Some dogs are especially excitable. Any time someone rings the doorbell or knocks, Fido barks as if his life were in danger. But why does he do that? And is there a way to get him to stop?
Barking is how dogs communicate with each other and express themselves. It’s totally normal, and some dogs are specifically bred to bark a lot – hounds, for example, bark to show their owners where the hunted game lies.
Behavioural scientist Dorit Feddersen-Petersen suspects that dogs started barking in the course of domestication because humans also make sounds. “Sounds made by dogs are probably the more successful triggers of communication with humans because they tend to overlook the fine optical expressions,” she says.
Frequent, unwanted barking is often unconsciously trained, behavioural biologist Juliane Braeuer says. For example, if the owner takes the leash, puts on their coat and wants to leave the apartment.
For the dog, it’s clear it’s going out for a walk. “If the dog barks with joy and the owner leaves the home with him, that’s positive reinforcement. Next time, he might bark already when the owner reaches for the key.”
She advises standing still until the animal has calmed down and is quiet. “Only then should you leave the house,” she says. Unwanted barking can also be encouraged if the dog gets its food because of insistent yapping. The same technique can be used here: Fido only gets fed once he stops barking.
Barking at the garden fence can mean that the dog, left alone, is calling for his people. “One could call this barking a separation bark,” Feddersen-Petersen says.
From the dog’s point of view, this bark of separation is understandable: They are highly social beings who live in packs and don’t understand why the leader of the pack has left them.
“Dogs must learn that their humans sometimes leave them alone, but they always come back,” says animal psychologist Angela Pruss. Practise this by leaving the room for a few seconds, closing the door and returning.
Repeat this several times a day, gradually increasing the length of time. But don’t return to the dog if he barks or whines – that reinforces the bad behaviour.
But why do dogs bark at the fence when their owner is nearby? “It could be that they are defending their territory or telling other dogs to keep their distance,” German Shepherd breeder Gerd Fels says.
Owners should draw attention to themselves, in this case. If the dog does not react to an order to stop, you should tug on its leash. “If the dog looks at the owner or ideally even comes back, it should be praised, stroked and rewarded,” he says. – dpa