Do you dream of be able to just go out on a relaxing walk with your dog? It can be really stressful for you and your dog if your dog reacts to every other dog that you pass. You may even start feeling stressed before you leave the house!
The first thing is to take a step back and have a think about exactly what the problem is, for instance whether it is all other dogs, dogs moving away or towards you, dogs at the park, on lead or off lead, male or female, large or small? How far away do they need to be for your dog to bark?
It's a good idea to write it down, and even to get someone to video it what happens. This all gives you a clearer starting point.
It's really important to keep your dog below their particular excitement or anxiety threshold from this point forward because no learning takes place if the dog is in the midst of a highly emotional barking response. If at all possible I would recommend ensuring that the dog is kept away from situations which would lead to the old behaviour so that it can no longer occur. The dog should be kept to calm walks only, avoiding other dogs and where this isn’t possible the dog should be given a complete break for 3 – 5 days before beginning to work on this behaviour to allow their anxiety levels and stress hormones to return to normal levels. If this fills you with horror because your dog would be climbing the curtains without their usual walk then please feel free to get in touch for ideas for support and ideas.
I would use Behaviour Adjustment Training and keeping the dog below the threshold let the dog see another but keeping them below their particular threshold so that they can learn to disengage on their own. I would use a loose long lead and a helper dog and handler for this. Starting at a distance with which the dog is comfortable which could be up to three times the distance at which he usually reacts. If the dog just walks straight towards the other dog slowly stop him. If the dog begins to show signs of stress or fixation recall them away and give them a treat; a good ability to read the dog’s body language is essential. A bit of professional help with reading body language as well as timing of treats can be invaluable here. If the dog is able to turn away easily and voluntarily from the trigger then allow the dog to continue to explore. This is a method of desensitising the dog to the particular stimulus.
Depending on the practicalities of the situation for the particular owner and dog I would also consider counter conditioning or training an alternative behaviour, for instance, a calm ‘down stay’ which can the rewarded with lots of treats. Really this just means giving your dog something else to do and to concentrate on. Some dogs find it harder to bark in a down stay and find it fun having a job to do for their owner. This doesn’t solve the underlying problem but allows the owner to manage the behaviour (and their own anxiety) and keep the dog from reacting and becoming stressed. If this behaviour is performed every time that they see another dog then the dog (and owner) may begin to positively associate the sight and sound of another dog (at a safe distance) with lots of treats and attention. A down stay can feel quite vulnerable for the dog and potentially increase his stress levels so it should only be used after the Behaviour Adjustment Training has been used to help desensitise the dog.
It’s worth being aware that dogs who are reactive in this way may have underlying anxiety or other issues to consider, so a trip to a qualified behaviourist could be well worthwhile if only to rule out other issues at the outset. You may just learn one thing that tips the balance and leads to a hugely positive result. At a good consultation you might also learn how to meet other wider needs your dog has to help your dog be in a calm state before any behaviour modification training takes place. This may mean including other mental stimulation and exercise in the house and garden and away from other dogs.
It’s really important that you are able to stay calm too! It’s so easy to use lead tension and your own body language to let your dog know that you are really worried about the approaching dog! If you shout at the dog for barking, from the dog’s perspective you are just joining in with the barking and adding to the intensity!! Keep your body language loose and to turn slightly away from any approaching dog. If necessary, turn around and go back the other way! It might even help to invest in a yellow dog tabard or dog coat which states ‘MY DOG NEEDS SPACE’ to prevent other owners inadvertently creating further stress for the dog. I felt ashamed the first time I went out in one of these but I was just bowled over by how supportive other dog owners were.
This is just a phase you and your dog are going through. Take some time with it and get help if you need it. You will have your faithful companion with you for many years so it’s a thoroughly worthwhile investment in all your future calm and happy walks together.
I'm delighted to be a Certified Fear Free Animal Trainer! I thoroughly enjoyed the course and find that the ethos of Fear Free really resonates with how I work with animals.
Why do dogs bark on a walk?
Barking at dogs on a walk may be defensive, greeting or excitement.
Defensive barking, often combined with lunging at other dogs when on the lead may feel super embarrassing to you, but often this behaviour doesn’t start as aggression but more of a defensive behaviour.
In ‘dog language’ a dog that walks directly towards another dog is demonstrating poor dog communication and is likely to come off as over-confident and threatening. On this basis your dog feels quite justified in telling the approaching dog to mind his manners!
But what tends to happen is that this behaviour often becomes reinforced because when the barking is most intense the other dog starts moving away and the intensity and stress are relieved. This is operant conditioning at work! The dog learns that the stimulus of the other dog’s approach requires the response of barking in order for the other dog to move away and make the dog feel safe and calm again. Here begins your real barking problem!
This behaviour can then start to be generalised to dogs who are further away, not approaching or perhaps cats and humans too.
With all that barking and lunging it is also now likely that you are getting genuinely stressed by your dog and signalling your own stress levels to the dog and putting tension on the lead. This can compound the learning problems! It can classically condition a problem whereby tension on the lead puts the dog in to a hyper aroused state.
Remember, though, that there are lots of other reasons for barking on a walk. For instance, if it is occurring off lead it could be that the dog is warning other dogs away from themselves or from you too! This could be because of fear or anxiety caused poor socialisation with other dogs or other previous experiences for instance of being attacked by another dog. If you suspect these are the reasons I’d recommend getting some help from a professional.
It can also be greeting and excitement. Such barking tends to be higher in tone and is because the dog is very excited to meet another dog. It may be combined with frustration barking if the dog is on the lead and wants to greet the other dog.
Finally, some breeds and some individual dogs are naturally more inclined to bark than others and still others find barking enjoyable in itself so it becomes the rewarding consequence of a range of different stimuli.
It is often helpful to get help from a professional at the early stages of helping your dog with this behaviour. You need to be sure you've understood the problem and often a bit of coaching through the early stages helps too. You and your dog will be walking together for years so a bit of investment now is thoroughly worthwhile.
Are wolves ancestors or cousins of the domestic dog? Or are they the same species? What do you think?
Wolves and dogs are strikingly similar. Long thought of as the ancestor of the domestic dog, they are now believed to be cousins, both descended from a common wolf-like ancestor. They share so many physical and behavioural traits that, historically, behaviourists have drawn conclusions about dogs from studying wolves. The period of domestication, selection and evolution has led to some significant differences too.
There are some obvious behavioural differences between wolves and dogs; wolves kill their own food and tend to avoid people. Dogs, by contrast, look for humans to provide food. In turn, this means that they eat differently; dogs are scavenging omnivores whereas wolves are carnivorous predators.
Socially there are differences too, wolves are highly territorial whereas dogs either share their territory with humans or live on the periphery of human settlements. Dogs tend to bark as adults whereas adult wolves rarely bark as adults. Wolves use a range of howling sounds to communicate which dogs do not.
Dogs are more social with humans, but wolves are brighter. Well really both are highly social, however, domestic dogs have an innate ability to understand humans more easily than their wild cousins. Several studies do show that even hand-reared wolf pups do not show the same kinds of attention seeking and affectionate behaviour that domestic dog breeds show. The corollary to this is that dogs perform worse than wolves in independent problem-solving tasks; they have evolved highly specific social skills for working with humans and as a consequence of this lost some of their cognitive skills. It is our hyper-social behaviour which may have linked our two species.
Physically wolves are larger, with a larger head in comparison to its body. Their jaws and teeth are larger, with a higher crush strength! Wolves have chests and hips which are narrower and their ears always erect, whereas many domestic dogs have at least partly floppy ears. Eye colours in dogs vary over a wide range, however, wolves eyes are always shades of yellow or amber. Dogs reach sexual maturity earlier, usually at 6 to 9 months whereas wolves reach sexual maturity at 18 to 24 months.
They are strikingly similar; they have interbred both in the wild and now, domestically too. But the biological and behavioural difference make them more dissimilar than two different dog breeds, in ways that are significant given how domestic dogs now live in mixed species groups with humans. Would you want a wolf-dog as a pet?