February 1, 2010

Dogs bark for a number of reasons, but excessive barking  can also be a signal that your dog is under a great deal of stress.

Barking is Good!

Typically excitement barking is a good thing – it means your dog is excited, happy, looking forward to something. Imagine if you were over the moon happy about something and weren’t allowed to smile, tell a friend about what’s going on, clap your hands quietly, do a little dance in your cube at work? Barking is part of a dog’s normal expressions of happiness, just like jumping, spinning, running around, wagging the tail so hard the whole body wiggles. These are all good things, and necessary in order to burn off the adrenaline that is in the dog’s body.

There are five situations where excitement barking is common:

  1. When you come home;
  2. When visitors arrive;
  3. In the car;
  4. When they see other dogs;
  5. As a result of chronic stress.

In the first four instances, there are ways of working with your dog to reduce the severity and incidence of the barking while still allowing him the opportunity to express himself.

Barking from Chronic Stress

Barking resulting from chronic stress however requires that the dog’s stress level be brought down before you can begin to work with the immediate trigger of the behavior.

Owners can cause chronic stress in their dogs and not even realize it. Seemingly pleasurable activities, such as playing fetch, bicycling or jogging together, or having playdates with other dogs can all create stress when done in excess.

How do these normal doggie activities create chronic stress?  Well, as your doctor has probably once told you, everything in moderation.  Stress causes hormones and other chemicals to be released in the body. After a stressful event, the body needs to recover – its chemical balance needs to return to normal.

Let’s say you have one of those dogs that just obsesses over tennis balls. We all know one, right? Your dog can’t put the tennis ball down, ever, so you take him out multiple times a day for extensive games of fetch hoping he’ll get it out of his system once and for all, and at the very least you know he’s having a blast because he loves that ball, right?  The dog gets super excited during that first outing and chemicals distribute throughout his body. Before they are fully processed by his systems, you’re back out for fetch game 2…and so on throughout the day. The hormones never get a chance to completely leave his body, so they continue to build up with each game of fetch. Eventually he’s running around with adrenaline levels of a dog  in the midst of a game of fetch but he’s only lying on the couch. Or trying to lie on the couch – his adrenaline levels are probably too high to actually allow him to rest.

There are also environmental causes for stress in dogs that their owners may not be aware of. They include:

  • Too little sleep;
  • Too little food and/or water;
  • Isolation from owner and/or other dogs;
  • Not having the opportunity to go to the bathroom when needed;
  • Too much noise or activity in the house;
  • Too much time spent in crates or kennels; and
  • Too many perceived threats such as strangers, storms, other unfriendly dogs.

If you have an excessive barker in your home and think any of these may be the cause, you must first eliminate the stressor before addressing the behavior.


Rugaas, Turid. Barking: The Sound of a Language. Wenatchee, WA: Dogwise, 2008.

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