this is your dog barking a request to get what they want, be it a treat, praise or something else. The longer a dog successfully demands stuff, the more persistent he’ll be if you try to ignore him. Simply ignoring him is the best answer to this behavior. This means tough love: no treats, no attention - not even eye contact. The instant the demand behavior starts, utter a cheerful “Oops!” and turn your back on your dog. When he’s quiet, say, “Quiet, yes!” and return your attention - and treat - to him.
- It is important to watch out for "Extinction Bursts" and "behavior chains". When you’re trying to make a behavior go away by ignoring it, your dog may increase the intensity of his behavior , saying “I WANT IT NOW!” This is an extinction burst. If you give in, thinking it’s not working, you reinforce the more intense behavior, and your dog is likely to get more intense the next time. If you stick it out and wait for the barking to stop, you are well on your way to making it go away. You have to be more persistent - and consistent - than your dog.
- A BEHAVIOR CHAIN is a series of behaviors strung together. Your dog may learn to bark once or twice to get you to turn your back, say quiet, and feed him a treat. His short behavior chain is “bark - then be quiet.” To avoid this, be sure to acknowledge and reward him frequently before he even starts barking.
- The Fix: It’s easy to derail demand barking when it first starts by ignoring the dog. When your dog barks for treats, attention, or to get you to throw his ball, simply turn your back on him until he is quiet, then say “Yes!” and return your attention to him. His goal is to get you to give him good stuff. Your goal is to teach him that barking makes good stuff go away. At first, you may need to say “Yes!” after just a few seconds of quiet, but fairly quickly extend the period of quiet so he doesn’t learn a behavior chain of “Bark, be quiet for a second, get attention.” At the same time, you’ll need to reinforce quiet when he doesn’t bark first, again, to prevent the behavior chain.
- It’s more challenging to extinguish demand barking when your dog has had lots of reinforcement for it. Remember, any attention you give him reinforces demand barking. Eye contact, physical contact, verbal admonishment – all of these give him what he wants: attention!
- The process for modifying the behavior of a veteran demand barker is the same: remove all reinforcement. However, be prepared for an extinction burst – a period when the behavior gets worse rather than better. The behavior used to work, so the dog thinks if he just tries harder, surely it will work again. If you give in during an extinction burst, you reinforce the more intense barking behavior, and guess what happens next time? Right – your dog will offer the more intense behavior sooner, and it gets even harder to extinguish the barking. Oops!
3) Frustration/Arousal Barking - Often confused with anxiety barkers, dogs who have a low tolerance for frustration will bark hysterically when they can’t get what they want. Unlike the separation anxiety panic attack, this is simply an “I WANT IT!” style temper tantrum similar to demand barking, but with more emotion, and directed at the thing he wants, such as a cat strolling by, rather than at you.
- You can use the positive interrupt to redirect a frenzy of frustration barking. If you consistently offer high value treats in the presence of frustration-causing stimuli, you can counter-condition your dog to look to you for treats when the cat strolls by (cat = yummy treats) rather than erupt into a barking fit.
- The Fix: Frustration barking is a close relative of demand barking, but is more likely to occur when you are a distance from the dog, or when it is directed at something other than you. You handle it the same way. Ignore the behavior you don’t want (the barking) and reward the behavior you do want (quiet). A reward marker such as the click! of a clicker, or a verbal “Yes!” is very useful to mark the quiet, since you are often at a distance from the dog when the barking and the moment of quiet happen.
4) Boredom Barking - This is the dog who’s left out in the backyard all day, and maybe all night. Dogs are social creatures, and the backyard dog is lonely and bored. Boredom barking is often continuous, with a monotonous quality: “Ho hum, nothing else to do, I may as well just bark.”
- The Fix: Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for outdoor boredom barking. Most of these dogs, if left inside, are happily quiet in their human’s den. The complicating factor is the length of time a dog can be safely left alone in the house. Crates and exercise pens are good management solutions for dogs who haven’t yet learned good house manners, and dogwalkers can be enlisted to provide midday potty breaks if owners work long hours. (Dogwalkers need not be professionals; you can often enlist the help of a friend, family member, or a neighbor.)
- Boredom barking can also be reduced by enriching your dog’s life, by increasing his physical exercise and mind-engaging activities. A good, tongue-dragging, off-leash run or fetch and some interactive games and toys such as stuffed Kongs, Iqubes, and Egg Baby Turtles, daily, can minimize the tedium of a lonely dog’s day.
5) Stress Barking - Stress barkers are fearful, anxious, or even panicked about something real or anticipated in the environment, such as the actual approach of a threat, or isolation distress/separation anxiety. Separation anxiety (SA) can be manifested in a number of behaviors, including nonstop hysterical barking and sometimes howling.
6) Play Barking - This is a common behavior for herding dogs - the cheerleaders and “fun police” of the canine world. As other dogs (or humans) romp and play, the play-barker runs around the edges, barking, sometimes nipping heels. If you’re in a location where neighbors won’t complain and the other dogs tolerate the behavior, you might just leave this one alone. With children, however, the behavior’s not appropriate, and the dog should be managed by removing him from the play area, rather than risk bites to children.
- If you do want to modify play-barking behavior, use negative punishment - where the dog’s behavior makes the good stuff go away. When the barking starts, use a time-out marker such as “Oops! Too bad!” and gently remove your dog from the playground for one to three minutes. A tab - a short 6 to 12 inch leash left attached to his collar - makes this maneuver easier. Then release him to play again. Over time, as he realizes that barking ends his fun, he may start to get the idea. Or he may not - this is a pretty hardwired behavior, especially with the herding breeds. You may just resort to finding appropriate times when you allow play-barking to happen.
- The Fix: This is such a hardwired behavior that it’s difficult to modify. You do have several options:
- Accept and allow the behavior. Determine a time and place where the barking is least objectionable, and let the dog do it.
- Manage the behavior. Remove the barker from the playing field when others want to engage in rough-and-tumble or chase-me games.
- Use “negative punishment,” a gentle, nonviolent form of punishment that can be effective if applied consistently. Negative punishment is the behavioral term for any situation in which the dog’s behavior makes a good thing go away. If your dog is playing (an activity he enjoys) and starts barking (the thing you don’t want), you remove his opportunity to play. Use a cheerful “Oops, time out!” and remove him from the game for a brief (perhaps one to five minutes) session in the penalty box (say, another room).
- Teach a positive interrupt (see sidebar below). Use it when he barks to invite him to come to you and briefly stop the barking, then release him to go play again.
- Encourage him to carry his favorite toy in his mouth during play. As we discovered with Lucy, a mouth full of highly valued toy makes it difficult to bark. If she does, at least the sound is muffled. Caution: This is not a good option to select if your barking dog also has guarding issues such as food aggression or toy aggression.
7) Greeting Barking - “Yay, Mom’s home! Mom’s home! Mom’s home!” If your dog hails you with hellos when you return after an absence, it’s time to shift into ignore mode. Stand outside your door and wait for the cacophony to subside, then enter calmly; no rousing hug-fests or “I love you! I missed you!” sessions. When your dog is quiet, then calmly greet him. If he starts to bark again, mark the barking with an “Oops!” and ignore him again.
- You’ll need that calm response when his loud greetings are directed toward arriving guests, too. If you use loud verbal reprimands you add to the chaos and arousal; your dog may even think you’re barking along with him!
Alert/Alarm - Remove stimulus
Demanding - Ignore
Frustration/Arousal - Positive interrupt
Boredom - Stimulate
Stress - Remove/Condition (to) stress
Play - Negative punishment
Greeting - Ignore
This article written on behalf of Orrville Veterinary Clinic, Inc and all associated clinic by Dr. Greg Roadruck.
Edited by Dr. Jeff Fink for use on this website along with the websites for Seville Wadsworth Veterinary Clinic and the Akron Barberton Veterinary Clinic.