Barking to get something good to happen
Dogs can learn that barking is great way of quickly getting our attention. Even us telling them to be quiet may be rewarding, because they enjoy being looked at and spoken to.
Other dogs may learn to bark at their mealtimes, usually when their food is being prepared. Because who doesn’t get excited when someone is making them a delicious meal?
If their food is given to them when they’re barking, they’re likely to bark again next time because they have connected barking with their food arriving.
Just as some dogs get excited around food, others can’t get enough of playtime. If barking results in a fun game, they may learn to bark every time they want us to play with them.
Barking when left alone
Dogs that are distressed about being left alone may howl or bark to try to get back to their owners.
Dogs are naturally social animals. But most owners have commitments that mean their dogs might be left at home alone during the day. Some owners also prefer for their dogs to sleep in a separate area of the house.
Unless your dog has been taught that being alone is an okay part of life, this can be scary or frustrating.
If you return home when your dog is barking, your dog might feel that barking was a good thing to do because it worked to bring you home.
Simply ignoring your dog’s barking when left alone, and waiting for them to stop before returning, will not stop them barking because it doesn’t change the way they feel about being on their own.
Teaching your pooch to relax when left alone is a vital step in stopping them from barking when you’re not around.
Barking to prevent something bad from happening
When your dog is frightened about something and feels under threat, whether the threat is real or not, they might bark at whatever is scaring them to make it go away.
If barking works to get rid of the scary thing, your dog will learn to bark again next time they want to feel safe.
For example, some dogs may be frightened by the post person coming up the path and pushing letters through the door.
If they started barking as the post-person arrived, they might connect their barking with them turning and walking away.
Your dog has no way of understanding that they were going to go leave anyway, so barking seems to do the trick.
Dogs who are worried about something nearby might also bark to ‘tell us’ that this ‘thing’ is present, because they need us to take action to help them feel safe. It could be something they’ve seen, heard, felt or smelt, and something that we might not be aware of at all.