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Your dog constantly barks at people while on your walks. And you wonder why.
The barking seems to come out of the blue. But there are underlying reasons.
Don’t despair! In this article, I’ll explain why your dog may be barking at people on your walks.
I’ll also set forth some things that you can try to stop the barking. Then you can both have a calmer, more peaceful walk.
Why Your Dog May Bark at People on Walks
Barking is a normal dog behavior. Of course, excessive barking can be annoying.
There are many reasons why your dog could be barking at people while on your walks.
Even friendly dogs can yap at strangers–and even friends–while strolling around the neighborhood with you.
Excitement To Greet People
Your dog may just love people and want to greet them. So the instant that he sees someone, he lets you know by speaking in his language.
Some dogs bark only if they see someone they know. Others may bark just to greet potential new friends.
This excited barking can occur when some dogs see a person walking another dog. Some barkers may bark only if the other dog barks too.
This type of excited barking is usually a high-pitched, happy-sounding bark.
Frustration When He Can’t Reach People
Your dog may be experiencing a barrier frustration when he attempts to reach someone.
The leash can be a barrier just like a fence is as far as a dog is concerned. And a tight leash can over-stimulate a dog and cause him to bark.
So when he pulls on the lead, he’s over-stimulated and barks. This is usually accompanied by a high-pitched, fast bark.
Fear or Uncertainty of People
Your dog may be afraid of all people or only certain ones. He may be fearful of people with hats, men, those who look at him, or anything else he finds strange or challenging.
This is often accompanied by a deeper-than-normal, slower bark than a highly excited dog has.
Fearful dogs often exhibit the following body language:
- Ears tucked back onto the head
- Raised hackles
- Tail tucked under the body
- Backward motion, not pulling toward the person
- Furrowed brow
- Shedding dandruff
- Damp paw prints on the ground that aren’t related to the environmental temperature
Defensiveness or Protectiveness
Your dog may be protective of you and bark to show people that he’s guarding you. This behavior is often accompanied by lunging.
Usually when someone sees a dog barking in this manner, they quickly move far away from you.
This sends a message to your dog that his barking was effective. He wanted the person to go away.
This is often known as “the mailman syndrome.”
The bark is usually a deeper, growl tone and is quicker depending on how close the person is. A dog who’s protective often has the following body language:
- Ears tilted forward
- Body tilted forward
- Whale eye where the whites of his eyes show
- Raised hackles
Sometimes dogs guard us as they may guard a bone, food, or toys.
When dogs bark to guard us, the barking is often fast and deep–not the yippy, high-pitched sound of a dog who wants to greet someone.
The body language may be similar to a defensive or protective dog.
Lack of or Improper Socialization
Some dogs bark on a walk because they haven’t been socialized at all or properly to people.
You may have adopted a dog who wasn’t socialized. Or you may not have known the importance of properly socializing a dog to people when he’s young.
Either way, some dogs will show fearful behaviors, others defensive behaviors.
And others happy, excited-to-greet the-person behaviors.
It all depends on the dog’s genetics and background experiences.
This may sound counterintuitive. After all, you’re walking your dog to provide exercise.
But for a dedicated barker, you should take the edge off if you can prior to your walk.
Play fetch. Do a short training session.
If a dog has too much energy, it’s hard for him to control his impulses, such as barking.
You may not be able to do this before every walk, but do it when you can to set him up to succeed.
You can do this during your set-up training sessions when you’re working to eliminate the barking problem.
Some dogs bark compulsively. Dogs who do this generally bark at many things, not just people.
They may bark at a car passing, a tree, a shadow, or a mailbox, You get the idea. Or they may just bark because they’re bored.
The bark is usually the same repetitive pattern over and over.
A dog who barks compulsively often has other compulsive behaviors. This may include:
- Chasing light patterns on the ground
- Tail chasing
- Licking or chewing on certain parts of his body repeatedly
These behaviors may be related to past trauma, stress, anxiety, or genetics.
Some breeds or mixes may be more likely to bark at strangers in certain situations than others are.
For example, a herding breed dog like an Aussie or sheltie may bark at people going past them quickly.
They may be triggered by someone jogging, on a skateboard, on a bicycle, or on a motorcycle.
Their herding drive may kick in because part of the manner in which they herd is by barking.
How To Stop Your Dog from Barking at People on Walks
As is true of all canine behavior, it’s important to figure out why he barks at people on your walks. There may be more than one reason.
You know your dog, which will help.
If he’s a rescued dog, you may not know his history.
You may not be aware of whether he was properly socialized or if he has experienced any trauma in his life prior to being with you.
So you’ll have to use some of the following techniques depending on his behavior.
1. Make a list of your dog’s specific triggers
This will take some detective work on your part.
Does he bark only at men? Or people wearing hats? Or children? Or people walking quickly? Or people who are talking? You get the idea.
Try to narrow down what sets him off barking.
Determine how far the person must be to trigger your dog to bark.
There’s a threshold distance beyond which your dog won’t be reactive and bark.
So find that distance and make sure when you’re working with your pup that he’s far enough away to not bark or be excessively stressed.
Once you discover this distance, you can successfully work with him. And the distance may vary with different people in different situations.
For example, your dog may not bark when someone who walks by is 20 feet away.
But if the person is jogging, your dog may bark because he’s excited.
Or he may be guarding you, feeling defensive or protective, or even be attempting to herd the jogger.
You may need to move another 10 feet or more away for your pup to not bark.
2. Use great, high-value treats
The treat must be something that your dog loves and gets only during your training sessions to work with the barking problem.
Usually a meat, cheese, or fish-type treat is better than a dry biscuit-type treat. It could be small pieces of cheese, hotdog, or chicken (without bones, of course).
They generally help focus dogs better and are more rewarding.
PRO-TRAINER TIP: Have a supply of great, yummy treats that your dog can’t resist ready as a reward. They should be small, no larger than a pea.
3. Teach your dog basic obedience commands
The cause of the barking doesn’t matter as far as your need to train your dog.
Training provides some impulse control, lets your dog know what behaviors are acceptable, and even teaches a dog to have confidence.
Your dog needs to learn to pay attention to you, to walk calmly by your side, a quiet cue, a “say hello” cue, and to leave items–and living beings–that you tell him to.
Doing some specific impulse-control exercises are important too, such as a “settle” command, sit/stay, and down/stay.
At first, teach everything inside without distractions. Add distractions slowly after your dog understands what’s expected.
Eventually, you can use these training cues successfully in real life on your walks.
You can use a “say hello” cue for when you want your dog to greet other people. This is especially useful for dogs who bark out of excitement.
A dog who learns to pay attention to you when you say his name or tell him to “look” at you won’t be distracted by people walking by.
You can tell him to “leave it,” then to look at you as a default behavior.
And if your pup’s trained to walk calmly by your side, he won’t be pulling towards someone.
Teaching your dog to be quiet on cue will help with a dog who barks out of excitement.
4. Desensitize and counter-condition your dog to his triggers
You need to systematically desensitize your dog to his triggers while keeping him under threshold.
The distance from the potential trigger matters. Be as far away from the person as you need to where your dog doesn’t bark.
Counterconditioning involves creating a positive association with his triggers. You need to change his conditioned emotional response.
So you would do some training set-up exercises.
At first, you would give a steady flow of treats when the person is in view.
Then, either you go out-of-sight with your dog or you have the other person go out of view.
Do this about three or four times during a minute or two.
Make sure you don’t do it too long or too often or your dog will probably become stressed.
End the session on a positive note.
It’s best if you can recruit friends who will do practice, set-up sessions so that you can progress to eventually using the training exercises on your walks.
If you don’t have anyone to work with, just try it on your walks as long as your dog isn’t too stressed and you can keep him at a distance at which he’s not triggered to bark.
You can use a cue of “person” when your dog looks at the other person while plying your pup with the flow of treats when he’s calm and quiet.
Eventually, as you progress, you can very gradually reduce the distance between you and the other person.
This may take weeks or months. Don’t rush the process.
If at any time, your dog starts barking, make a u-turn away from the other person, happily telling your dog “let’s go” after you’ve trained that as your motion command.
End the training session then.
Keep your training sessions short in total, no more than 10 or 15 minutes.
Of course, in the meantime I understand that you’ll be taking your dog for a walk purely for exercise.
Just try to keep distance from other people so that he doesn’t go over threshold and start barking.
5. Remain calm
I know that it’s easier said than done.
One of my rescues, a Lhasa apso named Mikey, was extremely reactive and would bark at strangers–especially ones with dogs.
So I tried to keep my body language loose, not tense. And to sound happy during the training sessions during which we worked with his reactivity and barking.
6. Do a “jolly routine”
This can help de-stress your dog. Back up, tell him “come,” and have him come to you on leash.
Make it a party when he comes–praise and reward with treats.
If he’ll play with a toy on a walk on leash, toss it a foot away and have him retrieve it.
7. Play impulse-control games and attention games
Do some settle-on-a-mat exercises at home.
Teach a sit/stay and down/stay.
Teach your pup to catch a treat on cue.
Use “leave it” after he understands what that means.
But always redirect him to pay attention to you, because telling him what to leave doesn’t tell him what you want him to do afterward.
8. Socialize your dog
Socialization is not just exposing him safely at a distance to new people and dogs.
It’s exposing him to everything that he has to face in everyday life.
This means cars passing, people on bikes and skateboards, ambient noise, and smells. You get the idea.
Expose him slowly at a rate that he can handle.
Some dogs who aren’t used to these things become reactive and bark at people because they become flooded with surrounding sights, sounds, and smells.
So getting him used to them if he isn’t already should help stop the barking at people on your walks.
Also slowly socialize him to people. This involves exposing him to new people slowly.
You can start out by having him quietly greet people he already knows, likes, and is confident with.
Use your “say hello” cue that you taught him.
Do this only if he’s not scared.
You can teach him that people are good by giving him a treat when he’s quiet.
Eventually, as long as he’s not scared or reactive, you can even have the person gently toss him a yummy treat.
Start this training exercise at first only with people that he knows and trusts so that he learns that good things come from people.
Use a cue such as “hi, Fido” immediately before tossing the treat. Saying a cue and his name will get his attention and he’ll learn that a treat is coming directly afterward.
Make sure that the person doesn’t stare at or look at your dog or it could be seen as a challenge and frighten him.
Once he understands that great things come from people, he’s less likely to bark at them.
9. Use other modalities to de-stress him
If his barking is caused by stress, these may help.
10. Get professional help
If your training and behavior modification program isn’t progressing, it’s time to get professional help.
A positive reinforcement trainer with experience can help.
If the problem is severe—especially if the barking stems from aggressive behavior—it’s advisable to get assistance from a veterinary behaviorist.
If there’s any aggression because your dog’s guarding you or is being territorial, you need professional help.
You may also need help when dogs bark at people for other reasons, especially for compulsive barking or for dogs who haven’t been socialized.
A veterinary behaviorist can help work with you and your dog and even prescribe behavioral drugs if needed that can help in your behavior modification program.
What NOT To Do: Don’t Try this at Home
It’s important to not try certain things which can make the problem worse.
1. Don’t reward barking
When providing treats and praise, you must watch the timing.
You want to reward desired behaviors, such as being calm and not barking.
2. Don’t punish your dog for barking
Harsh corrections such as yanking his leash or hitting him are not to be permitted and are abusive.
Even loudly verbally correcting him won’t fix the barking problem. In fact, he may even think that you’re joining in the barking.
And suppressing the behavior won’t tell him what you want him to do.
3. Don’t avoid the barking problem
If you stop taking him out on walks, his life will be diminished.
Walks not only provide exercise that also help socialize him to the world.
It’s best to work through the problem for you both to live your best lives.
Is my dog being stubborn when he barks at people on walks?
No! There’s a reason why he’s barking. Dogs aren’t stubborn. You need to determine why he’s barking and then you can work to fix the problem.
Should I let my barking dog greet people on walks?
No! Doing so can reward the dog for barking. And, if your dog is being protective or fearful, It can potentially lead to aggression.
Should I correct my dog when he’s barking at people on walks?
No! Doing so won’t get to the root of why he’s barking. And suppressing the barking behavior can even lead to some unwanted consequences such as aggression.
Dogs bark at people on walks for many reasons. You need to determine why he’s barking and how far he can be from someone to naturally be quiet.
Then you can successfully work with your dog to eliminate unnecessary barking.
And your world–and neighborhood–will be a quieter and more peaceful place.
Do you have a dog who barks at people on walks?
What have you done about it?
Please tell us about it in the comments section below.
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