Barking is a form of vocal communication relatively unique to dogs. Close relatives of dogs, such as wolves and coyotes, may exhibit vocal responses similar to short or abrupt barks in alert or territorial-guarding contexts, but Canis familiaris (domestic dog) is the only species that barks in virtually every context.
Studies indicate that barking, although considered a single form of vocalization, can be divided into subtypes and that these subtypes can be acoustically distinguished based on context. Perhaps due in part to the pervasiveness of the bark as a form of communication, some dogs may bark excessively. Treatment and prognosis is dependent on the context provoking or supporting the barking behavior.
Common name: Excessive barking
Scientific name: Excessive barking
All breeds of dogs have the potential to bark excessively, but certain breeds or groups of breeds, including Shetland sheepdogs, terriers and toy breeds, may be predisposed. A recent study found no evidence of gender differences.
Between 20 and 30 percent of pet dogs bark excessively, and excessive barking is the most commonly observed behavior of shelter-housed dogs. Juvenile dogs adopted from a rescue facility engage in excessive barking more than rescued puppies or adults, but it is not known if these data can be extrapolated to the general public.
There is no geographic distribution for excessive barking in dogs.
Clinical signs (primary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
Excessive barking is a qualitative diagnosis. Many dogs, such as beagles and coonhounds, bark continuously while working, but the behavior is accepted and indeed encouraged. Therefore the primary clinical sign of excessive barking is the perseveration of barking in the absence of obvious or accepted evoking stimuli.
Clinical signs (secondary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
No secondary clinical signs expected.
Causes (scientific, common term)
Territorial barking, Alarm barking, Compulsive barking, Socially facilitated barking, Frustration-induced barking, Genetic predisposition.
Organ systems affected
Central nervous system, Vocal cords.
Behavioral functional analysis.
Perseverant barking in an acceptable working context, Perseverant barking in the presence of an unresolved series of acceptable evoking stimuli, Separation-anxiety barking, distinguished by its differential occurrence in the pet parent's absence. Barking is usually accompanied by pacing, destruction, elimination, salivation, depression and/or other signs of distress.
Barking is a form of vocal communication relatively unique to dogs. Close relatives of dogs, such as wolves and coyotes, may exhibit vocal responses similar to short or abrupt barks in alert or territorial-guarding contexts, but Canis familiaris (the dog) is the only species that barks in virtually every context. Studies indicate that barking, although considered a single form of vocalization, can be divided into subtypes and that these subtypes can be acoustically distinguished based on context.
Perhaps due in part to the pervasiveness of the bark as a form of communication, between 20 and 30 percent of pet dogs are reported to bark excessively, and certain breeds or groups of breeds, including Shetland sheepdogs, terriers and toy breeds, may be predisposed. Many dogs, such as beagles and coonhounds, bark continuously while working, but the behavior is accepted and indeed encouraged.
Excessive barking becomes a problem when it perseverates in the absence of obvious or accepted evoking stimuli and interferes with the pet parent's enjoyment of the dog, or when the behavior violates ordinances mandating moderate noise levels.
Because barking is pervasive in canine communication, excessive barking can have multiple etiologies, and treatment and prognosis is dependent on the context provoking or supporting the barking behavior.
The most common types of excessive barking are alarm barking (i.e., the dog barks at innocuous stimuli, including common noises, shadows and vegetation), territorial barking (distinguished from alarm barking by evidence that there are specific evoking stimuli such as dogs, people, or other animals within or approaching the dog's territory), socially facilitated barking, frustration-induced barking, attention-seeking barking and compulsive barking (i.e., the dog barks excessively in a repetitive, stereotypic manner, often accompanied by other repetitive behaviors such as spinning, circling and jumping).
Although treatments for excessive barking must vary according to their etiology, redirection and reinforcement of an alternative behavior often form a general treatment protocol. In certain cases such as alarm barking, sensitization may contribute to perpetuation, and reprimands and other forms of punishment may exacerbate the barking.
Therefore inappropriate barking should be treated by reinforcing a break in the barking evoked by the word quiet. When the dog pauses and turns its attention to the pet parent, it can be offered a treat. Other measures include teaching the dog to sit and stay in a particular area when it begins barking, and then reinforcing silence with treats and releasing the dog from the stay when it exhibits calm behavior (e.g., coat flat, paws on floor, attention directed toward pet parent).
Management measures include minimizing evoking stimuli by providing a visual barrier on fences and keeping windows and window coverings closed, keeping greetings subdued, and offering a toy for the dog to hold.
Excessive barking that cannot be managed by pet parents may need the treatment design skills of a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB, www.certifiedanimalbehaviorist.com), a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior (DACVB, www.dacvb.org), or a certified pet dog trainer (CPDT, www.ccpdt.org).
Compulsive barking may require intervention that includes both behavior modification and pharmacological treatment under the direction of a veterinarian and a CAAB or a DACVB, and territorial barking may also be accompanied by territorial aggression, mandating the services of a CAAB or a DACVB.
Understanding the reasons for types of barking leads to a behavioral-modification plan to reduce excessive barking.
Consistent redirection of inappropriate behavior and reinforcement of desired behavior can lead to an acceptable outcome in most cases of excessive barking.
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Jennifer Sobie, PhD
Steven Hansen, DVM, MS, MBA, DABVT, DABT
© 2007. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)