We all like to think of our dogs as gentle babies. Unfortunately, we can be quickly disabused of that notion the moment that they see other dogs. Many dogs go a little crazy as soon as they see another dog, pulling on their leashes and doing everything they can to get to the other animal.
Frankly, this isn’t fun for most dog owners. We don’t like having to label our dogs as reactive, to say nothing about labeling them as aggressive. While it might be unfortunate, this behavioral issue is at least one that’s fairly common.
Why Your Dog Barks At Other Dogs
It’s never a bad idea to look into your dog’s various behaviors. It’s a great way to learn more about your pet, of course, but it’s not always totally necessary if you’re just trying to train away bad behavior. If you’re problem-solving, though, it’s never bad to go into the process by gathering as much information as you can.
Reactivity and Dogs
Unless you’ve spent time reading dog training books or working with trainers, you’ve probably never heard the term reactivity. It’s a very polite way to say that a dog has a tendency to over-respond to stimuli, and in this case, it really means that your dog loses his or her mind whenever he or she sees another dog.
Dogs who get the reactive label are typically set off just by the sight of another animal. Many would rush to label these dogs as aggressive, but that’s not necessarily the case. Your dog might be aggressive to be sure, but he or she may also be excited or scared. What’s sure, though, is that your dog is upset because he or she can’t necessarily do his or her preferred response to the situation.
Barking and lunging are both types of behavior that are meant to help scare off other dogs. While some dogs definitely do bark or lunge because they are just so excited, the main goal of both of these behaviors is to put up a strong defensive front in order to chase the other dog off.
Barking, Lunging, and Aggression
While you never want to label your dog as aggressive without needing to do so, it’s not a bad idea to think about whether barking and lunging constitute aggressive behavior. In truth, this behavior can be considered aggressive in some ways and might avoid that description in others.
What is true, though, is that barking and lunging are both generally threat displays. A threat display can turn into aggression, but it’s not necessarily the same thing. Think of this kind of display as a precursor to a whole host of different behaviors, some of which are definitely aggressive. If your dog is actively attacking other dogs while on a leash, he or she is definitely aggressive; if your dog’s barking and lunging is an end unto itself, though, it’s probably not aggressive.
Basic Causes of Barking and Lunging
Since aggression isn’t the only reason why your dog might be exhibiting this behavior, it makes sense to look at reasons why he or she might be doing this. It’s impossible to know for sure without observing your dog specifically, but it is possible to look at some of the more common behavioral culprits.
Flight or Fight Response
When your dog’s stuck inside, in the boundaries of an invisible dog fence, or on a leash, your dog isn’t able to run away as far as he or she would like. This means that those dogs that tend to get scared of other dogs just can’t give in to their fight or flight instincts as much as they’d like. Instead, they’ve got to do all they can to make the other dog run away – and if it works, he or she will keep on with that behavior.
Dogs bark to communicate. Unfortunately, some of them just bark a little too much. If your dog sees another dog and wants a chance to go and say hello, he or she might start to pull on his or her leash in order to get closer. Your dog’s frustration at not being able to see a potential friend will eventually turn into the barking and lunging behavior that you want to limit.
Simply put, your dog doesn’t really know how to get along with other dogs. He or she might be nervous when other dogs are around, and the fact that he or she is stuck on a leash or behind a fence means that he or she isn’t able to hide. Much like the flight or fight example above, this will likely cause your dog to get loud out of nothing more than fear and confusion.
Your attempts at training can actually make your dog more prone to lunging and barking. If you use physical punishments when your dog barks or lunges, he or she might not get the message that barking and lunging are at fault. Instead, your dog might think that the presence of another dog is at fault, and thus will try to scare off that dog so that he or she doesn’t get punished.
These are, unfortunately, only a handful of reasons why your dog might bark or lunge at other dogs. Everything from early life experiences to hormone problems can make your dog more likely to exhibit these behaviors, so it’s often more important that you learn how to address the problem than that you learn exactly what’s at the root of your dog’s behaviors.
Stopping Your Dog From Barking and Lunging
So, what’s the solution to this problem?
One thing that’s not a solution is using corrections. While correcting your dog’s barking with ‘punishments’ using a bark collar can sometimes be useful, most experts agree that bark collars only work in the short-term. Ultimately, methods that rely on punishments or negative reinforcement are prone to backfiring and reinforcing your dog’s behaviors.
Unfortunately, it’s also very difficult to solve this problem with the usual positive reinforcement methods because your dog’s just not going to be in a place to appreciate them. Instead, you’re going to walk your dog through a few basic training steps.
Start by stopping your dog from lunging. Figure out what’s causing the problem, be it dogs, casts, or even kids on bicycles. Next, figure out exactly what the problem stimuli have to do to get your dog to react – some dogs might bark at a bicycle that’s at rest, while others might only have a problem if the bicycle is moving towards them. You need to get into your dog’s head for a bit to help him or her.
From here, you’re going to focus on avoidance. Don’t take your dog around the things that make him or her bark and lunge, even if that means giving up some things yourself. Yes, this means that you might have to avoid the dog park but it also means that you’re going to help your dog avoid the triggers that cause this kind of problematic behavior.
Now you’ve figured out how to help your dog avoid barking and lunging. From here, you’re going to start learning how to stop the behavior from occurring again.
Your goal is to train your dog, but not just to stop with that behavior. Instead, you’re going to use your newfound knowledge of your dog’s triggers to help reduce the impact of those triggers on his or her behaviors. As you might imagine, this isn’t always a very straightforward process.
The best way to handle this is to turn the dog’s trigger from something negative to something positive. You’re going to try to associate the thing that causes the bad behavior with something that your dog actually likes so that his or her emotional responses can be triggered.
Let’s say that your dog tends to bark at other dogs since that’s the most common problem.
You’ll start by using something that’s very similar to the dog’s trigger. If he or she sees another dog, give him or her a dog treat – at least, as long as he or she doesn’t bark and lunge. If the dog turns to you instead of barking, that means more treat time for him or her.
You’re going to slowly but surely expose your dog to more and more of the trigger, rewarding him or her every time that he or she refrains from barking. This isn’t going to be easy, of course, and there’s going to be a lot of trial and error. Every time your dog makes progress, though, he or she needs a reward.
Note that even during all of this, you’re still going to practice your avoidance routines. You’re only going to expose your dog to triggers in those situations that you can control, at least at first. This not only reduces the chances that something negative can happen when your dog overreacts, but it gives you a little more freedom to try new things with your dog.
The only challenge you’ll face then, of course, is what happens when you can’t avoid the major triggers during your dog’s training.
Stopping Barking and Lunging in Emergency Situations
While training your dog is definitely a good idea, you are going to encounter problems during the training process. As such, you need to know how to stop your dog from lunging and barking at other dogs immediately, both for your dog’s safety and for that of the other animal.
The number one way to stop your dog from barking and lunging at another dog is to get your dog out of the area. If possible, you’ll just get your dog to turn around and walk away. If your dog is small enough – or if the situation calls for it – you’ll pick him or her up and take him or her away. This is incredibly frustrating, of course, but it’s still a wise move if you want to keep your dog safe.
Sometimes it’s easier to feed your dog than to pick him or her up. Bring some treats with you on your next walk and toss some treats as soon as your dog starts to bark. Not only is this good for reinforcing the idea that the thing that triggers your dog can actually be good, but it’s also something that can distract your dog from that trigger at the same time. You can actually use this method as part of carrying your dog out of the area, as a dog who’s stopped for a treat is usually at least a little bit easier to control.
Don’t feel bad if all of the great training that you’ve already done with your dog tends to fall apart at this juncture. You’re probably not going to get your dog to look at you, sit down, or roll over while he or she is barking at other dogs. Instead, your dog is going to focus on what’s most important to him or her at the moment. Don’t let yourself get frustrated here – just use the methods above to get your dog away.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How do I stop my dog from barking at other dogs?
Honestly, you’ll probably need to spend some time working with your dog on this one. There are many reasons why your dog might be barking at another dog and you might need to figure out which one applies to your dog. Regardless, though, you’re going to have to show him or her that the appearance of the other dog isn’t something that necessarily needs to make him or her start barking. When other dogs show up, praise your dog and give him or her treats – this will help to associate the presence of other dogs with things that your dog likes. With any luck, you’ll get him or her to learn to stay quiet when other dogs are around.
2. What are dogs saying when they bark at each other?
It’s really hard to tell. In the vast majority of cases, it does seem like most dogs who bark at others are trying to tell the other dog to stay away. This might be out of aggression or fear, but your dog is trying to be threatening and to keep himself or herself safe. In other cases, though, your dog might be trying to communicate that he or she is excited and wants to see and/or play with the other dog (1). It can be hard to tell the difference between the barks, though, so never assume that barking means something positive.