Why Do Dogs Bark at Other Dogs?
Facts are facts: Dogs are going to bark. But understanding why dogs bark at other dogs can help you decode their behavior and quiet their canine chattiness.
Here’s a two-word sentence that will come as news to absolutely no one: Dogs bark. Barking is a totally normal dog behavior that helps pups communicate, and it signals a wide range of meanings and emotions. It’s as natural for dogs as speech is for humans. Except that humans (mostly) know when to be quiet. And while we can train puppies and dogs to do tricks and stop peeing in the house, getting them to stop barking can be a challenge. It may be especially difficult when they bark at their fellow four-legged friends—which begs the question: Why do dogs bark at other dogs?
The fact is, a pup yapping excessively each time another dog walks by your yard or enters the dog park can be annoying, embarrassing and potentially disruptive to your neighbors. With that in mind, we asked a dog-training pro to answer our burning question: Why do dogs bark at other dogs in the first place? Once you understand that, you can put this expert advice into practice to stop your dog from barking.
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Why do dogs bark at other dogs?
According to Trevor Smith, a certified dog trainer with Pupford, dogs bark at each other for a variety of reasons. “But mainly,” he says, “dogs use barking as their primary communication tool to express their needs. When dogs bark at other dogs, it is often an attempt to fulfill their desires or provoke a response.”
Feel like you need a decoder ring to translate canine chitter-chatter? In the face of another dog, your furry pals may be barking for one or more of the following reasons.
They’re being playful
A dog on a leash may bark at other dogs to try to engage in play. He’s essentially calling the other dog, trying to get it to join in the fun. If you’re at the dog park and know your dog generally plays well with others, now’s the time to let him off-leash so he can engage in some positive playtime.
They’re being defensive
A dog barking at another dog may not be all fun and games. If your loyal companion senses a (real or imagined) threat to either himself or his family members (human, canine or otherwise), he may emit a bark that essentially says, “Back off, buddy.”
They’re being aggressive
Is your dog the playground bully? A dog that aggressively barks at other dogs may or may not ever get to the point where he can play with other dogs. For some pups, the aggression is based on fear. Others just aren’t friendly with other dogs.
They want to join the pack
Dogs are pack animals, and your little furball may want to join his fellow canines when he encounters them. If your dog comes upon a new group of dogs—say, at the dog park or in some other social setting—he may bark or even howl to get their attention. It’s his way of asking to join the pack.
They’re feeling anxious
Your dog may be anxious by nature, and being around other dogs, especially barking dogs, may heighten his sensitivity. And he may respond with his primary communication tool: barking. These tips for calming an anxious dog will help.
How to stop your dog from barking at other dogs
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There’s a reason so many pet parents take to the internet wondering (and maybe pleading) “Why do dogs bark at other dogs?” Dealing with a dog whose barking develops into a persistent and negative behavior pattern can be frustrating, says Smith. But with time and patience, most dog-barking issues can be managed and modified.
“In the context of barking training,” he says, “it is crucial to acknowledge that at its core, a dog is merely responding to a stimulus that has caught its attention. When the dog sees another dog, it captures his attention, and he communicates by barking.” Over time, a pattern is formed. “To change this pattern, pet parents must address it in the same manner.”
Expose them to other dogs
Smith suggests exposing your dog to situations in which he encounters the stimulus, such as another dog. But do it in a way that sets your pup up for success.
“For instance, if you observe your dog barking at another dog in the park from a distance of 10 feet, take a step back to a distance of 30 feet, or an appropriate distance that allows your dog to remain calm without barking while still being exposed to the stimuli,” he says. “Reward them with high-value treats when they don’t bark, and do not reprimand them when they bark. Repeat this process and gradually decrease the distance while adjusting accordingly, until the barking response is minimal. You can practice this during walks, at the dog park or wherever your dog constantly barks at others.”
Remove them from the situation
We’re all for letting dogs be dogs. Who doesn’t want man’s best friend to be a happy, well-socialized animal? But if the dog park or the regular route you walk your pooch becomes fraught with stress for both of you, it’s time to change course—literally. Take a different route, one you know has fewer dogs. And if need be, skip the dog park altogether.
Learn to decode your dog’s barks
Understanding your dog’s behavior means translating his barks and body language so you can determine what he’s “asking” for. If your dog’s facial expression, tail position and barking indicate he’s feeling playful or wants to join the pack, the solution to stopping him from barking may be to let him play or socialize with other pups in an environment where he feels safe.
In contrast, Smith says that if your dog barks out of extreme fear of other dogs, you should give him more distance from them. “Training should be conducted with ample patience,” he says. “By consistently providing love and positive reinforcement, your furry friend will learn which behaviors are rewarded, avoid those that receive no rewards and become comfortable in situations where they encounter the disrupting stimuli.”
Distract and keep moving
If you’re out for a walk and your dog starts to bark at another dog, a simple solution may be your best bet: Pick up your pace. Keep control of your dog, and swiftly walk past or away from the other dogs, calling your puppy’s name and praising him as he complies. As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind!
Consider a doggy training class
Your dog’s barking issues may call for professional intervention in the form of one-on-one obedience training or a group dog-training class. Group classes are a great way to get him used to being around other dogs. If you can’t do in-person classes, online behavioral courses, like those offered by Smith at Pupford, can help you and your pooch prepare for the dog park and other social settings.
What to do if your dog won’t stop barking at other dogs
If your furry friend just won’t quit barking at other doggos, Smith offers the following pro tips:
- Check with your vet. Your dog may be in pain, or there may be some other underlying health issues causing him to bark. “Check for any medical causes with a trip to the vet,” says Smith. “Better safe than sorry!”
- Keep your cool. If you get anxious when your dog won’t stop barking, he’s going to sense your anxiety and probably bark even more. “Stay cool as a cucumber,” says Smith, “and create some distance from those other pups to ease [your dog’s] excitement.”
- Stick to a plan. Oftentimes, DIY dog training fails because owners don’t stick with it. The same is true for training a nuisance barker. “Keep the training game strong, using those cool commands and positive reinforcement, like a treat ninja,” Smith says.
- Call a trainer. “If the barking bug still won’t buzz off, call in the pros,” he says. “A certified trainer or behaviorist can work magic and guide you through the ‘ruff’ patches. Remember, patience and love will help you and your pup win the battle of the barks!”
By now, you should be able to confidently answer “Why do dogs bark at each other?” But do you know why your dog is munching on your lawn? Don’t worry—we won’t leave you hanging. Here are seven reasons your dog is eating grass.
About the expert
- Trevor Smith is a passionate dog lover, pet parent and dog trainer with Pupford. He’s the owner of Doggie Dojo, an online educational dog-training platform. As a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Certified Canine Fitness Trainer, he has been educating and training dogs for more than two decades.