Raise your hand if you ever hoped there was a canine translation book that could decipher everything your dog said when barking. Truth is, vocal communication in the dog world is only a piece of the puzzle. In order to understand what Scruffy is trying to say, you will need to look at the whole picture, and that includes the context in which the barking behavior is taking place and your dog's accompanying body language.
Barking when there is something or somebody by your property is one of the most common forms of barking. In this case, should Scruffy be barking and trying to get your attention, he may be simply trying to alert you of something unusual. However, if his barking is accompanied by growling, lunging towards the fence and an intimidating posture, he may be trying to take the whole matter in his own hands in hopes of scaring the intruder away, just as a person saying, "Get off of my property or else."
If your dog is barking in a high pitched tone while keeping his rump in the air, elbows lowered and tail wagging, he may be inviting you or another dog to play. This play-bow stance is common among dogs and it's quite a universal message in the canine world. "Let's have fun" seems to be the ultimate statement behind this form of barking. Once the dogs initiate play, the loud, excited barking may then accompany the whole play session. Another form of happy barking is when your dog greets you, tail wagging and barking excitedly, almost to say, "Hello and welcome back."
Did you know that one of the best ways to train a dog to bark on command is by creating frustration? In this case, the dog is barking because he sees something he would love to have, but is upset he can't get to it. Try playing with a toy, making it appealing and then hiding it behind your bark. Your dog may start barking as if saying, "That's not fair, give it back to me." The same form of barking takes place when a dog spots a squirrel running up a tree and can't get to it or when he sees a playmate behind a fence and cannot interact with him.
Leave your dog all day in the yard with nothing to do, and most likely he will bark his head off. The noise of bored, lonely dogs is the most common cause for neighbor complaints. These dogs are often unhappy and simply wish to be entertained and inside the home with you. Dogs who hate being left alone may also engage in solitary howling sessions in hopes of reuniting with you. In severe cases of separation anxiety, the mournful howls may be accompanied by pacing, inappropriate elimination and destructive behaviors.
You may have noticed small dogs barking at much larger dogs, and the closer the other dog gets, the louder and more intimidating the barks. As much as that barking episode may appear as a bold move, in reality these barks are for a good part based on fear. Dogs may also bark when something startles them, such as an unusual sight or sound. This bark is almost as if the dogs were saying, "Oh my, that stranger with that odd hat scared the living daylights out of me."
This form of barking has a history of reinforcement. If your dog is craving some attention and as soon as he barks you look at him, touch him or talk to him even to tell him to shush, your dog may be content simply because you gave him just what he wanted. Attention in any way, either positive or negative, fuels this form of barking. Your dog may also employ this type of barking to try to score table scraps, as if he were saying, "I'm here, can't you see me? Now give me a piece of that juicy steak!"
At times, certain forms of barking are more difficult to decipher than others. Compulsive barking is triggered by a behavioral problem known as compulsive disorder. Affected dogs will bark almost non-stop as a broken record and it may be difficult to disengage them. At times, this behavior is accompanied by restless back and forth pacing by the fence, tail chasing or walking in circles. This behavior may arise for no obvious reason at all or it may be caused by stress, boredom or anxiety.
Social Facilitated Barks
Have you ever heard a cacophony of barks, almost as if dogs were singing together in a chorus? In this case, the act of barking appears to almost be contagious. The phenomenon of a dog engaging in a behavior that draws others dogs into performing the same behavior is known as social facilitation and is seen mainly in social animals.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.