Your family has adopted a new dog, and he is adapting well in his new home but whenever you bring him out for a walk, he will start barking at strangers on the streets. That certainly causes you much embarrassment and you are getting very tense up, worrying that he could at any time lunge at anyone who is along the streets.
If this is what you are currently experiencing, your very first step is to understand why your dog is behaving in this manner when he is out on a walk.
Why Does My Dog Barks At Strangers?
Dog barking at strangers during a walk could be his way of expressing excitement (he wants to play with strangers) or exhibiting his fear and anxiety (he senses there is a potential threat) and is trying to protect himself. You can make use of high value treats to get him to focus his attention on you.
Sign Of Excitement
When your dog barks at a stranger during the walk, it may not necessarily be that he is nervous or fearful, he could be feeling excited meeting someone that he likes to make friends with and that’s his way to interact with the strangers as he couldn’t communicate using human language.
You can certainly observe his excitement through his body language such as wagging his tail and jumping around with “rising barking”.
However, this form of interaction is certainly not a behavior that anyone (especially strangers or young kids) would welcome.
You will certainly need to correct his behavior by working on easing his excitement when he sees his stimuli through redirected training.
Sign of Fear Or Anxiety
Dogs will naturally react in a more defensive state when they feel at risk or being threatened. This is likely what is going to happen if your dog has not gone through his socialization training during his initial puppy phase.
He easily gets tense up and nervous when being exposed to many stimuli such as humans, pets, sight and smell in an open environment (such as a busy street or a dog park) and reacting aggressively is his way of “protecting” himself.
You would need to train him on how to adapt and react to his world so that he would not feel a sense of threat or anxiety whenever he encounters any stimuli and socialization training will be what he needs.
How To Stop This Behavior?
Now that you get to know why your dog barks at strangers, this brings us to the following short and long terms training approaches:
Long Term Solution
Dogs tend to be reactive when he is on a leash as he is getting frustrated and wants to get at something that catches his attention or to go investigate something that is coming his way.
At times, you might have wrongly perceived this as aggressive behavior and it could just be that your dog is curious about what’s happening and wanted to explore.
Certainly, you cannot also ignore the fact that your dog is simply getting nervous and anxious about what is happening in his surroundings, and he has no clue on how to handle the situation except to show his frustration and aggressiveness.
This is the situation where you would need to start your dog on his socialization training. An unsocialized dog will not know how to react appropriately when facing his stimuli (new environment, people, animals).
To start with his socialization skill, you should carry out the training in a controlled environment where you can limit the stimuli that your dog is going to explore. If you have a backyard, that would be the most ideal place.
For this case, you would work on introducing strangers (as his stimuli) to your dog.
This is what you can do:
1. Invite your friend to come to your home and have him get ready in the yard.
2. Put your dog on a leash and bring him to the yard.
3. Observe the distance between your friend and the dog before your dog starts to act up. That would be the “safety” distance that your dog finds comfortable seeing people in front of him.
Your goal will be to gradually improve that distance so that your dog will ultimately be able to go beside your friend without any act up.
4. With that “safety” distance in mind, bring your dog to that limit and the moment he starts getting nervous and barking, bring out a treat to grab his attention and make him focus on you.
Be sure to use high value treats (preferably meat type of treats such as dry beef, salmon or chicken). Do not use normal treats such as dry kibbles as it would not be “attractive” enough to distract his attention from his stimuli.
5. Continue with the training and keep using the value treats as a form of reward for your dog as he makes progress in improving the “safety” distance.
6. Always keep calm as you carry out the training and use a relaxed tone to praise your dog as he makes progress. Your emotional state plays a vital role in how your dog is reacting to the training. If your dog sees that you are tense up, he will react accordingly and this will make your training a challenge.
7. Do not over stress your dog. Keep each training session to only 10 minutes at most.
8. If you observe that your dog is reacting aggressively during the training, what you can do is to get him to engage in some exercise before the training. This will help to let off some of his energy and make him calm down during the training.
9. Ultimately, you would want to build up your dog’s confidence and trust on you that you would take good care of him when he is out for a walk without any worry or fear with strangers.
Of course, this is just an example of how you can help your dog to overcome his fear and anxiety on strangers and improve his socialization skill.
You ought to also work on other stimuli as well so that he can be adequately trained on socialization.
Be His Pack Leader
In the dog world, the role of a pack leader is to provide shelter and food for his pack members and ensure they are free from any harm or threat. This is why pack members trust their Alpha so much and follow his guidance faithfully.
You can certainly make your dog see you as his pack leader, the one who will take care of each situation so that he doesn’t need to act up.
And by doing so, there will be less likelihood that your dog needs to get anxious when facing any stranger with you around.
To attain this pack leader position, you would need to fulfil your dog’s basic needs such as:
- Shelter and Safety: Providing him with a safe and secure place to play and rest (Maybe get him a crate).
- Food: Have a regular feeding schedule so that he is aware that you are the ONE giving him his food.
- Do what the pack leader will do such as you should be eating first before your dog gets his meal and you should pass the doorway first before your dog is allowed to proceed.
Provide him with that sense of security
Demonstrate to your dog that you are taking care of things or situations that he perceives as potential dangers or threats and show him that you are there to take charge of these risks.
For the case where your dog perceives strangers approaching him during the walks as potential threats, this is what you can do:
1. Remain calm to show your dog that you are in full control of the situation.
2. Walk in front of him and show him your confidence that there aren’t any potential threats and ensure that you are not exerting any tension on the leash and your body posture is in a relaxed state.(Your physiology of being calm will certainly be a confident booster for your dog and make him feel at ease).
3. As your dog progresses with the training, he will look at you (his pack leader) for your reaction whenever he sees something that makes him nervous or anxious.
4. Dogs learned from accumulated experiences and by making each experience a positive one, this will help your dog to learn that walking past a stranger is not at all terrifying.
5. And as long as you demonstrate to him your calmness and confidence in handling the situation, he will not act up. This will build up his confidence in your abilities as his Alpha (to protect him from harm).
Keep in mind that your dog wants to feel safe or in control and would only give up control when he feels safe. So to make him give up that “control” – (which is to react aggressively to strangers as he perceives them as a threat), you need to make him feel that he is safe!
Short Term Solution
The short term solution while you work on his socialization training will be to ease his fear and anxiety while he is out for a walk, in particular when he sees a stranger coming toward him.
Calm Him Before He Acts Up
The best time to correct your dog behavior is to preempt before he gets agitated and starts to act up.
It certainly takes a lot of practice for you to be good at it but it is an effort well spent. You would have to give all your attention to your dog and be proactive on his reaction to act before he registers “threat is coming” in his mind and act up.
Keep in mind that it is certainly MORE effective to correct a behavior before it happens rather than to do the correction when it has happened.
You would want to train your dog that when he focuses his attention on you during the walk, GOOD things (such as he will get a high value treat) will happen and this is how you should do it:
1. Get to know the “safety” distance so that you can react before your dog hit his threshold and exhibits his aggressiveness to the stranger.
2. Attempt to break his attention as the “safety” distance is coming close and make use of high value treats (use some real meat treats) to get his focus on you. Keep rewarding him with treats to have his attention on you as he walks past the stranger.
3. If the treat approach is not working well on your dog, what you can do is to try to calm his mental state by picking him up. Most dogs will get that sense of security and peace when they are in the arms of their owners.
4. Or you can quickly go in the opposite direction to “cut off” your dog’s sight on his stimuli and this will make him calm down.
Avoid Any Punishment
Any form of punishment, be it verbally (shouting or yelling) or physically is a No-No. You see, when you punish your dog from barking at strangers, you are in fact making your dog relate this unpleasant experience with the presence of strangers.
So when he sees any strangers the next time, he will remember that unpleasant experience and get nervous and tense up. This will lead him to start barking excessively.
You should instead adopt positive reinforcement to make him associate being calm when seeing a stranger with a positive experience (getting a reward).
Now that you know why your dog is barking at strangers while on a walk, it’s time to put what you have learned in this post to good use.
Having a well-behaved dog that you can safely walk in a busy street is certainly something that is achievable. Take action now to make it happen!