5 reasons your dog barks ... and probably should

Neighbors may tag him a nuisance, but a barking dog is not always a bad thing. Yipping, baying, howling, and growling aren't always signs of ferocity or foibles. Often, canine vocalization is quite normal, or even helpful.

Dogs of all ages naturally communicate in a host of ways, from body language to barking. Certain canine breeds seem to be prone to loud vocalizations than others. Some canines are specifically bred to serve as watchdogs and trained to bark when necessary.

Each breed has its own bark. Beagles bark. Bloodhounds howl. Spitzen shriek. Fox hounds bay. Retrievers woof. Bassets bellow. Mixed-breed dogs make plenty of their own kinds of noise as well. What sound does your dog make?

Why do dogs bark?

Woofing may mean many things, including these five essential messages.

1. "I'm startled."

Dogs react instinctively to surprises, often to protect themselves or those they love. A sudden noise, such as a doorbell or ringing phone, may set off a series of barks from your pet, as he sounds the alert.

2. "My territory is threatened."

Maybe you think you own your house, or your name is on the lease where you live. But the dog sees things otherwise. The house and yard are his domain, and he will go to great lengths to protect his territory.

The mailman, meter reader, babysitter, Halloween trick-or-treater, Christmas carolers, and other friendly callers are likely to set him off. An unfamiliar parked car, a package on the porch, or even a waving flag may elicit protective barking.

Your vehicle is also your dog's domain, if you take him for a ride. Just ask anyone who tries to come too close.

3. "I need something."

A dog's bark may take several tones, which the attentive owner learns to recognize quickly. The "I'm in pain" sound is altogether different from the "I need to go outside to potty now," "I miss you already," "I'm bored and want to play," and "I'm hungry" ones.

4. "I'm seeking attention."

A dog may bark to call others to look at him. He may announce his arrival to a pack of fellow canines, or he may signal playtime to his owner. The attention-getting utterance may also mean he has found something interesting, such as a cat under the neck, a favorite toy or a squirrel on a low tree branch. Or he may simply be welcoming you home again.

5. "You said, 'Speak!'"

Dog trainers may actually teach dogs to bark, for show or practical purposes. A hunting dog, for example, calls out when the quarry has been found. Security dogs are expected to bark to deter break-ins.

Plenty of dog lovers rehearse barking with their dogs too, instructing their canines to speak on command and rewarding them with treats.

Excessive barking may be annoying to dog owners and others; although many dogs will stop their noise-making when their message has received a response. Canines who continually bark may require additional instruction to minimize this, for the sake of those around them.

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