Why Do Dogs Bark at Other Dogs?
Whether your dog lightly woofs at the neighbor's dog walking by or lets out a ferocious sounding bark at dogs he doesn't know, dogs bark at other dogs for a variety of reasons. Bark types include greeting, territorial, alerting, anxiety, fear or feeling threatened, aggression, playing, or simply a response to the other dog's bark.
"We make conclusions of what a dog's bark means based on trends," says Dr. Shadi Ireifej, founder of Vettriage, a telehealth veterinary service. We try our best to interpret what type of bark it is, the dog's body language, and the context that the barking occurs. "To some extent, we also personify these barks into emotions that we as humans can relate to," he says.
Deciphering your dog's barks
Do you ever wonder why your pup barks when other dogs pass by your house, when you're on a walk and he sees another dog, when another dog barks at him, or whenever he meets another dog at the dog park?
Dr. Ireifej says that the characteristics of the bark can clue you into the reason behind it. "However, because this is subjective and therefore prone to misinterpretation and error, it is important to combine this interpretation with the dog's body language and the context by which the barking is occurring." Look to your dog's facial expressions and body language:
- Ears pinned back, piloerection (hair on end), barred teeth = aggression, anxiety, stress
- Bowing, pawing, nudging, tail wagging = playful, jovial, welcoming
The context in which your dog barks at another dog also matters.
- Owner present or dog in his house or yard = territorial, welcoming, alerting
- Approaching another dog or a pack of dogs = aggression, anxiety, or submission
- Dogs running, playing = asking to play
Isn't my dog just being territorial when she barks at other dogs at home?
If your dog simply barks at every dog she sees, is she just being territorial? Not necessarily. Dr. Ireifej says, you still must use the same interpretation criteria—the type of bark and the context of the situation. "Most people view barking at other dogs as they pass by the house as a negative action or a sign of bad behavior because we find it disruptive, startling, or uneasy. But this off-the-cuff interpretation may not be accurate if the entire situation is not taken into account," he says.
What if my dog only barks at select dogs?
If your dog only barks at one or two neighbor dogs, does that mean he doesn't like them? It depends. When dogs bark at other dogs it's usually because of either a historic reason or a current reason, explains Dr. Ireifej. Your pup's history plays a role—if he had a pleasant or negative interaction in the past, or even something about that dog in the moment can cause him to bark.
Your dog barks at another dog because of things like the other dog's body language, its facial features, its scent, its pack status, its level of excitement, as well as your dog's previous memories, traumas, or interactions.
Maybe your dog had a bad experience with a small white dog and now barks at all small white dogs, or maybe your dog senses the other dog's level of excitement or protection of its owner and is responding in kind.
Therefore, deciphering why your dog barks at other dogs can be tricky. Watch his body language, read the cues of the situation, then try to figure out his motives. If you're concerned about your dog's barking, especially if it's aggressive or reactionary, talk to your veterinarian about it, and seek out a certified veterinary behaviorist or trainer.
As always, consult your vet about your dog's behavior.