Why dogs bark

Dogs bark for many reasons, including: fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, excitement, play, wanting something, an unmet need, boredom, releasing pent-up energy, desperation, over-arousal, hyperactive, and protection of territory or a resource.

They can also learn to bark on cue as a trick, or as part of a dog sport that requires this element.

The main thing to remember is that barking is communication. The first step in stopping unwanted barking, is to understand the reason why the barking is happening.

A dog is either feeling an emotion, and the barking reflects how they feel; or they are telling a person/ dog/ object what they want them to do (to go away, or to do something specific). Or perhaps both at once.

Barking for attention

Dogs quickly learn that we get annoyed by barking, as it interrupts what we’re doing, and it changes our focus onto our dogs. Which means we reinforce the barking. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We might have forgotten to feed them, or they need a wee, or it’s way past their time for walkies. The reason they’ve had to resort to barking, is because we’ve ignored the smaller signs – watching us, staying close, orienting their body towards us etc.

Barking to defend

Dogs who are concerned about something will use their voice to say ‘stay away’. The more stressed or afraid they are, the more barking there is. Barking can turn into lunging, snapping and biting if the trigger keeps moving towards them or ignore the warning. A dog who might run away from people in the park, may well stand their ground in the family home… their safe space, and their important people, are under threat. Some dogs are fearful of people to the extent they will bark at anyone, even at a distance. Dogs who are afraid of other dogs will bark at them, perhaps as soon as they spot them, sometimes when they are closer. The barking increasing in frequency and volume the more emotional they become.

Barking to reunite

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety, or dogs who are home alone and bored, will bark as a way of bringing back their important people. Their hope is that their loneliness and anxiety will disappear as soon as their favourite human walks through the door. That’s not to say they’re consciously thinking that – they don’t sit around thinking ‘I must start barking now’. Their brain and body are flooded with emotions, and all they know is that they feel terrible and want to feel better…the barking is a natural result of this.

Barking to inform

Dogs might learn to bark at a person to make them throw a ball. Or to let them in the garden for a wee. Or to let them back into the house after being in the garden. Or to alert people in the house that something’s happening outside.


Many dogs bark when they’re excited. But not only can it be upsetting for other dogs and people, it can also interfere with learning and a dog’s athletic ability. If a trained agility dog is barking all the way round a course, they are not 100% focusing on the handler’s cues (especially the verbal ones) and they are expending unnecessary energy that could shave off half a second and be the difference between coming first and second. If a dog who’s trained to bark on cue is loving it so much that they don’t stop on cue, then that’s a problem – apart from not completing that element of the competition, it’s a sign that the dog is so over aroused they’ve moved away from the ‘learning state’ and tipped into ‘reacting’.


Dogs who enjoy hearing themselves bark (or ones learning it as a specific skill), can be taught to speak and shush on cue. This gives them a fun thing to do, and means that they can gradually be rewarded more for being quiet than barking, or to control the barking to specific times or situations. Even if you don’t want to teach your dog to bark on cue, you can definitely reward them for being quiet.

Train for the triggers

This is where counter-conditioning and desensitisation come in. Changing a dog’s thoughts and emotions about a trigger, means they no longer have a need to bark in defence, anger or frustration. If a dog is suffering from separation anxiety, this needs to be worked through before they can be comfortable being left alone. Once a dog learns how to cope, they won’t bark in distress.

Mental and physical stimulation

Dogs require a lot of mental and physical stimulation in a day (plus all their needs met), in order for them to ‘switch off’ and be able to relax. When playing with your dog, check you’re not inadvertently rewarding barking e.g. by throwing a ball when they’re barking. Wait for quiet, THEN throw the ball.

Foodie fun

Dogs who are bored, or have spare energy but it’s not yet time for a walk or training, can be given chews or Kongs filled with food. That will keep them busy and prevent them from having to bark.

Don’t resort to aversive punishment

There are so many ‘quick fixes’ on offer, especially on the internet - “Buy this product and instantly stop your dog from barking.” But these are devices that cause pain or discomfort by adding an unpleasant sensation (shock, sound, smell or vibration) to a dog’s body or environment if they bark (or sometimes by accident if another dog barks, or if there’s a loud sound). The dog learns not to bark because of the unpleasant consequences. The trouble is, the dog is feeling even worse than before, but they now cannot express that. Their needs will go unmet. Their fears will remain. They have not been listened to and helped through their troubles. Barking is communication, and we ought to be listening.


Barking is communication, in the same way body language is, it’s just more obvious to us because we can’t ignore it. Listen to what your dog is saying. Anticipate their needs before they have to shout about it. If they’re distressed, teach them how to cope. If they have to bark, apologise to them, move them away from a trigger, or ask for quiet and then do something they can be rewarded for.