Finding Out Why Certain Sounds Trigger Your Dog’s Barking Instincts

Some dogs are a lot more vocal than others, and will be quick to bark or make a fuss at the slightest stimulus – sometimes even when you aren’t even sure what has set them off. Others tend to be quieter and less reactive, only barking rarely and in unusual situations.

However, there are a number of things that almost all dogs have in common when it comes to vocalisations – dogs are quite noisy animals as a whole, and usually need to be trained not to bark incessantly or without a good reason. If your dog is one of the more vocal ones, working out what sounds or what sort of sounds trigger a bout of barking can help you to train and condition them out of doing it, or at least reduce their reactivity, volume, and the duration of a bout of barking.

Sound cues are among those most likely to make dogs bark, and being able to identify the types of sounds that trigger barking or catch your dog’s attention is the first step to training them out of a high level of reactivity to sound cues.

In this article we will look at some of the most common sound cues that trigger barking in dogs, and why. Read on to learn more.

Why are dogs reactive to sound cues?

Dogs don’t just react to sound cues, and will potentially bark or make a fuss because of all sorts of stimulus both large and small. However, because dogs tend to vocalise quickly and for a range of different reasons and because dogs aren’t usually afraid of being noisy, sound cues are among those most likely to set your dog off barking.

Dogs have an acute sense of hearing, and one with a different range of frequencies to people – as well as being able to pinpoint things like the direction and sometimes, distance away from any given sound with accuracy too. Dogs will often hear things before we as humans do, and this may even be part of why dogs tend to vocalise in response to certain sounds – they may be trying to alert their handlers, as watchdogs are trained to do and as most dogs will do instinctively in certain situations when they hear something that you appear to be missing or ignoring.

Sounds that trigger positive associations

Dogs don’t only react to negative stimulus, but also sounds that trigger positive associations as well. This means that many dogs will make a lot of fuss or wake from an apparently deep sleep when they hear noises that they associate with good things, like their lead being picked up or their food being prepared.

They may also be able to pick out the sound of their owner’s car arriving home even when lots of other cars are coming and going, and make a fuss when they know their owner will be coming in shortly.

When your dog vocalises in response to such positive stimulus, this usually results from excitement.


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Territorial instincts

Some dogs make for better guard dogs than others – like the Rottweiler. However, all dogs have territorial instincts that cause them to recognise their home territory and feel the urge to protect and defend it from potential invaders. Many dogs are also territorial and protective over their families too, both within their own home and outside of it.

However, vocalising as a deterrent to others or to alert their owners of a potential threat can be problematic, particularly at home. If this trait is left unchecked, your dog’s barking behaviour is likely to escalate and even become aggression, so it is important to teach your dog the limits of acceptable territorial behaviour and to follow their owner’s cues.

The type of sound cues that may trigger territorial barking in your dog include the sound of the door bell or knocker, your garden gate opening, a strange car pulling up, voices, people or dogs approaching the house, and many other sounds that can indicate a change or newcomer on or near your home or yourself.

Sounds that trigger your dog’s threat response

If your dog perceives a threat to themselves, your home or possibly a member of your family, this is likely to trigger their fight or flight responses. If your dog goes into flight mode, they will try to get away and generally do this quietly – but on the other side of the coin, if your dog is naturally confident and protective or if they are unable to escape, they will make a lot of noise including barking and growling, and do everything in their power to appear daunting and threatening.

The types of sounds that may trigger your dog’s barking as a threat response include other dogs barking or growling, people shouting, raising their voices or speaking in a threatening tone, and potentially more abstract warning sounds like car or house alarms, and even sounds in a certain tone and pitch that your dog perceives as out of the ordinary and so, a potential threat.

Sounds you can’t even hear

Dogs hear a different range of sound frequencies to humans, and can hear sounds a lot higher than we can. This can make getting to the bottom of barking a challenge, because if you can’t hear your dog’s sound cue trigger, you can’t account for it and factor it into your plans to manage things.

Noises like the hoover or a hairdryer set many dogs off – and it might seem obvious why, given how loud and intrusive sounds like these can be. However, motorised devices like hairdryers and hoovers are also likely to make higher sounds too that we cannot hear, which may be unpleasant or distressing to the dog’s sensitive ears.

You might never find out what sound cue is triggering your dog’s reactions – or even if it is a sound at all – so you have to work with the symptoms, being your dog’s reactions themselves.


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