Dogs bark for all kinds of reasons—to let you know they need to go out, to greet you playfully, or to alert you when a stranger is at the door. In each of these instances, your pet is trying to tell you something, but what about when Fido barks for seemingly no reason? It turns out, your dog may be noticing something you’re not, so pay close attention next time he engages in this behavior.
Canine behaviorists categorize barking in many ways, including territorial barking, alarm barking, attention-seeking, greetings, social barking, frustration-induced barking, separation anxiety barking and to let others know they are sick or injured. With so many different meanings behind your pet’s vocalizations, it can be difficult to determine what’s causing his seemingly needless barking. Dogs have hearing much better than our own, so our pets often pick up on noises we miss. If your dog is barking without cause, check if there is something making noise outside—or even in your home—that Fido may have mistaken for an intruder. The same goes for what your dog sees. A passing squirrel, jogger or other dog may be a non-event for you, but your pet may want to alert you of the change or protect his territory.
If you’ve watched for answers and still can’t find a reason behind your dog’s barking, there is a chance he’s developed a compulsive behavior. These are simply exaggerated forms of canines’ normal behaviors and can arise from conflict, stress or frustration. Compulsive behaviors often get worse with time to the point that dogs start to perform them without triggers, so it’s important to seek a professional’s help if you think your dog’s barking compulsive. Start by calling your veterinarian, who can diagnose your pet. Look for clues such as repetitive motions that accompany barking to help identify a compulsive behavior.
If Fido’s barking is causing problems for your or your neighbors, there are some steps you can take to curb the volume and frequency of his voice. If your pet barks at passersby or the neighbor’s dog, set up a privacy fence that keeps them out of sight. Dogs that bark when their owners leave the home will feel safer with a comfortable spot to rest, such as a crate outfitted with soft bedding and a cover. You can also teach your dog the “quiet” command or ask him to do a trick that prevents him from barking, such as giving him a toy and telling him to lie down. Make sure your pet is getting enough exercise and don’t leave him alone for long periods of time, which can exacerbate barking due to pent up energy or separation anxiety.