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All dogs bark. Actually I take that back as the Basenji is a breed that’s known for not barking. But with the Basenji being the exception, all dogs bark, and that includes your Labrador.
In our efforts to better communicate with and understand what our dogs are thinking and feeling, it’s in our best interests to learn both why do dogs bark, and how to decipher the different barks and sounds they make.
Mostly they bark for good reason. It could be they’re trying to tell you something, or they’re expressing vocally how they feel at any given moment. Barking is an important form of communication for our dogs.
But sometimes they may bark too much, annoying the neighbors, keeping you awake at night, or maybe scaring people who have the nerve to approach them.
Many people cite ‘problem barking’ as one of the biggest annoyances of owning a dog, and many owners that give up their dogs to shelters cite excessive barking as one of the reasons for giving them up.
Most people who’ve landed on this page will have done so because they have a dog who barks excessively and really need to sort this out. So what can you do?
The very first thing you have to do is figure out why they’re barking in the first place. If you can identify and then tackle the root cause of their barking, then of course they should stop.
This article will answer the question: Why do dogs bark?. Detailing all the reasons so you can have a thorough understanding of the root cause of the barking, before later articles go on to help you deal with the issue.
You simply must know why? Before you can move on to how to stop it.
The Many Reasons For Why Dogs Bark
Some of the reasons your Lab may bark are:
- When they are bored
- When they are scared
- When they are frustrated
- When they are excited
- When they are guarding
- If they cannot cope with being alone
As well as the reasons above for why dogs bark, many people often ask the questions:
- Why do dogs bark at night?
- Why do dogs bark at other dogs?
- Why do dogs bark at certain people?
- Why do dogs bark at the door?
The rest of this article will take each item in the two lists above and give a basic description of why they bark at these times.
So if your labs barking is a nuisance you can determine what triggers need to be addressed. But also knowing why they bark will hopefully make you more understanding and perhaps accepting of your dogs actions.
Dogs Bark When Bored
A very common reason for a dog excessively barking is simply because they’re bored. They’re trying to get somebody’s, or anybody’s, attention.
Labradors especially are a very intelligent and social breed. If they aren’t mentally stimulated and enjoy lots of social interaction, they quite quickly become bored.
And when bored they will often try desperately hard to get some social interaction and they do this by barking for attention.
This is why we often hear complaints from neighbors that a dog barks non-stop all day if they’re left alone while the owners are out at work.
They bark because they have nothing to do, nobody to interact with and their intelligent minds aren’t stimulated. Barking for attention often becomes the behavior they revert to at these times.
So if your Lab doesn’t get to enjoy mind stimulating games and training on a regular basis, they’re left alone for 4 hours+ per day quite frequently and your neighbors complain of nuisance barking, boredom is the most likely cause.
Dogs Bark When They Are Scared
Dogs can be scared of all sorts of things like certain people, other animals or particular situations and environments.
You can tell if a dog is scared by their posturing and body language. They’ll have their tail held low, their ears pinned back and their general posture looking small and retreating. The scared look is very recognizable.
In this state, a dog will often bark, especially if whatever’s scaring them is a person or animal that makes a sudden move or eye contact is made.
Dogs Bark If They Are Frustrated
If there’s something your Lab really wants, and they cannot get at it, they will often bark in frustration.
This will be accompanied by an intense look, pricked ears (as much as they can be for a Labrador) and jumping up or scratching at whatever’s between them and the object of their desire.
It’s easy to see when your dog’s frustrated as all their energy will be pointing to the object that’s frustrating them, whether it be a squirrel across the road, a ball the other side of a fence or a steak atop a table that’s just out of reach.
Dogs Bark When They Are Excited
We’ve all seen our Labs jumping around, barking their heads off and going nuts with pure excitement.
Like When you come home from a long stay away or when you pick up their leash before taking them for a walk.
Dogs bark when they’re excited and this is hardly ever a problem as it’s momentary and passing. It’s usually just a joy to see and hear :-)
Dogs Bark When They Are Guarding
When guarding, a dog is trying to protect and defend their family and territory from any perceived threats.
They will become very excitable, highly alert and bark loudly and incessantly.
They’re sending out a warning alarm that somebody is approaching and there may be a potential threat, as well as trying to warn the intruder to go away.
This can be a real problem if a dog feels they have to guard a large yard and can result in them patrolling the perimeter, barking non-stop at any people, animals, bikes or cars that pass by. Obviously this can become a huge annoyance.
Dogs Bark If They Cannot Cope With Being Alone
Separation anxiety is a very serious problem that puts a dog into a very high state of stress, leading to destructive behaviors and excessive barking.
Barking because a dog cannot cope with being alone is not the same as barking due to boredom, but it’s easy to get these root causes confused as often they occur for the same reason: Being left alone.
You can distinguish the two because a dog that cannot cope with being alone becomes very anxious and barks a lot just knowing you’re about to leave.
Whereas a dog barking through boredom can spend hours alone if properly stimulated the rest of the day and left with appropriate toys to keep them occupied.
Why Do Dogs Bark At Night?
First of all, dogs have extremely sensitive hearing and can hear things much fainter and further away than we can.
During the day there is a lot more ‘background noise’ that helps to mask and drown out individual sounds, so most things are lost in the symphony of sounds that surround them.
But at night, when it’s calm and quiet, a sound during the day that will have been drowned out can be very loud and clear against a background of silence that makes it really stand out.
There’s also a whole world of wildlife that comes out of hiding and are very active at night; Rodents, badgers, cats, bats and raccoons to name but a few.
The noises these animals make during an otherwise very quiet night are highly stimulating to dogs and they react to this by barking.
Other reasons your dog may bark at night are:
If your Labrador suffers separation anxiety, they will cry and bark whenever socially isolated, which can unfortunately mean all night if they aren’t near their family.
You’ll know if your dogs night time barking is due to separation anxiety as they will also bark during the day when left alone…and your neighbors will soon tell you.
A Change In Their Environment
If your dog undergoes a massive change in their environment it can cause feelings of insecurity and fear of the new unknown and they may start to bark at night.
This could be if they’re moved to sleep in a new room, a new sound or a change in lighting, anything that’s a break from the norm and could disturb them.
Pent Up And Unspent Energy
If your Labrador isn’t getting enough exercise during the day, they may not feel appropriately tired by the time night falls.
They may be full of pent-up and unspent energy, wanting to explore, play and burn off this energy.
But with everyone else asleep, or at least in bed, they will feel bored and isolated and will bark for attention and through frustration and boredom.
Claiming Their Territory
Many canine species howl and bark at night to let others know they’re there and to stake a claim to their territory.
Wolves, coyotes and many wild and feral dogs can be found howling and barking the whole night through.
If one starts, many others in earshot will respond and a single howling or barking dog can start a chain reaction that can traverse a whole city.
You may not hear the trigger that starts your dog off howling, but they may be able to hear the howl or barks of another dog 15 streets away.
It’s a deep instinctive thing that comes from the days in the wild where dogs would be active at night and packs would guard their territory.
Howling and barking is the way dogs tell others they’re around and not to go near, thereby avoiding territorial fights that can be expensive in terms of energy, injury and possibly loss of life.
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Why Do Dogs Bark At Other Dogs?
There are two main reasons why one dog will bark at another:
Communication And Conversation
Quite simply, one dog barking at another is a form of communication, much like me saying hello to you if we met in the street.
If your dog doesn’t look scared or aggressive, but is calm and happy when he barks at another dog, they’re simply saying hello.
Protecting And Guarding What’s Theirs, Or Think is Theirs
Your dog may bark at another dog in order to tell them they’re approaching what belongs to your dog.
If another unfamiliar dog comes near to them, to you, your home or an area your dog spends a lot of time, they might feel territorial and warn another dog to stay away.
Why Do Dogs Bark At Certain People?
A dog will bark at almost anything that’s unfamiliar and when it comes to people could be all manner of things, especially if a dog missed out on early socialization and they aren’t used to people of all shapes, sizes and color.
Some dogs that have been superbly socialized will be happy around everyone, others can be spooked by almost everyone.
Some traits or differences in people a dog may bark at can include: Height, age, gender, uniforms, glasses, hats, skin color, hair color, masks, wheelchairs, crutches, perfume or deodorant smell and more besides.
Sometimes if your dog barks only at particular traits it can be embarrassing. For instance if they only but always bark at black people, or people with red hair.
But this isn’t your dogs fault, they aren’t being racist or anything, they have no concept of these ideas and are simply barking at something out of the ordinary (to them) and unfamiliar differences.
Why Do Dogs Bark At The Door?
There are a few reasons for dogs barking when there’s somebody at the door:
Alerting You To The Fact There’s Someone At The Door
The first and most obvious reason is simply your dog is alerting you that there’s somebody at the door.
They get used to the fact that whenever the door knocks or the doorbell rings, someone in their family gets up and heads to the door to open it.
They get used to this and want you to know there’s somebody there, they’re sending you an alarm signal, they see it as their job.
If they could open the door and let people in themselves, some dogs certainly would! Getting you to do so is the next best thing.
Guarding And Protecting The Home
It can be a territorial response. When the doorbell goes, your dog may not yet know who or what is on the other side, but they do know somebody is close and maybe trying to get in.
So they bark to let the intruder know that the area they’ve entered belongs to the dog and the dog knows they are there. The dog is sending them a warning.
Excitement At Greeting Whoever Is At The Door
Your dog will very quickly learn that when the doorbell goes, there’s somebody on the other side. And dogs, particularly Labradors, are highly social animals that absolutely love and get excited about human company.
When they hear that doorbell there’s potentially a person there who will come in, give them attention, play a game and give them a good belly rub! So they get excited at the prospect of saying hello and bark excitedly.
Fear Of The Noise And Of The Unknown
Some dogs are scared of loud and unexpected noises, of which a doorbell or a knocker is certainly one.
Also, if a dog is particularly timid and is scared of strangers they may bark at the door for fear of the unknown.
They cannot know who or what is on the other side of the door but will have learnt that it could be a stranger and they bark through fear of the stranger coming into their home.
Why do dogs bark? Hopefully this article has answered that question and we now have a better understanding on when and why dogs bark.
This will help us to better understand and hence improve communication between us and our dogs, and good communication is an essential foundation for a good relationship and effective teamwork, in training and all of life.
But this article hasn’t discussed what their different barks sound like, or if they’re barking excessively how to solve the issue.
I’ve written a follow up article to this that discusses what different barks mean.
I will be adding articles describing how to stop excessive problem barking soon.
I hope you enjoyed this discussion on why dogs bark? And if you have any questions or comments, please post them in the comment section below and I will always answer every one :-)
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