Do Dogs Bark More as They Become Older?
Excessive barking is indeed one of the most apparent signs of aging in dogs. However, this is not true for all senior dogs. Some dogs continue to remain very calm and quiet even in old age.
On the other hand, some dogs start barking more often as they grow older because they start feeling confused, anxious, or frustrated, or start experiencing new pain or sensory problems (such as loss of vision or hearing).
All of these factors are typically more common with senior dogs and can lead to unusual and excessive barking.
If Your Old Dog is Barking Because They are in Pain
Excessive barking in older dogs which is due to discomfort or pain is upsetting for both of you. But with the range of medications and treatment options available for pets today, there’s really no need for your senior dog to be in pain on a regular basis.
If there’s a chronic condition (such as arthritis) that is causing Fido to hurt, discuss it with your veterinarian and get your dog the help they need to live comfortably. View our page on pain relief for senior dogs.
Your old dog may also be barking out of pain. An old dog’s body undergoes a fair degree of wear-and-tear over the years which can cause them pain and discomfort.
How to diagnose: A dog in pain will not always show signs, and it can be hard to decide if your dog is in pain or not. You might spot signs like limping or a mild gait change, a reluctance to move, lethargy, depression, or even aggression and other behavioral changes. While it could be their aging bones, it’s best to set up an appointment with your veterinarian to accurately diagnose the origin and cause of the pain.
Is it serious: Depending on the origin of the pain, the condition could be serious or something that is easily treated.
How to treat: Pain should be diagnosed by a vet first, and treated with prescription pain relief. In a senior dog, the risk of underlying issues is higher than in a younger pup. Also, you should never give any OTC medications to a dog without your vet’s explicit instructions. Many of these medications are toxic to dogs. Unfortunately, natural methods do not provide a reliable response, and when they do help, the effect is mild and usually takes several weeks to take effect. You may be inadvertently leaving your dog in pain if you try these before seeking professional help. Learn more about pain relief for older dogs.
Senior Dogs Habitual Behavior Problems
No one should expect a dog to never bark. Thatâs as unreasonable as expecting a child to never talk. But some dogs bark excessively. If thatâs a problem in your home, the first step is figuring out what causes your dog to bark too much. Once you know why they are barking, you can start to treat their barking problem.
Barking is one type of vocal communication that dogs use, and it can mean different things depending on the situation. Here are some reasons why dogs bark:
Territorial/Protective: When a person or an animal comes into an area your dog considers their territory, that often triggers excessive barking. As the threat gets closer, the barking often gets louder. Your dog will look alert and even aggressive during this type of barking.
Alarm/Fear: Some dogs bark at any noise or object that catches their attention or startles them. This can happen anywhere, not just in their home territory. Their ears will be back and tail tucked when they are in a state of fear.Â
Boredom/Loneliness: Dogs are pack animals. Dogs left alone for long periods, whether in the house or in the yard, can become bored or sad and often will bark because they are unhappy.
Greeting/Play: Dogs often bark when greeting people or other animals. Itâs usually a happy bark, accompanied with tail wags and sometimes jumping.
Attention Seeking: Dogs often bark when they want something, such as going outside, playing, or getting a treat.
Separation Anxiety/Compulsive Barking: Dogs with separation anxiety often bark excessively when left alone. They also usually exhibit other symptoms as well, such as pacing, destructiveness, depression, and inappropriate elimination. Compulsive barkers seem to bark just to hear the sound of their voices. They also often make repetitive movements as well, such as running in circles or along a fence.
Getting your dog to bark less will take time, work, practice, and consistency. It wonât happen overnight, but with proper techniques and time, you can see progress.
Here are a few tips to remember as you start your efforts to control your dogâs barking.
When your dog is barking, say âQuietâ in a calm, firm voice. Wait until they stop barking, even if itâs just to take a breath, then praise them and give them a treat. Just be careful to never reward them while they are barking. Eventually they will figure out that if they stop barking at the word âquietâ they get a treat (and make it a delicious treat, such as chicken, to make it worth more than the barking.)
Alternatively, you can teach your dog to âspeak; once they are doing that reliably, signal them to stop barking with a different command, such as âquietâ, while holding your finger to your lips (dogs often pick up body signals faster than voice commands.) Practice these commands when they are calm, and in time they should learn to stop barking at your command, even when they want to bark at something.
Once you know why your dog is barking, you can start working on ways to decrease their annoying habit:Â Â
Territorial/Protective/Alarm/Fear: Because this type of barking is often motivated by fear or a perceived threat to their territory or people, it can be lessened by limiting what your dog sees. If they are in a fenced yard, use solid wood instead of chain fencing. Indoors, limit access to windows and doors or cover them with an opaque film.
Boredom/Loneliness: If your dog barks excessively while youâre gone, you need to provide more activities or companionship to keep them from being lonely or bored.
Bringing an outdoor dog inside will lessen the noise impact on neighbors, and provide extra security for your home. Itâs also safer, because dogs left alone outside can face theft, escapes, poisoning, harassment, and other dangers.
But dogs can still bark inside if bored. So if your dog barks while youâre at work all day, get someone to walk your dog or play with them for at least an hour a day.
Providing something for your dog to do during the day also can help. Try leaving out a couple of food-dispensing toys, which come in different shapes and sizes. These can keep them busy for several hours, then theyâll probably take a nap.
Dogs that bark all night should be brought indoors. Dogs quickly learn to sleep quietly inside, and are added protection for your family.
You also can drop your pet off at doggie daycare two or three days a week, or take up agility, obedience, or another active form of dog training.
Greeting/Play: To stop a dog from going into a barking frenzy every time you come home or the doorbell rings, youâll need to teach them other behaviors. One way is to train your dog to go to a spot and stay there when the door opens. Itâs best if they can see the door, but not be too close to it. Pick a spot and practice getting your dog to go there and stay, but donât touch the door yet. Use lots of treats and praise, making it a game.
Once your pet is doing this reliably, start opening the door while they are in their spot.
Once you can open the door and your dog will stay in their spot, have someone actually come in the door. Of course your dog will break from the spot at first, but with time and practice, theyâll learn to stay in their spot when the door opens and guests come in.
Never reward your dog for barking at you when you come home. Do not pet themÂ or even make eye contact until your dog stops barking and sits quietly. Then acknowledgeÂ and praise them.
Attention seeking: Never reward barking. If your dog barks when they want water, and you fill the dish, youâve taught them to bark to get what they want. If they bark to go outside, itâs the same. So teach them to ring a bell you tied to the door handle to go out. Bang the water dish before filling it, and maybe theyâll start pushing it with their nose to make the same noise. Find ways for your dog to communicate without barking.
If they bark and you see their dish is empty, wait a few minutes, go do something else, then fill it, so they wonât know their barking was effective.
Remember not to scold your pet. For a dog, thatâs still considered attention. The key is to ignore your dog and what they want, until they stop barking.
Separation Anxiety/Compulsive Barking: Separation anxiety and compulsive barking are both difficult to treat and should be handled with the help of a veterinary behaviorist or a certified applied animal behaviorist. Dogs with these problems often need drug therapy to help them cope while learning new, more acceptable behaviors.
There are a number of products on the market that promise to stop barking quickly. Collars that go on your dog can deliver audible or ultrasonic corrections to your dog, but they arenât effective on all dogs. Citronella-spraying collars often work, but some dogs learn they can run them out of spray and then bark at will.
Shock collars, which deliver a painful jolt to your pet, can cause pets harm and may make dogs aggressive, especially if they associate the person or animal they are barking at with the pain.
Other off-collar devices can work well if your dog barks in a set area. Bark-activated water sprayers or noisemakers switch on when they pick up barking, shooting water at your pet or emitting an irritating sound. These can sometimes break a dog of barking in a given area, but they work best if you are home to reward your pet when they stop barking. That helps reinforce what you want your dog to do.
*Debarking is very controversial and is considered inhumane by many. It does not address the underlying cause of the barking. It is a surgical procedure in which the folds of tissue on either side of a dogâs larynx, or voice box, are removed, leaving dogs with a raspy bark instead of a full bark. Complications are common and can be life threatening, including breathing difficulties, higher incidents of choking, and ongoing pain. Dogs also have been known to regain their voices after the surgery. The procedure does not stop the barking, it only makes it sound different.