Reason for Barking: Attention-Getting
When an owner deliberately spoils a dog or unintentionally rewards him for barking, the dog quickly learns how to get attention. For example, a dog barks because he is startled, and the owner reaches down and pets the dog to assure him that all is well. The dog perceives the petting and consoling as a reward for barking. Thus he barks whenever he wants attention.
Attention-getting barking can be corrected, provided that the owner is determined to unspoil the dog. Let's create a fictitious scenario and the solution to the problem it produces. This problem is common to small dogs and their owners.
As a puppy, the dog frequently barked and jumped up on the owner to get the owners attention. The owner would bend down and pick up the puppy. Soon the puppy learned that whenever he wanted the owners attention, all he had to do was bark and jump up on his owner.
Well, by the time the puppy reaches adulthood, the habit has been formed and the dog constantly demands that his owner pick him up and carry him around. The owner finds this annoying, yet he loves the little dog, so he hesitates to reprimand him. Instead the owner tries yelling at the dog, but to no avail. The dog continues to jump and the owner continues to try various tactics to correct the problem, yet nothing positive comes of the owners attempts.
The solution to this problem is to let the dog know that it's fine to ask for attention, but in an acceptable manner. The dog must learn that, as with most things in life, there is a price to pay for that attention. Instead of immediately responding to the dogs request that he be picked up, the owner now has the dog do something to earn his attention. Once the dog begins to realize that attention is no longer free, he can be trained to remain on the floor and accept attention from there rather than from the owners arms.
If you experience a similar problem, teach the dog to sit on command. Then, when he comes to you and demands your attention, have him sit before you respond to him. When he obeys the sit command, you can give him some attention. At first, you can pick him up, pet and praise him briefly and then return him to the floor. If he barks and jumps on you again, have him sit again. Follow his sit with praise again, but this time don't pick him up. Instead, bend down and pet him as he sits in front of you.
Soon the dog will learn that he must do something before he will receive your attention. In other words, ignoring behavior you don't want and recognizing behavior you do want will produce positive results. Responding to behavior you don't want is perceived by the dog as acceptance, and he'll continue to do it forever. However, when he learns that you'll only recognize him for good behavior, he'll exercise that good behavior in order to receive your attention.
Reason for Barking: An Attempt to Communicate
The dog, being a social animal, needs to communicate with his pack (humans or other dogs). He uses barking as a means to gain food, water, shelter and comfort. Many dogs, for instance, will give several sharp barks at their owners a few minutes before their regularly scheduled mealtimes. A dog will often give several short, sharp barks as an invitation to other dogs or people to play. When a dog is left outside in a fenced area and his pack members (his family) are inside, he will frequently stand at the door and bark to communicate his desire to be let inside to join them.
However, sometimes, as we've mentioned earlier, an owner reacts inappropriately to barking and the dog reads the owners actions as something good that he'd like repeated. Let's say that the dog brings a toy to you and drops it at your feet. Then he stands there barking and looking up at you. Without thinking, you pick up the toy and toss it across the room. That behavior signals a message to the dog that you're willing to play with him whenever he asks. Of course, this will not always be convenient, yet you've taught the dog that standing in front of you and barking will get you to play with him regardless of what you're doing at the time.
This behavior is usually found in a high-energy dog who is bored and has nothing to do. At this point, you have two choices. The first choice is to respond to the dogs demand by throwing the toy for him. This response will probably escalate into a whole series of tossing and retrieving. One toss is usually never enough!
The second choice is to acknowledge the dogs boredom and, before you toss the toy, have the dog do something for you. A sit or a down/stay would be appropriate. Once the dog complies with your command, praise him and then toss the toy. If he brings the toy back to you and begins barking again, repeat the procedure so that each time he demands your attention, he must earn it by doing something first. Very shortly he'll decide that he doesn't want to be bothered with doing something just so you'll throw the toy. He'll soon find something else to do and wander off to entertain himself.
For the very stubborn dog who will not give up, you can always give him some time out in his crate, say five or ten minutes. Once released from time out, praise him lightly and return to your previous activity as you ignore the dog. Sooner or later, he will learn that getting you to do something he wants does not come without a price. He either obeys your commands or finds himself in time out, neither of which he cares to do.
As time goes by and with proper responses to his behavior, he'll develop habits that suit you and satisfy him as well. Playing a game of fetch with a toy is fun when you are the one who initiates the game or when the dog brings you his toy and sits quietly until you can play with him. For sure, he'll learn that barking unnecessarily gets him nowhere.
Reason for Barking: Excitement
Dogs verbalize their emotions much as people do. For example, they often bark during play when they get very excited. They also bark when they're anticipating something that excites them, such as a game of fetch, a special doggie treat or going out for a walk with his owner. Frustration also can create barking in a dog. Let's say the dog wants to play with a favorite toy that is in his sight but out of his reach. He may attempt to get the toy but, when those efforts fail, he may stand there and stare at the toy while he barks incessantly until someone comes to retrieve the toy for him.
If you can determine the cause of the barking, you should allow it for a reasonable amount of time. Lowering the level of excitement usually lowers the bark reflex, and you usually can control this. When you wish to quiet the dog, change the cause of his excitement to a more calming activity. As soon as the barking lessens, praise the dog with "Good, quiet." In the case of frustration, lessen his barking by alleviating the dogs frustration or removing the dog from the cause of his frustration.
It's beneficial to both dogs and people that dog owners understand the causes and appropriate human responses to barking. Often when small dogs bark they are sounding an alarm. Big dogs, on the other hand, bark to issue a warning and/or threat. When people respond appropriately to barking, they generally set the pattern for the barking to subside yet recur when necessary. Conversely, responding inappropriately usually escalates the barking and thereby solicits more barking.
In short, with barking or other of their dogs behavior, owners should recognize positive behavior and ignore or divert negative behavior. Remember, behaviors that bring pleasant results tend to be repeated, whereas behaviors that bring on unpleasant results are usually not repeated. To a dog, being ignored is most unpleasant, so the dog quickly figures out that, in order to get pleasant attention, he must repeat certain behaviors (such as not barking unnecessarily) and stop others.
Thanks to The Dog Channel for this article!