Your dog's days are filled with excitement, from sirens and cats outside to the much-anticipated arrival of the mail carrier. With so much going on, he naturally wants to give his opinion, so he barks.

Some dogs, of course, have much more to say than others. They bark at everything and at all hours of the day and night. You would swear that they are trying to get a "barkalaureate" in public speaking.

It's tempting to respond to a dog's relentless barking with an irritable bark of your own. But it is important to figure out what he is trying to say. Dogs bark for all kinds of reasons, and understanding what's behind it will help you discover ways to turn down the volume, says Sandi Driscoll, owner of the Academy of Dog Obedience in Los Angeles.

Some breeds are naturally inclined to be barkers. Terriers and beagles, for example, were originally bred for hunting, and their vigilant barking alerted owners to the presence of game, says Wayne Hunthausen, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Westwood, Kansas, who specializes in behavior problems.

Dogs naturally bark as a way of sounding alarms. It is their way of telling approaching people (or pets), "This is my territory, buster, so you better back off!" They also bark when they are nervous or frightened. Some dogs are terrified about being left alone, a condition that vets call separation anxiety. When you leave for the day, they may vent their anxiety with nearly nonstop barking, Driscoll says.

Some dogs, unfortunately, don't need an excuse to let loose with resounding woofs. Dogs that spend their days alone, for example, often get bored and will bark as a way of filling the time, Driscoll says. This kind of barking is easy to recognize because the dog will actually sound bored -- rhythmic, monotonous, and not very alert, she explains.

See Your Vet If...

  • Your dog barks when nothing is happening.
  • The barking is rhythmic and monotonous.
  • He barks only when you are gone.
  • Your pet has begun growling at or biting people.
  • He gets panicky in certain situations, such as during thunderstorms.
  • He has started pressing his head against walls.
  • Your pet is having accidents in the house.
  • He is overly possessive of food or toys.
  • You can't stop him from barking or meowing.
  • Your pet's voice has changed.
  • He gets obsessed with odd behaviors, like chasing his tail or biting his feet.
  • He urinates when people approach.
  • Your pet seems depressed or lethargic.
  • He is constantly biting, scratching, or licking himself.
  • He often stands with his legs wide apart or at an awkward angle.
  • His back arches even when he is not frightened.
  • He appears to be having seizures.
  • Your pet hesitates to take orders.
  • He growls during play.
  • He hisses for no reason.

Next Steps:

Back to Behavior Main Page
Back to the Symptom Solver Main Page

Copyright 1999 Rodale Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

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