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Why Dogs Bark and How to Stop the Noise

Haley Young photo

Haley Young

June 29, 2024

Dog Training

Why Dogs Bark and How to Stop the Noise thumbnail

Everyone knows that dogs bark. (Ask any toddler what sound the dog makes. You’re sure to hear some type of “woof” in response!) What isn’t so well understood is exactly why dogs bark, just how much barking is normal, and what you can do if you think your pet is using their voice a little too much to be kind to the neighbors.

We’ve got your back. Here’s everything you need to know about why your dog barks—and how you can keep excessive vocalizations from becoming a problem! It's not fair to ask our dogs to be completely silent, but even the biggest barkers can learn to quiet down.

Why do dogs bark?

Dogs don’t speak a symbolic verbal language like we humans do—but they still communicate with us in many ways. While body language usually comes first in a canine conversation, various sounds serve different communication purposes too.

Dogs might bark for a range of reasons: warning us of an approaching danger (or perceived danger, like the harmless-but-startling mailman), sharing their excitement over a brand new day, initiating play, getting our attention because their water bowl is empty... the list goes on.

Pay attention to the pitch, duration, and frequency of your pet’s bark

These three factors will help you understand your dog's vocal communication.

What does the pitch of your dog’s bark mean?

Among animals, low-pitched sounds typically indicate threats or the possibility of aggression. (Think of a dog’s deep growl growl.) Conversely, higher vocalizations—like a soft whimper—usually mean the exact opposite.

What does the duration of your dog’s bark mean?

The longer the sound, “the more likely the dog is making a conscious decision about the nature of the signal and his next behaviors,” says psychologist and canine expert Stanley Coren.

This means your dog might not even realize they’re reacting to something if they only give a short, quick bark. (Have you ever gasped or said "woah!" when someone startles you without consciously moving your mouth?) But if they make a sustained cluster of noises or drag out a howl, your pup is probably fully aware of what they’re doing.

What does the frequency of your dog’s bark mean?

If a dog repeats their bark frequently and at a fast rate, it indicates a high degree of excitement or urgency. (Hi! Hello! Pay attention! Now!) Anxious barking is usually like this.

Barks that are more spaced out or not repeated at all indicate lower levels of arousal.

A terrier dog barks while outside

Territorial or protective barking

It’s perfectly natural for dogs to be territorial of their homes. In fact, this is likely one of the reasons ancient humans enjoyed having canines around. Our companions naturally warn of approaching threats!

If your dog barks when another animal or person enters your property (your yard, your car, sometimes even the area around your driveway) they’re probably feeling territorial. As the “intruder” gets closer, their barking might get louder and more rapid.

(Many dogs can simultaneously show some protective instincts while still being social with visitors once you, their owner, greet them. Again, think about the function of this behavior in the early days of the canine-human partnership! If you’re concerned about your pet’s behavior when you have guests over, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a professional trainer to keep everybody safe.)

Alarm or alert barking

Alert barking is sometimes equated with territorial barking. There is some overlap in situations where the barking might occur, but generally alarm barking and territoriality are two different things—although the same dog might do both.

What's the distinction? Alert barking occurs when a dog barks at a loud noise or object that catches their attention—usually if they feel startled by it—not just on their home turf. This can happen in any situation. It's usually due to sudden environmental contrast (your dog being surprised by something appearing that wasn’t previously there) rather than territorial instincts.

Dogs who alarm bark sometimes show perfectly normal body language if it’s merely an instinctual response they aren’t that aware of. Other times they look actively afraid of the noise or sight that caused the reaction, in a fear barking response. You can read more about interpreting your dog’s body language in this article.

Both territorial barking and alert barking can be especially tough for people who live in apartment or condo situations. Neighbors make a lot of noise—and it’s not fun when our dogs make their own vocalizations back! It’s especially important to create positive associations with sounds in your building if you’re one of these pet parents.

All the while, remember that alert barking is a completely natural canine trait. It's one way your dog instinctively communicates with you—their trusted family—about what’s going on in the world around them. It’s important to be empathetic and patient.

Boredom or attention seeking barking

Attention seeking barking is often referred to as demand barking. When your dog feels their needs haven’t been met—and remember here that social interaction and mental stimulation are basic needs for your pup to be their healthiest!—vocalizations are one way to let you know. They'll often make direct eye contact while they communicate with you.

It’s common for dogs to bark because they need to go outside to use the bathroom or they’d like to play a game. Some dogs also bark for food, especially when their family is eating at the table.

A common way to address alert barking is to teach an alternative behavior for your dog to communicate their needs, like ringing a doorbell for attention.

Greeting and play barking

Some dogs let out a woof or two when greeting other dogs or people—whether strangers or friends. This type of barking is usually associated with loose, wiggly body language that suggests your dog is happy to say hello.

Many dogs also bark—and make other vocalizations, like growls and "Chewbacca noises"—during typical canine play. This can get loud! But there’s no need to worry as long as both parties are taking turns and enjoying the interaction.

Separation anxiety barking

Dogs, like humans, are social mammals. They bond closely to members of other species. (This particular trait sets them apart from many other types of canines, like wolves.) It's perfectly normal for your four-legged best friend to dislike being left alone.

Some mild whining when you leave the house for a long period of time usually isn’t cause for great concern. A few barks here and there when your dog hasn’t gotten much enrichment are normal too.

If your dog is making noise the entire time you’re not home, though—or if they’re unable to relax in another area of the house while you’re busy with work tasks—they might be developing separation anxiety or a related behavior problem.

Compulsive barking

Some dogs struggle with compulsive behaviors, akin to humans who have obsessive compulsive disorder. This can result in near constant barking.

Vocal communication like barking can also be a self-reinforcing behavior, even in the absence of other people or animals. Barking might feel good to your dog... so they continue to repeat their vocalizations without needing any external praise or motivation. This cycle can quickly get out of hand.

Remember: Barking is normal

It’s important to remember that barking is not inherently “wrong.” No dog should be expected to never bark at all!

That said, there is such a thing as excessive barking in many different situations.

Make sure you’re meeting your dog’s basic needs and providing plenty of enrichment opportunities. If they’re still vocalizing more than you think they should? There are some steps you can take to reduce the noise. Excess barking is one of the most common behavior issues dog owners report.

A husky howls and barks while excited in a group of people

How to treat problematic or excessive barking

Identify the cause of your dog’s barking

Assess the whole situation and try to understand the complete picture of your dog’s barking. Vocalizations can sometimes be the symptom of larger problems like an incompatible lifestyle (usually a lack of enrichment), excessive stress, or outright fear.

Think of it like addressing a medical issue. You can try to treat only the symptoms of a condition... but it’s always better to cure the root cause if possible. If your dog needs more fulfillment and exercise, and they’re barking to express their boredom? Trying to eliminate the barking without also changing up your enrichment routine won’t do any good in the long term. That’s why so much of this article stresses the importance of meeting your dog’s needs!

Rule out medical conditions first

Dogs might also bark or otherwise vocalize (think whining, whimpering, or howling) because they aren’t feeling well.

If your dog used to be pretty quiet but has suddenly started making more noise—especially when moving in certain ways—it’s a good idea to go in for a complete veterinary check up just in case.

Develop a treatment plan based on your dog’s barking motivation

A professional force free trainer will help you evaluate your individual dog’s barking and design a tailored training plan. If you're really concerned about your dog's mental health, you might consider working with a veterinary behaviorist as well.

Some common strategies to reduce barking include:

Make sure you’re meeting your dog’s basic needs

We're happy to be a broken record on this point. It’s always a good idea to evaluate your dog’s basic needs before focusing on specific training situations.

Even if your dog’s barking is driven by more than a treatable health or fulfillment problem, making sure their needs are met will still help you maximize your training success.

Manage your environment to reduce barking

Do what you can to manage your dog’s environment, especially if they are barking in response to certain stimuli.

Some examples of management to minimize barking:


  • If your dog barks when they hear someone talking outside, try putting on white noise, such as background audio of rain sounds or soft classical music.
  • If your dog barks at passersby that they can see through the window, close the blinds or move furniture out of the way so they can’t see outside all the time.
  • If you know the mail carrier usually comes around 3:00 and that sets your dog off, take them for a walk or car ride starting at 2:45 so you’re not home.
  • Get creative with factors that are in your control! (You can read more about management in our Ultimate Guide to Dog Reactivity, too.)

Provide your dog with more enrichment

Enrichment activities can be the perfect solution to start helping with excessive barking, especially if your dog’s vocalizations are attention seeking or come from boredom. Paired with appropriate physical exercise, things like food puzzles, snuffle mats, and thoughtful training sessions can keep your dog entertained without running either of you to the ground.

Learn more about enrichment:

Teach your dog to bark (and be quiet) on cue

Take advantage of your dog's barking to teach them to be quiet. By teaching what's called "paired cues," you can train your dog to both speak and be quiet during the same training sessions!

Note that this should be done carefully. The last thing you want to do is reinforce your dog for barking and lose control, inadvertently making the problem worse. (It never hurts to have a professional trainer on your side to help out.)

You can learn more about reinforcement, rewards, and markers in our Dog Training 101 guide. Those training techniques and concepts apply to teaching your dog to “speak” and be quiet on cue!

A dog barks up at the camera inside their home

Dog barking is normal—and excessive noise can be improved with training!

Barking can be annoying, but learning what your dog is trying to communicate—and developing some tools for minimizing excessive barking—will help you keep your cool and strengthen your relationship with your dog.

We're cheering (well, barking) for you!

Trainer Review of this Article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers.  

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Shannon Finch
AnimalKind Training M.Ed. Humane Education Karen Pryor Academy. Certified Training Partner. Certified Tellington TTouch and TTEAM Practitioner

Haley Young photo

Haley Young

June 29, 2024

Dog Training

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