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Why Does My Dog Bark On Walks?

Sally Gutteridge
A barky dog on walks is a common problem. He might bark at other dogs, people, cars or something more specific - like kids on bikes. This type of behaviour is communication and although it might be loud and inconvenient, all communication is good because it’s the basis of understanding.

If your dog barks at things on walks he has reasons that are unique to him. Common reasons include fear and confusion. The fundamental basis for the behaviour though is that your dog believes it’s the only way he can react to something that makes him uncomfortable.

Every behaviour begins inside the dog. The outward signs we see are indicative of the dog’s inner state. So, if your dog acts chaotically it’s because something has made him chaotic inside. If you take some time to look at the environment at exactly the point your dog’s behaviour changes on a walk – you will see why he’s barking.

Your dog will bark if sees something that makes him feel like he must protect himself, to stay safe. He may have learned that the specific thing is a threat, something to be scared of or he simply might not know what it is so errs on the side of defensive caution. When he sees the thing that makes him bark, your dog’s stress reaction occurs – because he thinks he’s in danger. So, he barks to try and chase the scary thing away. At this point your dog may be on a lead – which makes him feel trapped and vulnerable, as the scary thing advances towards him. The stress reaction escalates, and your dog may get frantic.

There’s an easy solution to this though and one that will always work. Recognise what worries your dog and don’t take him close to the thing he can’t cope with, before he’s ready.

Early signs that your dog’s internal state is changing include lip licking, a nose lick, focussing on something in the distance, tension or a yawn. Your dog may barely show these if he’s used to barking on a walk. Yet if you increase the distance, maintaining his safe space your dog will start to show them more often.

Change your approach to walks for a while. Instead of walking paths and trails with the need to pass lots of others, go to fields where you can easily maintain your dog’s safe space by whipping around and walking the other way, when you see something your dog will usually bark at. Helping your dog to keep his safe space is the first step to relaxing walks. Then you can work on re-introducing the scary stuff bit by bit, at a level he can cope with.

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