“ Our dog is now 4.5 months old. An energetic, happy dog, but one that is sensitive to many stimuli. Now she that she is getting older we barks more and more. Every time someone rings the doorbell, she starts to bark loudly. She continues barking until my visitor have had their coffee. Nowadays even the postman is welcomed by a bark outburst. It seems to be getting worse. She lies alertly on her mat and immediately tells me when someone is coming. This is convenient because I never lock my door, but sometimes … “
Barking is normal behaviour for a dog and can have many different causes. In all cases, it is a way of communicating. But what is your dog actually telling you? Write down for yourself when your dog barks, notice what you hear and what the attitude of your dog is. Ask your neighbours if they hear your dog when you are away or install a video camera or webcam. You’ll soon find that there are different barks for different situations.
Think of your own reaction when you hear the doorbell: you drop what you’re doing and run to the door. When you open the door, it’s your neighbour bringing you a pie. You get excited and give her a hug, and she’s even kind enough to bend down and pat your dog’s head. The dog starts to learn that every time someone comes to the door, it’s time to get excited because he gets attention from someone new.
If your dog cannot see you or your reaction to the ringing doorbell, he might wonder if you are aware of the signal that someone is waiting at the entrance to the home. By barking, he is alerting you to the fact that the doorbell is ringing and that you need to take the appropriate action. Dogs quickly associate a sound to any activity that occurs just after the sound is made. In his past experience, the ringing doorbell is quickly followed by the door being opened. For the dog, the bell ringing and the subsequent door opening are synonymous with a new person coming to the home. Your dog just wants you to know that there is a stranger trying to gain access to your house.
Barking just because you’ve only left your dog to go on an errand. Your dog actually wants to go with you to the grocery store, or rather he wants to go out with you and he doesn’t really care where to. He calls you back, as it were. This dog needs still to learn that his boss comes back. A crate and a chewing bone can help.
Many dogs also want to guard or defend the home. You often see these kind of dogs on the window sill, furiously barking, or behind the fence going berserk when someone passes. These dogs are good assistants scaring away intruders or burglars, although they sometimes bark with a bit too much enthusiasm when the postman is only trying to deliver an expected internet purchase.
Throwing a ball, running a agility course or getting a favourite toy out of the closet is what often triggers a dog to start barking. He may go hunting! Or your dog is so happy that you’re going to play or ‘work’ with him that he barks out of enthusiasm. He cannot wait for you to start. Sometimes you can even see him making a play bow, an invitation to play.
Even when you take the food bowl out of the closet, your dog may start barking. But whether this is really out of enthusiasm, is the question. After all, he barks and you fill his bowl. YES!
Of course there is also the barking triggered by pain, fear or defending someone. A warning bark. So far and no further, or I’ll bite. On the streets for example, when your dog barks at other dogs. Or out of stress or frustration. “Am I attached to that stupid leash again, when I just want to play with that other dog. What happens if I pull hard enough, “I’ll see if I can meet this beautiful long brown hairy one.”
There is barking for attention: “Why do not I get what I want? You have nothing better to do than watch TV? And I’ve already placed the ball at your feet. In my dictionary that means that we are going to play. Yoo-hoo, are you listening?”
Before you know it, you grab the ball and throw it . “That was fun,” the dog thinks and he puts the ball at your feet again. His barking behaviour has been rewarded. ‘Just one more time? ”
Even if the dog is afraid, he can start barking. What kind of situations are we talking about? In puppies you often see that they suddenly start barking at a (for them) strange object or person. A watering can in the corner of the room, a garbage bin on the streets or a man with a big beard who passes by. ‘Never seen that before and you know what? If I bark loud enough, it might go away. At best, I can provoke a response. After that I’ll think about my reaction.”
What to do?
Excessive barking when the doorbell rings, can be quite irritating. For you but also for your neighbours or your visitors. Does your dog bark because he wants to welcome your new friends, is he just scared and wants to bark away the (for him) unfamiliar people, or has he been bored all day? That’s the first thing we need to try and find out together.
After that there are various ways to solve barking behaviour or at least reduce it. A useful command to learn is ‘place’. A crate or mat in the house gives the dog his own resting area in the house. Once the dog goes directly to his place on command, you can use this when the door opens to welcome the visitors. To ensure that your dog stays on his mat or in his crate, you can give him something to do. A chewing bone, a stuffed Kong or a fun toy does wonders. Only when you visitors sit quietly on the couch drinking a cup of coffee, the dog is allowed to greet them. And if he is too frightened, he can stay in his crate if he wants to. Your visitors will leave him alone so that he can choose to come out in his own time.
Obviously, dogs learn new behaviour step by step and you can stage the ringing at the door, so that you can actually practice without having to open the door. Also replacing the bell with one with another sound, gives you the opportunity to start afresh.
In general, getting rid of his energy gives a dog less reason to bark excessively. Maybe a longer daily walk, biking together or a few exercises in and around the house, so the dog can lose his energy. Do you ask your dog to sit down when he gets his food bowl, or does he get it twice a day for nothing?
And when your dog is fearful, we obviously look for the cause first and how we can try to reduce that fear. For it is far from ideal to have a dog barking when the doorbell rings after which he sits in a corner of the room trembling, while you’re having a nice BBQ with your friends. We need to do something about the anxiety first.
One thing is certain, barking can be quite rewarding. After all, your dog gets exactly what he wants. You do throw the ball, the postman turns around, the door opens,…. an addictive habit, which like all addictive habits, quickly become a behaviour pattern.