Why Does My Dog Bark at Other Dogs?
You take your dog for a walk and across the street he spots the neighbor's German shepherd. Your dog slows his pace, his ears prick up, his tail begins to rise up and wag, and then a boom of loud woofs erupts. You struggle to keep walking because he is determined to stand there and bark for as long as possible. This continues until your dog can no longer see the neighbor dog, but you know that as soon as his eyes land on that Golden retriever ahead of you, it will happen again. So what gives? Is your dog unfriendly? Scared or anxious? Or does he just think every dog he sees is a new opportunity to warm up his vocal chords?
Barking is a complex series of behaviors that serves myriad functions. Dogs bark at new people, at fast-moving creatures, and, yes, at other dogs. Not every barking dog has real intent other than to say "hello," and the context, frequency, and intensity of your dog's barks are critical factors in determining why your dog feels the need to be vocal. (And her ability to communicate this way is one way to make sure she is a happy pupper.) It's important to pay close attention to your dog's body language whenever she starts to "yell." Without being there to witness it, a behavior expert can't say with 100% certainty why your dog is barking at other dogs in every situation. However these are the most common reasons I explain to clients why a dog may bark at other dogs.
Dogs are wonderfully social creatures who want to engage in the world around them. A dog that barks may do so to gain the attention of another dog, initiating an opportunity to greet (sniff, sniff!) or play. If your dog has a buddy in your neighborhood and they've had previous fun play sessions together, he may bark anytime he sees his canine pal. If you have a puppy that's just learning how to communicate with other dogs, she may bark to initiate some type of engagement or contact. Many dogs will bark upon hearing other dogs bark, sometimes creating a neighborhood symphony of woofs!
If your dog's body language includes a loose body posture, relaxed and open mouth, and play-initiating behaviors such as play bows and a bouncy gait, it's likely that her barking is social in nature and nothing to be concerned about.
RELATED: Why Does My Dog Howl?
Reactivity is an overreaction to external stimuli, such as other dogs. Fear, distress, and past experiences impact doggie behavior significantly. When a dog is uncomfortable he may bark intensely as a reaction to that discomfort. In other cases, the dog is so excited that he has trouble controlling his emotions (as in the case of the social dogs mentioned above).
Unfortunately, dogs who are barking out of frustration at not being able to greet or play can get so agitated that over time they start to feel upset at the sight of other dogs. The barking you see may appear alongside other reactive behaviors such as lunging. This can look like aggression, but that's not always the case. Some dogs are barking because they are having big feelings and don't know a better way to express them.
Some barking is a strong reaction to something the dog finds scary. That may mean another dog in certain cases. With aggressive barking, the goal is to get that scary thing to go away or to not come any closer.
Dogs that have not been properly socialized or have had bad experiences with other dogs are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors, such as barking, snarling, or growling. When a dog is forced into scenarios he doesn't want to be in, such as a busy dog park with off-leash dogs running towards him, aggressive barking is a natural and understandable response to an uncomfortable situation.
If you're concerned about your dog's intense barking, especially if it appears reactive or aggressive in nature, seek the help of a certified animal behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist.
Frustration can be involved in barking, too. Frustration is a pretty broad category that can happen in all sorts of situations and for lots of reasons. Commonly, dogs are frustrated by restraint, whether that be the restraint of a leash, a fence, being inside a house (looking out a window), or just physical distance (from across a street). This can sometimes be called barrier frustration and some dogs experience this in conjunction with reactivity. The lack of access to the thing they are interested in (like another dog) can lead to frustration behaviors like intensified barking. Sometimes frustration can also come from confusion; your dog may bark if they have trouble understanding a situation, not knowing what to do—or what you want them to do—or the intent of another dog.
Since frustration can lead to reactive or even aggressive behavior in time (as mentioned above), it's important to address it early. Fortunately, frustration is often something you can handle with just simple management. For instance, if your dog barks at other dogs from the window, close the curtains or put a baby gate around the window so they cannot access the area or see out.
How to Deal With Excessive Barking
Positive reinforcement training sessions can teach your dog to offer other behaviors in place of barking. This is a great way to lessen frustration and keep your dog content and happy (and your house a bit more quiet). Consider working with a certified dog trainer experienced in differential reinforcement to get you started.
Whether your puppy is barking at other pups in kindergarten class or your distinguished adult is showing off his vocal abilities during dog walks, dogs bark and need to be able to bark to be their best doggie selves. Barking is a natural, functionally rich doggie behavior, but it can be concerning when it comes with other intense behaviors directed towards other dogs. It's important to consider the situation when you find your pooch is being extra noisy around other canines and work to figure out whether the action is normal or calls for intervention from a professional.