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Beyond The Bark

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Beyond The Bark                                                                                By:  Jodie Fitzgerald

Barking is one of the most common complaints people have about dogs.

Learning and understanding why dogs bark can offer insight into the dogs’ experience and opens the door to solutions that will support dogs and foster your relationship with them.

We, as humans, all talk and communicate in different voices, different animations, with different energy.  All the time.  Dogs bark for a variety of reasons at different levels of sound, intensity, and energy. 

 It  all depends on what is going on for the dog at that time. What the dog is trying to achieve with the bark, what the dog has learned when barking (something moves away), and what the dog is meaning by the bark. 

It is so important to acknowledge that there is a reason the dog is barking. 

Dogs don’t just have this incredible plan to bark their heads off at the worst times. Like as soon as you get on the phone or when you are going out, or just barking forever out the window at nothing. Just to drive you crazy. No, They are communicating something. 

We need to first acknowledge that there IS something that they are noticing or paying attention to and that it is very real to the dog.

If we just shut it off by blocking or putting a wall, or even training to redirect, without acknowledging, without letting the dog KNOW that YOU know when he or she sees, smells, hears or even senses something, we are not helping the dog to process that part of his or her world.

I can only imagine how frustrating it would be.  Especially with the breed traits in our dogs.  The Jack Russell Terrier who sees squirrels outside and barks, and then is not allowed to look out that window anymore is going to feel very frustrated and even confused.  His GENETIC JOB is to chase and catch little critters, and now, he still KNOWS they are out there but he is not allowed to even see them or deal with all the energy and feelings he has about his important job of getting the squirrels. 

There are a number of ways that will help a dog in a situation like this: 

Talking about it will 100% help. Give it a name.

Let the dog know you see it too. Say “I See that squirrel too!”

Plan opportunities to sit and calmly talk with your dog in front of the window.

Learn and practice a calming mindset for your dog.

Many dogs are alarm systems, barking is just baked in their genetics. When we acknowledge whatever the dog is barking at (even if it seems like nothing) our dogs feel supported in what they are experiencing, even if we don’t fully understand.

We can let them know they did a good job by letting us know that we have been officially notified (by the dog) and help them understand it is an ok object in the world.  “Good Job, let's go play” or do something else fun. 

When you start by calmly acknowledging that the dog is barking at something, give it a simple fun name or label, and just support the dog in those moments, dogs will often start to look to you for your support at those times! Try it, it works.

If we don’t help dogs by acknowledging something that has their attention, it can leave dogs frustrated, unsure, and confused.  They can have increased feelings of anxiety and insecurity that will increase barking and reactive behaviour.

Another way to help dogs not spend excessive time barking is by providing enrichment to their daily routine.  Enrichment can offer a release of the dog’s energy in a positive way that will make any dog feel better by thinking and engaging in dog activities and games.

Letting a dog sniff and search, simply by spreading out some treats or kibble, is a great way to have a dog that is too tired and satisfied to pay as much attention to the squirrels out the window or the people walking by. 

When we are open to the dog’s experience, and willing to learn how to support their needs, we are able to help dogs thrive and create amazing relationships with our best friends. 

Jodie Fitzgerald


December 2023

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