Why do dogs bark and not howl?

Answered by Jarrod Smith

Dogs bark and not howl for several reasons. While howling is a natural form of communication for dogs, similar to their wild relatives, the wolves, barking is a behavior that we have inadvertently taught them to communicate with us. Understanding the reasons behind a dog’s barking can help us address the behavior effectively.

1. Communication: Howling is a way for dogs to communicate with other dogs over long distances. It serves as a means of social bonding and signaling their presence. On the other hand, barking is primarily a means of communication between dogs and humans. Dogs have learned that barking can grab our attention and elicit a response. They may bark to alert us, seek attention, or express their needs.

2. Reinforcement: Dogs learn behaviors that are reinforced, either positively or negatively. If a dog barks and receives attention, such as being petted or spoken to, they learn that barking can bring about a desired outcome. This positive reinforcement encourages them to bark more in the future. Similarly, if a dog barks and their owner scolds or punishes them, this can also reinforce the behavior, although in a negative way.

3. Anxiety and Fear: Dogs may bark when they feel anxious or afraid. It can be their way of expressing discomfort or trying to defend themselves. For example, a dog may bark when encountering a stranger or in unfamiliar situations. It’s essential to address the underlying anxiety or fear to help reduce excessive barking.

4. Territoriality: Dogs are naturally territorial animals, and barking can be a way of protecting their perceived territory. They may bark to warn intruders, whether it’s another dog, a person, or even a perceived threat like a squirrel. Training and socialization can help dogs understand appropriate boundaries and reduce excessive territorial barking.

5. Boredom or Attention-Seeking: Dogs are social animals that require mental and physical stimulation. If they are bored or lack sufficient exercise and interaction, they may resort to barking to relieve their pent-up energy or seek attention from their owners. Ensuring dogs receive enough physical exercise, mental enrichment, and quality time with their owners can help reduce excessive barking.

6. Breed Tendencies: Different dog breeds have varying tendencies to bark. Some breeds, like Beagles or Terriers, were historically bred for hunting and may have a stronger inclination to bark. Understanding breed tendencies can help owners manage and address barking behavior more effectively.

To address excessive barking, it is crucial to determine the underlying cause. Positive reinforcement training methods, such as teaching an alternative behavior like “quiet” or “speak” on command, can be effective. Additionally, addressing any underlying anxiety or fear through behavior modification techniques or seeking professional help from a certified dog trainer or behaviorist can be beneficial.

Dogs bark instead of howling because barking has become their learned behavior to communicate with humans. Understanding the reasons behind their barking, such as communication, reinforcement, anxiety, territoriality, boredom, or breed tendencies, can help us address the behavior appropriately. By providing proper training, socialization, mental stimulation, and addressing any underlying issues, we can help reduce excessive barking and promote better communication between dogs and humans.