Help, my dog barks at other dogs!

photo of a barking dog
Having a reactive dog can be a very isolating and stressful experience. But it doesn't have to be this way! Read on to find out how to get the help you need.

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You’re on a lovely walk with your dog, enjoying the fresh air and their company. There is nothing as relaxing as a lovely walk with your dog, right? But then a dog appears on the horizon, and your previously happy, loving friend turns into a barking, lunging beast who seems intent on getting to the other dog and nothing you do can stop them. Goodbye carefree walks and welcome to the world of stress and constant vigilance whenever you are out with your dog.

  • Does your dog bark when they see another dog?
  • Do they seem aggressive towards other dogs?
  • Do they lunge so hard towards other dogs that you struggle to hold them back?
  • Will they growl, snap or bite if a dog comes too close?

If you have answered yes to at least one of these questions, then you have a reactive dog: a dog whose reactions seem over the top or out of proportion compared to the level of threat facing them. That’s what dog reactivity is – misjudging the level of threat posed by another dog due to a past bad experience or lack of exposure to dogs at a young age.

Having a reactive dog can be a very isolating experience. You can feel:

  • That your dog is the only dog who isn’t well behaved
  • Embarrassed that your dog behaves in this way
  • Guilty that you can’t help your dog more
  • Helpless and that the problem is getting worse.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, not if we understand WHY your dog is showing this behaviour. Of the hundreds of reactive dogs that I have worked with, 90% are fearful of other dogs. So why do they try to get to another dog when they’re scared of them? To understand that, we need to delve a bit deeper into what is happening inside them.

When a dog sees, hears or smells something that they perceive as scary, they release adrenaline and noradrenaline. The release of these stress hormones triggers a fight-flight-freeze-or-fiddle response within the dog. The function of these behaviours is to put distance between the dog and the threat. Often, dogs will choose to run away from the threat but when movement is restricted by being on lead, in an enclosed space, or the threat continuing to advance, a fight response will be triggered. This results in barking, lunging, growling and potentially biting the threat to make it go away before it can attack them. It may seem counter-intuitive that your dog would run towards something that they are scared of but, if you like American sport analogies, the best defence is a good offence.

For this reason, telling your dog off when they are reacting, either by yanking the lead, shouting at them or giving them a tap on the nose will never make reactivity better. In fact, it will probably make it worse – you are proving that bad things really do happen when dogs are around!

To resolve reactivity and stop your dog barking at other dogs we need to:

  • Focus on changing their perception of other dogs from negative to positive
  • Help them learn that other dogs aren’t scary
  • Provide opportunities for them to feel safe around other dogs
  • Learn to read their body language so we can support them
  • Create calm environments so that you and they can feel relaxed around other dogs.

Stopping your dog barking and lunging at other dogs is a journey and we’re here to help you along that journey through our Behaviour Consultations and Support Sessions. You are not alone, there is hope, you CAN enjoy walks with your dog again.

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