We have all experienced the antisocial that dog that incessantly barks whilst out for walks, usually accompanied by a very stressed and frustrated owner! If that owner is you, then read on as we may have the answers to your prayers!
A dog can bark for a variety of reasons, including fear, anxiety stress or aggression. The most likely reason in a walk situation is anxiety and once the level of anxiety reaches a tipping point the dog starts reacting and once that happens there is no turning back!
Barking is most commonly directed towards other dogs but reactive dogs can bark at all manner of things, cyclists, skateboarders, cars and even pushchairs.
A frustrated owner will often shout at the barking dog or pull back on their lead but these actions only serve to reinforce the barking and make it worse. What you need is a step-by-step approach to break this behaviour down in a positive way.
Step One: Commit to the training
Breaking this behaviour is possible but it is going to take time and patience. You need to commit to these techniques every time you take your dog out for a number of weeks until you get it right. Tackling this issue also requires you to stay as calm as possible so you need to shake off any reactions you previously had!
Step Two: Identify the Triggers
Recognising what your dog is reacting to is the easy part and you probably already have this nailed. What you really need is to identify the early warning signs as anxiety builds. It can be different dog to dog but some commons ones are whining, hackles up, ears up, tail arched, lip smacking, or shuffling and looking back and forth at you.
These are the triggers which precede the ‘red mist’ of reaction, and we need to direct our training towards these signs. Once the dog starts barking it is usually too late to have a positive intervention.
Step 3: Create a Distraction
The key to this training is to distract your dog as soon as you start recognising those early warning signs. Some dogs respond to treats, some to toys but whatever your preferred distraction tool, timing is the key. As soon as you notice those signs of anxiety build up, call their name and offer the distraction to divert their gaze away.
Step 4: Reward Good Behaviour
Now you have their attention, you should reward it. Offer them the treat or the toy to show them that ‘not reacting’ is the behaviour that gets the treats!
Step 5: Push the Boundaries
As long as your distraction continues to work, you need to start getting closer and closer to the thing that is causing your dog anxiety. If it’s dogs that make your pooch feel threatened then you should repeat the above steps whilst getting closer and closer. This is a gradual process that takes time and if you overstep the mark and your dog reacts then you need to rewind a few steps and start the process again.
These steps do work, but they take time, commitment and patience. You’re teaching your dog not to react so it’s equally important that you don’t react either so keep yourself as calm as possible throughout the process, it will be worth it in the end!