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Does Not Bark

When a Shih Tzu Does Not Bark 


When it comes to dogs, there are certain things that you can simply count on: They're going to be ridiculously cute, they'll have no idea where to pee and poo until you arduously train them and of course, they will bark. Now, it goes without saying that no one wants a dog that yaps constantly and especially if they do that at 4 AM (you'll want to hide in a sound-proof shelter). But, what about if a Shih Tzu does not bark at all? This can be quite unsettling and make new owners concerned.  

There are also others issues such as a puppy letting out only perhaps 1 or 2 little barks per week. Does this mean the pup has trouble with his vocal cords? Is he overly shy? Is it a problem?

And finally, there is the issue of an older Shih Tzu that used to bark 'normally' that has suddenly stopped. Why in the world would this happen and is there a way to help a dog get his bark back?

There are all legitimate concerns and this section is dedicated to answering all of these questions for you.

We'll cover
  • Puppies that do not bark at all
  • Shih Tzu that hardly ever bark
  • Dogs that used to bark but do not any longer
The Age a Shih Tzu Starts Barking

It's a bit amazing how limited a puppy is when born. On Day One, a Shih Tzu puppy has his eyes closed, he cannot hear, has very limited smell and he is not making noises.  By the age of 2 weeks, eye lids begin to open; sight is well-developed by week 5. By the 3 week mark, the sense of smell is there and the pup can hear well. And it is in week 3 that the puppy will start to vocalize. The very first noises that a Shih Tzu puppy makes are not barks. He will make whining and soft grunting noises. As pups mature, they will normally start to bark at the 7 and 8 week marks. This being said, some are late bloomers and take some time to find their bark. There are some elements that can affect this, so let's take a closer look: 
10 week old Shih Tzu puppy
Cooper, at 10 weeks old
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Layne
Young Shih Tzu Puppy Not Barking

As we touched on, many - but not all- puppies transition from making noises to letting out barks by the age of 8 weeks. Which, coincidentally, is the age that pups generally go to their new homes. For this reason, owners of course, expect their Shih Tzu to bark.

For those super quiet Shih Tzu that are not barking at all, there are some legitimate reasons:

1) The puppy needs to find his voice.  

It can take a while for a pup to experiment to see just what types of vocalizations he can make.
You may hear a lot of silly noises in the meantime. In most cases, if a Shih Tzu is not barking and has never let out a bark, but is under the age of 4 months old, just wait. He will find his voice. He'll whine, grunt and maybe even growl a bit and one day, that will morph into a bark and then watch out! Once a dog realizes that he has the ability to bark, he will never forget. 
2) He has not yet had a reason to bark. Older dogs have plenty of reasons to bark. They will yip if they are hungry, hold nothing back when they see you are getting ready to leave the house without them and will be super vocal if they're not happy about something. However, the Shih Tzu puppy that is not barking may have no reason to do so yet. Understandably, new puppies are spoiled. They are doted over and being new, everyone in the household may be taking turns spending time with him... so much so that the dog is never displeased. He is never lonely, hungry or without company.

In these cases, it is just a matter of reality setting in. As owners need to settle back into their normal routines, as there are more times when the Shih Tzu is left alone and as the dog realizes that life cannot be perfect, he will learn to bark to let his feelings be known. This in no way suggests that you should encourage a quiet dog to bark by manipulating a situation that would make him want to yip and yap.  Just let time take its course and he will bark when he has something to say. 
3) A need for stimulation. There are all sorts of households... There are those that are filled with 10 people of all ages, everyone is coming and going, doors are being opened, the TV is blaring from one room and music is emanating from another. In other words, there is a lot going on.  And then there are quiet households.... perhaps someone living alone or a couple without children, they may prefer reading over TV watching and may not have many visitors stomping through the home.

The amount of barking that will occur from a dog in either of these scenarios will often differ quite a bit. The dog in scene #1 may bark off and on throughout the entire day. The Shih Tzu in scene #2 may not bark at all. He's calm, the house is peaceful, he has no stimuli to cause a bark.

While this is just fine in and of itself, it is also this sort of environment that suggests the Shih Tzu may benefit from a change. 'But why?' you may ask, if not barking is just fine? It's because such a lack of stimuli may lead to an overly shy dog and importantly, a dog that is not becoming socialized. For a dog to live a well-balanced life and to be able to handle himself in a variety of settings, he must learn adapt and learn how to properly react to the world around him. 
Shih tzu not barking
Molly, at 9 months old
Photo courtesy of Georgina
Finally, all dogs - are happier when they are using their canine senses. And without stimuli, this may mean that they are not engaging those senses enough. 

Most dogs behave better and feel less frustration when they are able to take in sights, hear new sounds and smell new scents. 
How to Help a Shih Tzu Learn to Bark

As we discussed, most cases  of a Shih Tzu not barking will be a matter of a puppy needing to find his voice and in other cases, a need for a reason to actually bark.

Before you continue on, please be aware that having a quiet dog that does not bark is often seen as a good thing. You may regret encouraging your Shih Tzu to bark. So, think about it, and proceed with caution. 

While you do not want to do anything to upset the dog, there is some things you can do to bring about healthy stimuli:

1) Walks - If you always go on the same route and that route is quiet and without much to trigger his senses, your dog may remain very quiet. And again, there is nothing wrong with this. You might be surprised by the number of owners who write to us, asking for help for a dog that barks constantly when taken for walks.  However, to socialize a pup to things that might trigger a vocal response, you may want to vary your route. With him nice and safe on harness and leash, choose a more interesting place to visit. This may be a doggie park or a neighborhood with more children. 
female Shih Tzu wearing a dress
Photo courtesy of Rita Delacruz
2) Your Yard - If you tend to take your Shih Tzu out into the yard for exercise instead of heading out through the neighborhood, there may be very little out there to trigger any barking. And again (we know we say this a lot), but a non-barking dog is just fine! With this warning repeated, sometimes an easy change from the front yard to the back yard is all that is needed.

Often, it will be a bird, squirrel of other woodland creature that makes a dog alert enough to vocalize. And depending on where you go (distance to trees, etc.) this can vary.

You can also try bringing your Shih Tzu outside with you at different times of the day. Birds are more active at sunrise and sunset. 

3) Play time. Not all barking is done due to being alert or to express unhappiness. Dogs also bark to express excitement. For this reason, stepping things up a notch while playing can encourage your Shih Tzu to start barking. You just have to get him excited enough. This is often done by implementing both of the following:
  • Your level of excitement - Dogs feed off of how their owners are acting. If you are quiet, most often your dog will be as well (at least some of the time!). But during playtime, be very animated and very vocal. Talk a lot and with a happy, excited voice. Direct him, praise him, jump around and make gestures... anything to ramp up the excitement factor. 
  • The right toys - Toys can be boring and barely noticed or they can be super fun elements that a dog interacts with. There's some great toys such as those that make noises and even some that happily bark or speak to a dog in fun voices. The right ones are sure to get a Shih Tzu interested and in some cases, the puppy may bark to mimic the toy. Keep your pup's toys super fun and he's sure to get enthusiastic enough to get vocal while playing. 
Shih Tzu that Stopped Barking

While it is perfectly fine for a Shih Tzu to be a quiet dog and not bark often, it is a whole different story if a dog that previously barked suddenly stops. 

This may be due to a number of reasons. The top 4 are:

1) Becoming hoarse - In some cases, a dog may bark so much, that he becomes hoarse. In these cases, it can be a matter of Laryngitis, a temporary inflammation of the vocal cords. If so, this often resolves on its own. Since there are some medical issues that can appear to be this, do read ahead for other possible concerns.
2) Upper Respiratory Infection - Dogs can get sick sometimes in much the same way as humans. One issue that can cause a Shih Tzu to stop barking is bacterial, viral or fungal infection of the upper respiratory tract. His barking may be muffled, not sounding as normal or he may go silent, as barking may cause pain. 

Other signs of this include: coughing, sneezing, making snorting noises, discharge (eyes, nasal or from the mouth), noisy breathing, loss of appetite and/or lethargy. This will need to be treated by a veterinarian with prescribed medication. 

3) Trauma - This includes any sort of trauma to the neck and therefore the larynx, pharynx or other areas in the neck that are associated with a dog's ability to bark. A tight collar or a collar connected to a leash (instead of using a harness) are among the top reasons for this to occur. Please always use a harness when you have your Tzu on leash. 

The dog may also have trouble breathing, swallowing, have a cough and/or intolerance to exercise. This needs to be diagnosed by a vet and treatment will vary depending on the exact cause. 
Shih Tzu dander on bed
Brayden, at 8 months old
Photo courtesy of Kenisha 
4) Depression - If a Shih Tzu has a traumatic experience or suffers a loss, such as losing a canine companion or a human family member has passed or moved away, depression can set it. A dog can also become depressed if he is left alone for the majority of the time and isolation takes its toll. The dog may show very little interest in things that he used to enjoy, he may become withdrawn and in some cases, bark much less or stop barking altogether.

In regard to loss, time does often heal those wounds. Taking your dog to new places and doing new activities can also help bring him out of his slump. If a Shih Tzu is overly stressed due to being alone, taking steps to fix separation anxiety should be implemented right away. 

A Final Word

It cannot be overstated that a generally quiet dog is a blessing. Excessive barking is one of the top problems that owners face with their dogs. That said (again), if a dog is under-stimulated, lonely or sad, an owner should take steps to resolve those issues. Barking for joy is something that all dogs should do, so we do encourage that type of vocalization. 
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