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What is Excessive Vocalization?

Although excessive vocalization may not be a serious medical concern, it can be very frustrating for you, your family, your dog, and your neighbors. The reasons for the excessive vocalization are medical, cognitive, psychological, and behavioral problems. Ruling out any medical problems is the first thing to do, and if there is a medical condition, it should be treated right away. Some of the most commonly heard vocalization in dogs are howling, whining, yelping, and growling, which can happen at any time for no obvious reason. Unfortunately, these are the most often reported, and can be the hardest to treat. Certain breeds are more often reported to have excessive vocalization issues. These breeds are hounds, hunting dogs (hound, Terrier, Retriever), watchdogs (German Shepherd, Great Dane, Doberman Pinscher), and toy dogs (Poodle, Shih Tzu, Pug).

Excessive vocalization in dogs includes barking, whining, or howling for no obvious reason, that happens at times when it is not acceptable, such as the middle of the night. There are many reasons for this kind of vocalization, which can include medical, cognitive, psychological, and behavioral problems. The first thing you have to do is to rule out a medical cause for the excessive vocalization, such as cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), illness, pain, trauma, or possible vision or hearing loss. If the vocalization is not due to an underlying illness, you will have to be patient in finding out the cause because it can be a long and arduous procedure ruling out causes one at a time. The good news is that if there is no obvious medical cause, this is more of an annoyance than a medical condition.

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Symptoms of Excessive Vocalization in Dogs

Symptoms of excessive vocalization include differences for each cause and type. For example, if your dog is a hunting dog, he or she will bark to let you know there are small game animals in the vicinity. The different symptoms/types are:

  • Alarm or territorial bark (barking at noises, people, animals)
  • Attention or boredom bark (barking for no obvious reason)
  • Aggressive barking (barking at people and other animals)
  • Anxiety bark (barking at noises)
  • Growling
  • Yelping
  • Whining
  • Howling


  • Alarm or territorial bark is sometimes called a warning bark, which your dog will do if he hears or sees people, animals, noises, and other strange sights and sounds
  • Attention or boredom bark is a habit that dogs can get into once they notice that they will get attention if they bark; this is common in dogs from rescue shelters or kennels that have been kept in cages
  • Aggressive bark and growling are signs of aggression or behavioral disorders in dogs at any age
  • Anxiety bark can also happen with separation anxiety or stressful situations
  • Yelping may be a sign of pain from injury or illness
  • Whining and howling can be associated with boredom or possible separation anxiety, which is a psychological illness

Causes of Excessive Vocalization in Dogs

Your dog’s way of communicating with you, as well as others, is through vocalizing, which includes barking, whining, growling, and howling so it should not be ignored. If you notice any of the symptoms shown above, it is important to take your dog to the veterinarian to rule out any medical disorders first. Illnesses or diseases that cause any kind of painful or discomforting sensations for your dog, like cancer, arthritis, urinary tract infection, dental problems, and Cushing’s Disease.

  • Medical (pain, loss of mobility)
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Protective (alerting others to unusual sights and sounds)
  • Howling or whining (distress from separation anxiety)
  • Growling (aggressive or warning behavior)
  • Genetic predisposition (certain breeds are more susceptible)

Diagnosis of Excessive Vocalization in Dogs

Let your veterinarian know if your dog has suddenly had a change in behavior besides the excessive vocalization because the presence of other symptoms can help lead to the correct diagnosis easier and faster. The veterinarian will do a physical examination of your dog, including heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, weight, and reflexes. He will also do a hearing and vision test to determine if this may be causing the barking.

Some laboratory tests will need to be performed, such as electrolyte panel, urinalysis, complete blood count (CBC), chemical panel, and possibly some x-rays. If medical conditions are ruled out, the veterinarian will give you some advice about behavioral treatments or seeing a veterinary behaviorist.

Treatment of Excessive Vocalization in Dogs

If the cause is found to be medical, the excessive vocalization should disappear after the underlying cause is treated. For behavioral problems, you have to create a plan that will not reinforce the negative behavior (yelling or physical punishment), and be sure it is something that you will be able to stick to. There are many behavior treatment plans for excessive vocalization, but you have to find the one that is right for you and your dog. The veterinarian may also suggest medication (antidepressant or antianxiety drug) if he believes your dog has a real anxiety or personality disorder.

Recovery of Excessive Vocalization in Dogs

Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s instructions and stick to the behavior plan. It is not a temporary treatment, it is a new way of life, and you have to practice it daily to make it a routine. See your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns.