What did you say? Figuring out canine communication.

“He’s a great dog, but how do I get him to stop barking all the time?”

I have addressed this question before, but I want to approach it differently now because the “great dog” referred to above was barking for specific reasons, and it is important in this and many other cases to make sure that if we are punishing something it is the correct course of action and we are not accidentally punishing good communication.

For example, this little dog was barking out of fear. I watched as a larger dog approached, and before any barking started, the little dog stiffened, turned his head away and ever so slightly bared his teeth. The larger dog saw these indicators, and hesitated, but her handler kept moving them toward the little dog who then started barking and lunging.


Had we punished the little dog’s barking then by grabbing his muzzle or yanking on the leash or worse, we would have reinforced his fear that the big dog meant bad news. A better course of action would be to move little dog to a safe distance and reward him for being calm and watching the big dog walk around. Rewarding this type of behavior will make it increase. He won’t feel the need to bark and lunge as he learns that the other dog being in sight makes good things happen.  Gradually we can move closer, or have the other dog try to approach again, watching for little dog to give those body language signals that he is okay or feeling uncomfortable.

I will never ever punish a growl—I say that all the time. A growl is excellent communication from a dog that he or she is feeling anxious or upset. Other dogs know this, and usually respect it if they are properly socialized, so people really need to get on board. If your dog is growling, I will just say “Thanks for letting me know,” and then I back off. When the growl is punished (which by nature means it will go down in frequency or disappear), the dog has no other choice but to snap or bite.

So back to little dog and all the barking:  remember that punishment has major consequences. Figure out if the dog is trying to tell you something like “I don’t like people approaching the front door.” “I need to go outside to relieve myself or burn off some energy.” “I am hungry and I can smell that pizza in the oven.”  From there you can make a more informed decision whether the barking needs punishment with a time-out, redirection with something else for the dog to do, or if you need to address the dog’s emotional state.