I often hear this from clients, and certainly have a dog who thoroughly enjoys a good bark. So why do some dogs seem to bark without an end in sight, driving us all a little bit crazy? I think a maybe even better question is,
"What is the function of barking?"
Barking is something humans selected dogs for. Wolves do not bark in the way dogs do, we selectively bred Canids that tended toward barking because they were useful for alarming when something or someone was coming near.
So one of the reasons dogs bark in the first place is genetics. Along those lines, not all breeds, and therefore genes within those breeds, are created the same. Some breeds were created to bark more (beagles, herding breeds-my trusty cattle dog sidekick will attest passionately to the health benefits of a good solid barking session...), and some breeds were selected not to bark at all ( Basenji).
So reason #1 your dog may be a barker is genetics. Barking is going to be something you want in a guard dog, or a dog that needs to tell cattle to MOVE IT. So we can't really blame dogs for being who they are! We just need to figure out where our communication went wrong - how are we telling our dogs to bark more, bark longer, bark louder? Because it isn't normal for a dog to not be able to stop barking.
Often times when there is a commotion outside your house your dog will bark to alert you of potential danger. We have to respect how they feel right? They might think there is a real live monster out there! Most of the time if we just take the time to acknowledge what our dog barked at, by having a look outside and letting them no there is no threat- the barking magically disappears. Sometimes it just feels good to be heard and acknowledged! As I am sure you can relate.
Another reason, your dog may be unable to stop barking is anxiety. Unfortunately we often don't give our dogs this emotion, even though it is one they can certainly experience. Anxiety is one of the number one things that will cause your dog to bark incessantly and without apparent end. When your dog starts barking an unnatural amount this is a sign of imbalance. So it really bodes well for us to be compassionate to our dogs when they are undergoing incessant barking and figure out how we can help them learn to calm down(see calmness training on my site). Often times we think barking is the problem, when really it is the symptom of a greater problem- which is typically anxiety, insecurity, fear, or a variety of other emotions that cause your dog to feel like he physically, emotionally, and mentally cannot stop barking.
It can be a hard pill to swallow, that at certain times, if your dog is triggered beyond their threshold to handle, they will literally be incapable of calming down enough to stop barking. I imagine it feels somewhat like a panic attack. They get into a fight or flight state and don't know how to regulate or manage their emotions. We have to teach them how to regulate their emotions.
It can set us off to.Incessant barking, or an over reaction on our dog's part can cause us embarrassment, and frustration. Understandably so! It can be really difficult to explain to someone that scolding your anxiously barking dog is only going to make it worse, and actually letting it go is the best way to deal with it at that moment. I always find the canine human dynamic fascinating though. In cases like this, we start to see how we react.
How do we show up for our dogs when they are having a melt down?
This is why mindfulness practices can be so helpful for communicating with your dog. How can we understand them when we don't see how we "talk" to them. If every time they voice their distress our response is to shut them down we are creating a pretty unhealthy relationship. And yet, it's the awareness of how we react that we need. Not the judgement. We can all improve, but if we sit and judge ourselves all day long we can't get anywhere. So become aware of how you react, and try to manage that once you see it. Judge free zone, we are all improving and our dogs are always guiding us gracefully there.
So there are a lot of reasons why your dog may barks incessantly. However, I invite you to become aware of how you react to your dog's barking and acknowledge what they might be communicating to you. Are they alerting you? Are they defensive? Fearful? Over stimulated? Getting to the root of the communication is key, and if you need help you know where to find me!
Your barking dog just might be the most dutiful mindful guardian you will ever have! Keeping you present, focused, and aware of who you are, and how you are in the world. Please share any questions or comments you may have and thank you for reading!