Barking at People and Dogs

Yorkshire Terrier sibling barks too much


Yorkie twins Daisy and Cody are now five years of age.

There are well-documented disadvantages of taking on sibling puppies – see here for more information. One common problem is that one of the puppies becomes shy, even when both puppies started off as bold and outgoing. This means that the shy puppy never reaches his or her potential. Another problem is that same-sex siblings in particular can end up arch enemies.

It’s a tribute to their family that these two little dogs have turned out so well.

I would say that although Daisy, on the right (look at that little face), is a lot more nervous than Cody, they are no different many other two unrelated dogs.

Their problem is too much barking at people and dogs from Daisy, particularly when they are out or when people come in the house. Cody is self-assured and has ‘attitude’ on walks but Daisy is scared.

Because she can sometimes sound quite ferocious when a person or another dog approaches, the lady has been so worried that her little dog is aggressive. She is on lead with a tense and anxious handler and she feels vulnerable.

But it varies. It’s not consistent. Because some days she is fine where other days she is very nervous, it’s useful to look at what is happening in all other aspects of Daisy’s life. There are many things that stir her up daily which don’t affect Cody at all, including the post coming through the door, the vacuum cleaner or lawn mower, and even enthusiastic greetings. Without too much effort the family can save her the build-up from all these stresses and it will make a huge difference to her.

Yorkshire Terrier sibling is the more confident


The lady in particular is very concerned her little dog could be ‘dangerous’ by all the barking at people and dogs. When they are out or when someone comes to the house she is both nervous and apologetic.

The people holding the leads will need to keep a close eye on the dogs for their reaction – to nip it in the bud. They must move Daisy away to a distance where she feels ‘safe’ and then work on building up her confidence.  When over-threshold she barks and lunges and snarls – and then may redirect onto poor Cody with a nip.

Work can only be done with the dogs walked separately for a while.

It’s the stress and fear that needs to be addressed – both dog and human! Already the lady has said, “I feel more at ease with the barking knowing it isn’t aggression”.

When Daisy calms down and everyone gains confidence, they should have no problems on walks – as has already been proved on ‘good’ days.

To change the behaviour we must change the emotion that drives it.

Already, after one day of implementing a few changes, the lady says: “We can’t believe how quiet they have been – less stressful today all round for the dogs and me!
Seven weeks later: ‘Things are improving – I walked Cody the other day and came across a lady with 3 dogs I turned and walked away then turned back and stayed on my side of the road (lady was on the opposite pavement talking) we continued walking with no reaction from Cody at all – I was very pleased with him as previously he has barked at the dogs – I have been going out when it suits me rather than when its quiet – most days we don’t see anyone but if we do I know how to handle them.  We have seen such an improvement in the dogs and agree with you it is as much about us changing as well as the dogs.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Daisy and Cody, which is why I don’t go into all the exact details of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).


Reactive to Dogs, People and the Unexpected

Collie cross Holly, right, started life on the streets of Romania


Berry is yet another Border Collie picked up as a stray in Ireland.


Both Holly on the right and Berry on the left came to live with my clients early last year. Both dogs are between two and three years old.

Berry is yet another Border Collie picked up as a stray in Ireland. Collie cross Holly, right, started life on the streets of Romania. She was picked up at seven months old with a broken leg and then went to live with another English family before moving into her forever home.

Holly quite well illustrates the difference between Romanian street dogs that are used to being around people, and other dogs that are coming from the same part of the world but have been living wild – feral dogs not used to humans. These feral dogs are a lot harder to settle and there have been some heartbreaking stories of failed homings.

Considering their past, these two dogs are doing brilliantly. They get on very well together. The problems their humans are finding manifest themselves out on walks. Both are reactive to people and dogs. In order to make further progress the people need to do things a little differently. If they carry on the same, so will the dogs.

Romanian Holly is a little aloof, but is polite and confident in the house though reactive to dogs outside. Interestingly, she is absolutely fine with other dogs when away from home, so it seems she is being more territorial than fearful. The main barker from inside the house, she is allowed free access to upstairs window where she can bark at passing dogs. She is merely practising the unwanted behaviour and getting better at it.

Berry, on the other hand, is much more excitable in general and reactive to all people and dogs; she is alarmed if anything appears suddenly or looks unfamiliar, irrespective of where this happens to be.

Both are very clever dogs and Berry in particular, who is much more wired up than Holly, needs more controlled stimulation but also better defined boundaries – especially when out. Repeatedly throwing a stick isn’t enough (throwing sticks is dangerous).

In order to keep their dogs focussed on them when out, their humans need to be more relevant to them – starting in the home. At present the dogs probably feel that they are the main decision-makers. The decision-making and protection side of things needs to be the responsibility of ‘mum and dad’, and needs to be in place before they can expect to successfully convince their dogs that they also have this role outside when faced with perceived threats.

The humans need to be a lot more involved, proactive and relevant in the face of things that the dogs are wary of – particularly if the dog is on a lead.  They need to make themselves irresistible (food/fun/action/attention).  Tightly holding the lead makes things worse. Forcing the dog to sit can make things worse. Avoiding situations altogether is useless.

They need to avoid pushing the dog over her comfort threshold and work at it. Using this method, that threshold will gradually diminish.

Lead reactive. Scared of Other Dogs When on Lead

Sweet Josie is lead reactive when outJosie looks like a little fox and I have no idea what mix she is. She is divine.

She lives with a lady who has some mobility problems who got her from Wood Green Animal Sanctuary six months ago. At home Josie is the perfect companion, sweet natured and undemanding.

In a way Josie’s case is a bit similar to the last one I went to – German Shepherd Storm. Both dogs are no problem at all at home and friendly to people, but become insecure and very reactive to other dogs when out.

Lead reactive

Josie’s problem is more specific in that she’s only aggressive to dogs when she is trapped on lead. She’s lead reactive. When out running freely with dogs in a field she is absolutely fine.

She needs to build up some faith in her lady so that instead of feeling unsafe and vulnerable, trapped on the end of a lead with an uncomfortable head halter held by an increasingly nervous owner, she feels comfortable, protected and safe.

We looked into equipment that would be suitable for walking Josie comfortably beside the mobility scooter. She needs to stop pulling.

The lady is fine walking short distances so will initially work in the front garden. A popular dog walk is down the road and dogs frequently go past the end of the drive. They will also go out to the road and just stand and watch the world go by so that lead reactive Josie learns to relax.

Building trust

As soon as a distant dog appears – the road is long and straight – the lady will work on Josie on lead as demonstrated by me, always remaining within her threshold; she will retreat up the garden, increasing the distance. She will use encouragement and food to associate dogs with only good things (a technique that can only be used when the dog is sub-threshold, before the barking and lunging begins and her brain goes into a different zone).

Similar to Storm, Josie has been able to perfect her ‘barking at dog’ skills from home, barking at the front window; everything must be done to reduce opportunities for barking at passing dogs. Any barking there is gives the lady an opportunity to react in a positive way instead of scolding her. A good ‘dog parent’ is the protector.

Josie needs to trust her lady to look after her around other dogs in order to become less lead reactive. As in many cases it is largely about how the humans behave.

German Shepherd. Barking Chases Dogs Away

Barking chases dogs awayIt was a treat to visit such a calm and friendly German Shepherd. Most that I’ve been to recently have had problems with people coming into their homes, but not 20-month-old Storm. She was chilled – and actually a lot more interested in the doggy smells on my bag and on my trousers than in me!

Storm makes very few demands on her owners, and they make few on her. She is biddable and obedient.

Barking chases dogs away

But, unfortunately, she is becoming increasingly reactive to other dogs they meet on walks and she has now injured a small terrier.

I don’t myself see this as a problem solely to do with dogs on walks. I feel this is a symptom and not the cause.

At home she has free access to the front gate and a lot of dogs walk by. She takes up her station there and flies at the gate in a territorial fashion whenever a dog goes past. To Storm, barking always chases dogs away – they always go after all.

When her owners go out she may be left outside on guard duty. Her stress levels will be continually rising.

In the car she has her head out of the window and barks at any dog she sees. Barking chases dogs away after all, even if in the car they are the ones moving away.

Rehearsing the behaviour

Storm is simply given too much opportunity to practise the undesirable behaviour. Scolding her or saying NO doesn’t help at all. She may stop temporarily, but it teaches her nothing. It doesn’t teach her that, as her dog parents and guardians, protection duty is their responsibility and not hers.

She’s not always reactive to every dog she meets when out however. It seems that she can tolerate so much, and then she will ‘go’.

Understandably, they try to walk her away from other dogs. Avoiding dogs altogether will get them nowhere of course – particularly as the only interaction she does get is negative – the aggression from behind their gate along with unplanned encounters. She is usually either chastised or she is left to get on with it by herself.

Storm has a very close bond with her gentleman owner in particular. Dealt with sensitively, given time and patience, I’m sure he will bring her around. Opportunities for guard duty should be cut to the minimum, and when she barks she should be helped, not scolded.

Opportunity to be left to practise barking and chasing dogs away from the garden should be avoided.

Such a good dog

Because she is generally so good, they are too relaxed.

Out on walks she needs to be more under control with less freelancing. They now have techniques to work on that will gradually get Storm more used to other dogs whilst connecting with her owners, to be calm around them. This work has to start at a distance within her comfort threshold – before she begins to react. Once over that threshold, she will become deaf and incapable of learning.

Charlie Doesn’t Feel Safe

From her owners’ perspective, adorable Bichon-Maltese mix Charlie is given everything a dog could possibly want for a happy life. They always thought the moBichon Charlie is yawning because he feels uneasyre excited she is the more joyful she feels. From Charlie’s perspective she is living a life punctuated by extreme stress and chronic anxiety.

Deservedly, Charlie is adored by the family – a lady, her daughter and her two granddaughters. By the end of my visit they began to see things in a different light. See the yawn? She is showing unease at being looked at while I took the photo.

When they greet Charlie she is ‘beyond excited’ and they fire her up with vigorous attention – so much so that she may pee. They believe just because she’s so excited that it’s good for her. The lady always thought that Charlie loved to go out in the car. Charlie’s excited and jumps in willingly, but then she is barking at people, dogs and traffic. She is left in the car when the lady shops because ‘she loves it’ even though she’s quite happy left at home. The entire time she is barking at anything she sees that moves. Beautiful Bichon Frise

Walks are horrendous. She pulls and barks at people, dogs and cars. It’s constant. They take her into the town where she is a ‘nightmare’, going for people’s legs; Mostly she is taken by car (barking all the way) to the park where she and her nervous owner are all the time looking about in near panic should a person or dog appear and if she’s off lead she will run back to the car or even try to find her way home.

Despite all this and like many other people – the lady feels that as a good and loving dog owner she must make Charlie go through this nightmare every day, and feels guilty if walks are missed. I would argue that Charlie’s mental and psychological health is more important than walks. Working on her confidence when out of the house will take a lot of time and patience.

I have recently watched a new DVD by famous trainer/behaviourist Suzanne Clothier called ‘Arousal, Anxiety and Fear’. She says she always mentally asks the dog, ‘How is this for you?’ She says ‘Make your dog feel safe’.

We put our dogs in situations where we think they are safe – but does the dog feel safe?

Loving their dogs as they do, why do so few people not consider, ‘How is this for you’ and help them out?

Over-Trained Collie Lacks Enthusiasm

Border Collie Ellie can be rather aloof, bestowing her attention largely under her own termsEllie is a clever, gentle, beautiful, well trained 4-year old Border Collie. She knows a large number of commands and names for various objects. She is also a perfect example of how knowing words and commands can be pretty irrelevant if she feels like ignoring them. It always works best if a dog wants to do something of his or her own free will.

Ellie can be rather aloof, bestowing her attention largely under her own terms. She can be quite demanding whilst not putting herself out in response to their demands. This is most demonstrated by her lack of recall, even indoors or from the garden. She absolutely understands what is required, but sees her owners’ wishes as irrelevant so she simply iognores them. In subtle ways she is used to making them do the running.

Where food is concerned her humans, like so many, feel they are in control (human fashion) with commands to Sit and Wait after the food is down, but because her food is always brought to her Ellie may well see it differently – like she’s being waited on. The little routine she has to go through must make no sense to her. Where is the logic of waiting after the food is down or available? Is there any animal that would do that? Waiting before it goes down is a lot more sensible – as does having to put in a bit of effort to go get it!

In some circumstances Ellie can be quite a nervous dog with some typical Collie traits. She is worried by other dogs they meet when out, and very reactive to passing large or sudden vehicles, trains on the nearby railway line and so on, wanting to lunge and chase them. No amount of traditional training or ‘controlling’ has stopped her doing this beyond preventing her through physical strength. She barks at vehicles, horses and dogs as they pass her garden. It is difficult because these things happen suddenly. Dogs react most to ‘sudden’ (as do we). A steady stream of tracters or trains would soon habituate her.

In their role of parents/leaders, her humans now need to convince her that they are there to protect her and to make the decisions,both at home and when out. Commands, telling her to Be Quiet and ‘training’ just are not doing the job. What is needed is a lot more subtle.

This is a classic example of people who have done all the ‘right’ things to give their dog a happy and fulfilled life – long walks, training, socialising, agility and so on – but where things don’t improve. The only way things will change with Ellie is if her humans change what they themselves do. The whole walking, barking, reactivity thing needs to be dealt with in an entirely different way. Instead of imposing human demands upon her, she needs a chance to work out for herself the appropriate behaviour without the distraction of commands. She needs to feel safe.

Don’t get me wrong, commands like Come, Stop, Stay and Sit all have their place, but we tend to use them willy nilly when they are inappropriate or unimportant so they lose their power when they are vital. A calm state of mind isn’t well served by commands. Silence is Golden (I think that was The Tremeloes!).  A loose lead, a calm owner who takes appropriate action rather than using commands, who acts logically as a leader or parent would – and that is not to force her to Sit and Wait, trapped like a sitting duck as ‘danger’ approaches (or to march directly onwards commanding ‘Leave It’ as most traditional dog training will dictate) – will result in a more confident and trusting dog. And this brings us back to the beginning. In order to trust them with her safety, she also needs to see them as the decision-makers and protectors at home too.

There is a lot to think about to start with, but gradually if people work at it and are consistent, if they look at things from the dog’s perspective, a new way of living with a dog becomes a way of life and the dog learns self control.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Will They Break Window to get at a Dog?

Winston watching out of the window with Jack


Doberman Jack on guard duty at the window


Jack is a large Doberman X aged about eight, and Winston is a Staffie/Chocolate Labrador mix or eighteen months. Beautiful, friendly dogs.

Jack had several homes before his present owner, and poor Winston had been kennelled from about six weeks old until he moved in with them at a year old. Considering this very unsatisfactory start in life, he is brilliant. With both dogs there are some problems that need ironing out, but the most dramatic is the barking at the window at the frequently passing dogs.

Barking and guard duty can be very stressful to a dog. Winston is a compulsive licker – licking people, chairs, the carpet – anything; he grabs ankles when people move about and when stressed he may either hump people or redirect onto Jack. So far there have been no major issues between the dogs, but it’s probably only a matter of time before Jack stands up for himself. Jack takes out his frustration and stress on his bed – humping that.

As there is nowhere for the dogs to go apart from at the front of the house, in addition to reacting to the barking in an appropriate fashion the only solution is to somehow make it impossible for them to see out – especially when the couple are out at work and not around to help the dogs. Jack is very tall, and Winston climbs onto something. He sometimes charges at the window like a battering ram and it’s only a matter of time before the window smashes and both dogs are out in the road.

The plan now is to get rid of as much stress from the dogs’ lives as possible and to keep things between the two of them well under control. Walks will eventually be a lot more pleasant with calmer dogs on loose leads , but this will take a considerable length of time.window covered with frosted plastic

I can tell already that the couple will have the patience and commitment to see this through. They have already come a long way with these two great dogs.

I visited five weeks later. the barking at the window has stopped altogether, aided with plastic covering on the bottom half that looks like frosted glass. They were struggling with Jack’s walks. See the story of my revisit and what we did.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

From Stray to Kennels to New Home

Leo still for just long enough to take this photoWhen getting a new dog, people sometimes have very high expectations based on their memories of their previous elderly dog. They may remember a placid dog that doesn’t pull on lead and that will come back when called.

Leo is about eleven months old, and a German Shepherd crossed with something else.  He was found as a stray and has spent a couple of months in rescue kennels. A week or so ago he was adopted by his new family. He has a lot of adjusting to do. He is easily aroused and has a great deal of pent-up stress. If people come and go he will start to spin and tail chase, and often does this seemingly for no reason at all.

He is very reactive to hearing dogs barking in the neighbourhood and may go quite frantic.

The main problem the owners are having is that he pulls so much on lead he nearly chokes himself and, when let of, he shoots off like a ball from a canon, charging into the distance. His totally ignores them when they try to call him back, turning up in his own good time.

Having freelanced as a stray, I don’t suppose he sees any reason why he should not be doing his own thing. It’s a big ask for him to have reliable recall straight away. I feel that because of the stress built up in him, and the stressful manner of walks – being yanked back with painful neck and a frustrated and cross owner, when he’s let off lead he is FREE to run off the stress. Built up stress has to overflow somehow, whether it is by charging about, spinning or chewing obsessively.

All the time I was there, for three hours, he was constantly busy. It started with demanding ball play. I suggested they swapped the ball for his bone, and he chewed it obsessively for the rest of the evening, not even stopping when we put a harness on him to demonstrate the kind with a D-ring on the chest.

Like so many, the people were expecting a dog to simply fall into their lives. A dog to take for long walks off lead and who lies peacefully with them in the evenings. They didn’t really bargain for the hard work Leo is going to take. By removing as much stress as possible and not allowing people to hype him up in play especially, by  following my instructions for walking a dog on a loose lead and actively working at recall, they will resolve these problems in time. Leo will not feel the need to charge off when he is calmer. He is an adolescent at present, so he should settle down a bit anyway as he gets older.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.