Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
If your puppy barks at dogs or people on walks, you are likely fed up with this behavior. Grabbing the attention of everybody your pup sees may be the last thing on your wish list when perhaps all you would like to do is just walk and maintain a rather low profile. Instead, your pup's persistent barking creates quite a commotion, even triggering barking in other dogs who may otherwise be quiet.
So what's up with your puppy? Why does he need to be so vocal on walks? What is he trying to say? Well, there are as many as over 11 different types of barking in dogs, and they all can have different meanings.
Puppies tend to generally "find their voice" around the age of six months. This doesn't mean your puppy is on the "mute button" until then, it just means that around six months, your puppy turns into an adolescent and barking tends to establish and become more of a norm.
Barking on walks often though tends to generally stem mostly out of a mix of fear/defense emotions and excitement/frustration due to wanting to interact/play and being unable to. These types of barking therefore may require some variances and subjective tweaking when it comes to behavior modification. Let's, therefore, take a closer look into these emotions.
Barking Due to Fear/Defense
Some puppies may bark at dogs or people on walks for the simple fact that they aren't comfortable with them. In such cases, the barking is a distance-increasing signal, meaning that the puppy would prefer to put more distance and avoid the situation as he's stressed and anxious about it.
We see this type of barking mostly with puppies/young dogs who were under-socialized as puppies and who bark at anything they aren't familiar with. Under-socialized puppies may bark this way as their first line of defense against what they perceive as a threat.
Young dogs who feel threatened, on top of barking, may also lunge, growl and appear overall aggressive.
Barking Due to Excitement/Frustration
On the other side of the spectrum, some puppies bark due to excitement/frustration. We see this type of barking especially with young, super social dogs who are easily excitable and who haven't learned enough impulse control.
These pups often have a history of being off-leash and playing a lot and sometimes even wildly with other pups. "This causes stress levels to go up at the sight of another dog, and the excitement and stress makes him bark," explains Norwegian dog expert Turi Rugaas in her book: "Barking, The Sound of a Language."
The excited barking in this case is therefore usually a distance-decreasing signal, meaning that the dog would like to go meet and greet the person or dog and wishes to reduce distance, getting closer. The puppy is often pulling and barking/whining, eager to say hello.
However, when a dog is super excited and cannot go greet and meet as he would normally do if he wasn't on leash, he may start getting frustrated. As the frustration builds up, this leads to a dog who lunges, barks and even growls, giving an aggressive appearance, because he's frustrated with the whole situation, leading to what is known as "barrier frustration."
How Do I Stop My Puppy/Dog From Barking at Everything on Walks?
As seen, puppies and dogs tend to bark at everything on walks either because they are excited and perhaps even a bit frustrated, or because they are fearful/anxious about certain stimuli and tend to feel threatened. As mentioned, the methods used to tackle both instances, tend to vary. Following are some ways to stop a puppy/dog from barking at everything on walks.
If It's Due to Fear/Defense
When dealing with fear/defense, behavior modification often incorporates methods based on desensitization and counterconditioning. An important step would therefore be identifying exactly what triggers the barking response on walks and presenting such triggers in a less overwhelming form.
Desensitization involves exposing the dog systematically to his triggers. In order to work well, in a good desensitization program the dog needs to be kept as much as possible under threshold.
Counterconditioning involves creating positive associations with the dog's triggers. In order to work well, a good counterconditioning program incorporates things the dog finds very reinforcing provided contingent upon the exposure to the trigger.
As a starting point, from inside the home, you can have your puppy watch a volunteer walk his dog back and forth from a window as you let him watch and feed him treats to create positive associations. This is based on the "look at that dog" exercise.
*Afterward, once the pup shows progress, behavior modification may involve practicing in a T-shaped intersection. The puppy is kept at the farthest point from the intersection on leash with his handler while the stranger is instructed to walk by with a dog.
Distance helps keep the dog calm, allowing exposure in a way that makes the dog less likely to react (desensitization) and that brief passage of the stranger allows the opportunity for the handler to feed treats, creating positive associations (counterconditioning).
After several reps, if all is done correctly, the dog may exhibit what's known as a conditioned emotional response upon noticing the stranger. Afterward, very gradually distance can be reduced, and if there is enough progress, similar exercises may be started in other areas.
*This method is based on Jean Donaldson's Open Bar/Closed Bar.
If It's Due to Excitement/Frustration
In the case of a dog barking from over-excitement/frustration, the first step is lowering the level of arousal. This is often also done by providing some desensitization through the use of distance. Seeing a stranger or dog the dog is dying to meet at a distance, versus within easy reach, can help keep the dog more under threshold.
Often, dog owners tell their dogs what they don't want to, but fail to teach them what they rather have them do. It could therefore prove beneficial in such cases, brushing up on the pup's training and teaching pups to do several steps of attention heeling contingent upon seeing another dog or person on walks. Puppies should be rewarded with high-value treats for complying and making good choices.
As the puppy learns to be calmer, walks can be organized with other calm puppies or adult dogs (which can act as role models) and people. This way, the puppy learns that being around other puppies and people doesn't translate into over-the-top greetings and wild play.
These calm walks therefore teach puppies to find interest in other things around them without getting hysterical and intense with each other.
On top of this, it would be helpful teaching puppies who bark at everything due to excitement/frustration, to better control their impulses.
It, therefore, helps to train them using several impulse control games for dogs. Start with some easy ones and gradually increase the challenge as your puppy matures and learns to establish some self-control.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 17, 2021:
Your article once again shows that it is best to socialize dogs as early as possible. Good training pays off in the end.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 17, 2021:
Adrienne, your excellent article makes a lot of sense to me. I think this article teaches dog owners why their dog barks and what to do about it.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 16, 2021:
Fortunately, none of my dogs have barked at other dogs or people on walks, but I’ve met some pets that do. Thank you once again for sharing your knowledge and the helpful advice, Adrienne.