Why do dogs bark?

As much as we love them, dogs can be a bit loud. Whether it’s ‘greeting’ a delivery driver or shouting into thin air, they often express feelings through their bark. So why do they do it? Much like tail wagging, barking is a way dogs can communicate with other dogs and humans—and it’s not as simple as you might think.

One reason—and it’s a bad one— is that they think you want them to bark. Some dogs may act dopey, but they’re not dumb when it comes to treats. If a dog is constantly rewarded for barking (even in a playful way) then they might see this as positive behavior. This could easily lead to excessive barking if the issue isn’t resolved early on. 

Another cause of barking is one we can all relate to: frustration. Have you ever shouted at a piece of flat-pack furniture you’re trying to put together? Dogs do a similar thing! In frustrating situations, such as not being able to open a door or having difficulty reaching the last dog biscuit off of the kitchen counter, dogs can bark in annoyance. This mini tantrum alerts you (and the neighborhood) that they’re having trouble with a task. 

Boredom is the cause of a lot of bad behavior in dogs, and barking and whining are on that list. If they’re not getting enough stimulation dogs might make noise just to entertain themselves (like a sort of canine karaoke, perhaps). Something simple such as introducing a new dog toy or increasing walks may help.

More diva-ish pups like to be the center of attention and know that barking is going to work. This ties in with dogs being positively reinforced for making noise—they may see attention seeking as a good trait that they continue.

Perhaps the biggest cause of loud barking is fear. ‘Alarm barking’ occurs when a dog has seen something they’re worried about. It can happen in their own home or unfamiliar settings and is designed to let you know of potential dangers (even if it’s just a squirrel). Some people find this type of barking reassuring, creating an extra element of safety and security. 

It can, however, lead to excessive barking when an unfamiliar face enters their space. They’re trying to protect their territory, which could be their home or somewhere they’ve visited recently or often and associate with their family. People might find it comforting but the dog doesn’t always and they can experience heightened anxiety, which could result in aggressive behavior. In most cases though, they’re just trying to let the new face know that this is their turf and will ease when the dog (and sometimes the person) calms down.

Barking isn’t always a negative thing, though. Dogs also like to make themselves heard when greeting a friendly face, whether hound or human. This is often an excitable, high-pitched bark accompanied by a relaxed wagging tail. More extroverted dogs can do this excessively, especially when they want their presence to be known to the object of their affection.

It might also be a chat with other dogs, who could be a few feet away or hundred of yards. A long-distance conversation can be confused with alarm barking if they’re reacting to dogs so far away that our pathetic human ears can’t hear them.

By listening to a dog's bark whilst taking in their environment, you should be able to identify what they are trying to communicate to you. Whether this is just them being playful, excited, cautious, frustrated or bored, they will definitely try to be heard!