Pet Peeves: Why Is That Dog Barking So Much?

A brief episode on Ventura Boulevard offers a reminder that dogs don't mean to irritate; they mean to communicate.

I'm at a swanky Studio City eatery. I'm enjoying the perfect soup, crispy salad with just the right tang, and the almost famous crowd all around, dressed provocatively and colorfully.


A dog at a table across the patio is letting everyone have an earful.


The grisly man across from me shouts back, "Why are you barking so much!"

And, of course, the answer is a little complicated, because dogs don't use our language. They use theirs, which needs some patience and understanding.

(It's hard to find a lot of patience and understanding when your luncheon bill will top a hundred bucks, and your date is starting to sour on this experience. This could mean trouble later!)

Let's have a quick lesson in barking; then I'll describe this particular situation and see if you can all be dog trainers and solve the public situation puzzle. Okay?

Reasons Dogs Bark (and A Few Simple Tips):

1. They are lonely. They are bored.

This can cover a lot of turf. Let's start with Separation Anxiety: Dogs are pack animals. If you live alone with your dog, you are the pack. The worst punishment in wolf packs or dog packs is isolation. When the ultimate punishment is executed by the pack, the wolf becomes a lone wolf--worse for them than the death penalty.

There are tricks to learn for lessening this anxiety, like not making a big fuss when you re-enter or when you leave, allowing about five minutes to quietly do your thing and not speak to Fido.

Plain old loneliness can mean a dog has lost patience in his or her pack returning. It borders on fear, rejection, anxiety, and despair. This sometimes sounds like a howling bark.

Boredom? Sure, if there is nobody to play with, nothing to play with, or the world is simply not planned around dog life, they can feel empty and they bark in frustration. This can sound loud and aggressive, perhaps building in aggressiveness as nothing interesting is added to its yard, existence, apartment, etc. This also turns into a howl over time, which can mean hours of barking, partly to express frustration and partly to hear something interesting to him.

Lots of things can help this. A bird is good. A bed covered in shirts or sheets or socks that smell like you. A radio, a talking TV show or DVD on loop which has conversation. (Contrary to cult belief, dogs don't enjoy shows with lots of dogs in them. They can hear the other dogs but can't smell them, and that is confusing and eventually may lead to even worse barking.)

2. They are afraid. They are startled. They are unsure.

I don't think this needs further explanation.

3. They want attention.

Ditto. (But training a dog to expect a regular return of the pack, positive reinforcements in their set up, and enough attention on morning and evening walks, romps in the park with tennis balls, hikes on trails will all lead to a dog which is satisfied, ultimately, and not so needy.)

4.They are setting boundaries with intruders, establishing or maintaining territory.

Dogs can become territorial quickly, defining space at the end of your leash, at the end of your table, within an imaginary boundary from your car, etc.

Perhaps they are saying, "That's close enough!" Or, in the case of burglars, "This is MY house; get out!"

5. Happy barks for playfulness, return of the pack, delight at a new game, pleasant surprises, etc.

6. Compulsive Barks. This can be any combination of boredom/loneliness/ anxiety from separation. Sometimes owners accidentally train a dog into constant barking by unintentional reinforcement—like picking up and petting their dog every time it barks and saying, "Good boy. It's okay."

Now, after this rudimentary glance at some of the major reasons for barking, here is the scene around the dog's table...

A) The owner carried the dog into the patio area.

B) Then the owner, an elegantly dressed lady, petted her pup when it snapped at a waiter passing them upon entering the patio area.

C) The lady tied the ornamented and dressed-up pup to her table so tighly that it couldn't even lie down.

D) She bent over, kissing the dog, scratching it, rubbing its nose. The dog did not seem pleased or reassured.

E) Then the lady disappeared for twenty minutes.

Now it's time for you to solve the mystery. Combine the reasons above. Make up your own diagnosis. What do you think the dog is trying to say? Is the dog simply a nuisance, or is its owner a few simple steps away from bringing peace to our meal?

Remember: No train? No gain.

Don Helverson July 18, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Thank you, Mattey's Mom and Miki, for commenting. Most people are emailing me their feedback, so I'll share, so far, that comments include: "The dog was tortured from not being allowed to lie down," and "Twenty minutes is too long a long time to leave a dog alone in a public place—what about dog thieves?" "The dog was barking from loneliness; all dressed up but unable to lie down? Unconscionable!" "The dog was bored from neglect, and was barking to get attention." "Her Fifi was all dressed up, but had nowhere to go..." "I think the barking was compulsive, a combination of things because the owner did so many things wrong." Good insights all.
Jan July 18, 2012 at 05:56 PM
I think the dog wanted attention! I find that if I acknowledge my dog when he barks, he calms down. I try to remove him from a place or situation that makes him bark
Don Helverson July 20, 2012 at 03:41 AM
Good, Jan, attention is definitely part of the puzzle. Sounds like you are in harmony with your dog in relation to barking. There is, of course, the technique of teaching your dog to bark on command, which also teaches them to stop on command.
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