Dogs are like us in that some enjoy “talking” as much as some people do. A dog’s way of communicating is usually a bit louder than ours, though. Most pet owners who pay attention to their pet can understand what their dog’s bark means. What’s interesting about a barking or growling dog is they can change the pitch and tone of their voice to communicate to us and other dogs what they are trying to say, and what their intentions are.
What Pitch Means
Our tone of voice is understood by dogs. They can tell by the pitch in our voice whether we are pleased or displeased with them. The supposed guilty look dogs have is a myth and is a reaction to the harsh tone of voice we use when they misbehave and we’re upset with them.
Dogs also use pitch to communicate when they feel threatened or indicate they aren’t a threat. Growling is done in a low pitch and says “I’m scared or angry and could become aggressive.” It says the dog needs space and wants the other dog or person to back off and stay away. It’s a way for a dog to suggest he may be larger than he really is, or for larger dogs to communicate their bigger size to another animal.
A whine or whimper is a high pitched sound that says “I’m not a threat and have no intention of being aggressive. I’m harmless and need help or would like to come closer.” It makes the whimpering dog sound non-threatening regardless of his actual size.
One nice thing about cats is that no matter how insistent they meow for their supper, it usually won’t annoy the neighbors. A barking dog can, on the other hand. Some breeds use their voice more than others, and others will bark just for attention. Thankfully, there are some dogs that typically don’t bark a lot.
Chinese Shar-Pei – Bred in southern China as an all purpose farm dog, the wrinkly Shar-Pei dates back to at least the 1200s. The breed was highly prized as a herder, hunter, tracker, and guard dog for property and livestock. He shares his distinct blue-black tongue with only one other dog breed, the ancient Chow Chow, also from China. Shar-Pei means “sand skin” in Chinese. This breed is intelligent, devoted to his family, an independent thinker with a stubborn streak, wary of people and dogs he doesn’t know, and a good watchdog. As a general rule, the Shar-Pei only barks when he’s worried about something or during play.
Rhodesian Ridgeback – This is an ancient breed native to South Africa, developed by farmers who needed an intelligent, athletic and courageous dog for hunting, herding, and guarding livestock and the home from large predators. Also known as the African Lion Hound, the Ridgeback was used to hunt lions and leopards, holding them at bay until a hunter came. A distinctive ridge of hair along the spine, growing in the opposite direction from the rest of the coat, is how the breed got its name. The Ridgeback is extremely devoted to his family and will do what’s necessary to defend them. Read More »
We just moved into a new home. As is always the case, the move was filled with highlights and lowlights; for us and for our pets. The dogs seem to have made the adjustment the quickest, with one exception: they bark a lot. I guess they are reacting to the smells and noises they are not accustomed to, but it is seriously driving me crazy. I can only imagine what our neighbors think of “the new kids on the block!”
Because I work from home, it’s fairly easy for me to get up and let them come inside so the neighbors (and I) can enjoy some peace and quiet. But one of the reasons we moved to this house in the first place was so the dogs could have a proper back yard to hang around in. I needed help, so I went on a quest to learn how to reduce my dogs’ unnecessary barking. The problem, however, is that there are so many different recommendations for how to handle this specific situation, and some of them sound downright inhumane.
It took me a good bit of research before I settled on a tactic. I think Modern Dog Magazine is a reputable source, so I’m trying the method recommended by guest contributor Stanley Coren, Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of many books about dogs, including Pawprints of History and How to Speak Dog. Coren starts by telling you what not to do quell unnecessary dog barking (even though it is sometimes tempting). He says not to yell “stop barking” or “no” or anything similar when your dog tunes up. Apparently when you shout, your dog interprets your sharp voice as a bark, as if you are joining the canine chorus. The dog will assume you condone his actions and may even ramp up the volume.
Coren explains that wild canine adults do not bark much because silence is necessary when hunting; noises may alert potential prey to the pack’s whereabouts and scare the evening’s dinner away. Pups and adolescents in the wild have not yet learned the necessity of quiet hunting and may bark at inappropriate times. When adolescents accompany their elders on a hunt and sound off unnecessarily, a dominant wolf will place his mouth over the pup’s muzzle, firmly but without actually biting, and issue a soft growl that can only be heard nearby. The young canine understands this signal and gets quiet quickly.
Have you ever lived in a neighborhood where a nearby dog barks incessantly? Where relaxing chores like watering your garden or refilling your hummingbird feeder is interrupted by aggressive snarling, growling and barking? Where the neighbor’s dog rushes the fence when you walk by and you’re sure he would attack if there wasn’t a barrier? If you have, you know what a nuisance it is. But what would you do about it?
I posed the question to my friends and fellow animal lovers. The answers were thoughtful, helpful and sometimes silly but offer a variety of ways to deal with the problem. Here are some of the responses:
Diane at CANIDAE said: “I have problems with this all the time. My solution usually involves squirting water over the fence when the dog is barking. If I’m lucky I actually get the dog wet. Usually this stops the barking. Of course I try to make sure the owner isn’t home at the time I do this. LOL! After a while, the dog gets conditioned to stop barking when he hears me open the patio slider and only needs a “reminder” once in a while. Of course, this isn’t the best way to deal with the barking and it doesn’t work with small dogs because they are a smaller target.”
Many people report success with distractions including squirting water (like Diane), sounding an air horn or rattling a tin can full of pennies when the dog barks.
Another friend of mine, Charles, lives beside a barking dog. He says: “Our next door neighbor’s dogs bark a lot, but they are not aggressive. Because the neighbors are very nice people, we just tolerate it.”
Caren offers this response: “Depends on what kind of fence it is. If it is a chain link fence, I’d build my own privacy fence to run alongside it – so I wouldn’t have to see the dog every day.”
My beagle/terrier mix loves to bark, especially when she’s outside. If it moves, Alex barks and once she starts, there’s apparently no “off” button. Some breeds bark more than others, and beagles are among them. You can yell at a barking dog until you’re blue in the face and they may stop briefly – but usually start in again. This problem behavior isn’t entirely their fault, however. We have to accept our role in their unacceptable barking if we don’t teach them what we want them to learn. It’s not that difficult to do, but you have to commit to teaching them, and it can take some time to get your dog to stop barking.
One thing dogs do well is vocalize. They alert us to intruders or danger by using their voice. Happy yaps say your dog is having fun playing. Some dogs bark to let us know when they see something interesting, and barking lets other animals know they have been seen. Dogs bark when they’re lonely, bored, feel threatened or stressed, for attention, or when they don’t get enough mental or physical exercise.
A barking dog is annoying, especially to neighbors. Most people understand if a dog has a reason to bark, but yapping constantly is likely to get you a visit from the local police if your neighbors complain. In some cases, you may be asked to leave an apartment or rental home if you can’t contain your dog’s barking.
One reason a dog might end up in a shelter is because their owner didn’t understand why they did certain things, such as bark excessively. Dogs bark when they’re playing, bored, alerting us to danger or because they want attention. Separation anxiety and barking for attention are two different things, but both need to be dealt with before the barking gets out of hand.
There are a variety of reasons why a dog might develop separation anxiety, which I explained in my article “Is it Separation Anxiety, or Something Else?” Barking to get attention is more like the child who keeps tugging on his mom’s arm while she’s talking to someone else. If Mom stops talking and pays attention to the child, an onlooker might say the child is spoiled. Dogs that bark to get attention are also classified as being spoiled. I agree that you can’t allow your dog to try and manipulate your attention by constantly barking. However, referring to a dog or child as being spoiled links behavioral problems to a word that can be offensive to some and often is not true about either the child or the dog.
Dogs learn what we teach them, and we teach them a lot even when we don’t know it. Small dogs can easily become attention-getting barkers because they are small and it’s easy to pick up your small dog when he’s standing with his paws on your leg or lap and barks to get your attention. He learns the way to get your attention is to jump up and bark and you will pick him up. Some dogs bark when they are outside and can’t see their owner. The difference between barking for attention and separation anxiety can be seen in their body language and in the sound of their bark.
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