Barking is a normal part of how dogs communicate.
The bark can mean many different things but when it is excessive or at times you find it inappropriate then it can be a very annoying canine behavior.
There are a lot of negative consequences to barking that includes angry neighbors, decreased sleep, eviction, frustration, getting kicked out of rental units, anger or even legal action.
Barking at strangers is one of the poor dog behaviors that lead to dogs being given up for adoption, abandoned, rehomed or even euthanized. Barking dogs can also suffer from abuse.
Before evaluating excessive barking, let’s look at why do dogs bark.
Why Dogs Bark
The bark is one type of vocalization made by dogs, and others being howling and whining. The bark is a way dogs vocally communicate. Barking is normal. The bark can mean many different things depending on the context. A bark can communicate “hello”, “I missed you”, “a danger is near”, “I feel threatened”, “I’m lonely”, I heard something”, “where are you”, “stay away”, or “I’m scared” or “let’s play!”
Some dogs are more vocal and bark more frequently than others. This can vary by breed and by the dog.
Barking can be acceptable or even good unless it is excessive. Then it is considered a behavioral problem. It is important to determine the underlying cause of the excessive barking to best deal with the problem.
Some dogs bark due to separation anxiety, to receive attention, as part of their play behavior, to communicate needs such as “I have to go out” or “I want a treat”, medical problems, and as a reaction to specific stimuli such as noises, other dogs, other animals such as cats or wildlife, delivery people, and/or unfamiliar noises.
When a dog barks at strangers, it is generally an arousal response as a way to communicate an alert, a way to show fear, or as an act of protection. This bark can be reinforced by your behavior, by other dogs barking, or can even be self-reinforced as dogs will wind themselves up.
Dogs that bark at strangers can be demonstrating territorial barking. This type of barking can occur when your dog sees strangers as a possible threat. While a bark that communicates an alert may be ok, some dogs overdo it. This is especially true in dogs who are fearful and anxious as they tend to be more reactive. Dogs with fears and anxiety will often bark at just about anything and can take a while to settle down.
How to Stop – Barking at Strangers
Barking at strangers as alarm barking or territorial barking. Some tips on how to stop your dog barking at strangers.
- Wellness. Ensure your dog has a good wellness schedule. Ensure that he is physically getting everything he needs including good nutrition, flea and tick prevention, and recommended vaccinations to prevent disease. A healthy dog is a more content dog. Learn more about How to Promote Dog Wellness.
- Exercise. It is important that dogs get enough exercise. A healthy dog that gets exercise is generally healthy and has fewer behavioral problems. Learn about 8 Different Ways to Exercise Your Dog.
- Train. Dogs are pack dogs and respond to a leader. It is critical for you to be the pack leader to minimize behavioral issues in your home. If your dog knows basic commands such as come, sit, stay, you can also train “no bark”.
- Train No Bark. You can provide positive reinforcement to your dog for silence. You can do this by training “No bark” when there is barking and no stranger around. Next, have a stranger approach. As they do, the stranger stops in their tracks. When your dog stops barking, your dog gets a reward. This can take time but can be effective.
- To stop your dog from barking at strangers, let it bark 3-4 times, then stand over it and calmly give it the command, “Quiet.” Go to your dog and gently hold its muzzle closed with your hand and say “Quiet” again, then release its muzzle and step back.
- Negative Reinforcement. Although behaviorists prefer positive reinforcement for good behavior, some dogs do respond better to negative reinforcement. There are bark collars that spray citronella that can be a barking deterrent. There are also ultrasonic devices that automatically emit a sound only detectable by dogs in response to barking.
- Barriers. You can also create barriers such as cover windows, build a solid fence as options to prevent dogs from seeing the strangers and barking.
- Behaviorist. One very good option for dogs, especially those with barking and anxiety, is to seek the support and guidance of a trained veterinary behaviorist. This can help you identify triggers and support you in ways to help your individual situation.