Maya barks at people she doesn’t know.
A while ago they moved from a busy place to the country. Her nervousness at encountering an unfamiliar person on a walk is getting worse now that now she meets fewer people.
Maya is a sweet Cocker Spaniel age nine and she lives with another adorable Cocker, Tia, who is a year younger. The two dogs get on famously. Fortunately Tia hasn’t caught Maya’s fear and doesn’t bark at people.
Maya also barks at people she doesn’t know who come to the house.
Her barking generates a response from her humans that could be increasing her anxiety, not helping her at all.
At the door it is, to quote the lady, bedlam!
A person arriving generates a confusing range of commands and scolding from both the man and the woman. The humans undoubtedly will be contributing to the mayhem.
Now they will train the dogs to go into another room when the bell rings. They will feed them for doing so in order to build up positive associations.
They will also train their visitors (often a challenge!). The person’s language and behaviour can help Maya greatly.
Most of all, they themselves will keep quiet. When they resort to repeated commands or scolding, they merely compound Maya’s fears. It will seem like unfamiliar people are making them upset too.
I always ask people of dogs that get very excited or that are wary (but not likely to bite), to take no notice of them when I come in and for a few minutes. It’s surprising how hard people find this. They are often surprised how unusually quiet their dog initially is with me.
This actually is not because I have any strange powers. It’s largely to do with the owners acting relaxed themselves and the dog picking up on it!
Walks are something of a ritual.
The lucky dogs are daily walked about three miles by the gentleman. They have a very strict route and routine.
The first and last part of the walk is on lead. Then, off lead, they do their own thing with a couple of clever ‘check points’ where they meet up so that he never loses them.
Then there is a place where they stop for fifteen minutes of ball play.
When he calls them back they come – ninety-nine percent of the time. It’s that one percent when Maya sees a person that she won’t come back. The time when it’s most important.
She will rush the person, barking intimidatingly. GO AWAY. If they were to put a hand out she may well bite. She’s scared.
If, on lead, they encounter an unfamiliar person, the man will hold the dogs tightly beside him. He may put himself between which may help. However, he will allow the person to come far too close for Maya and she is trapped.
A walker should engage with the dogs.
Day after day the walks are on automatic, punctuated by meeting a dog or person. The man does his own thing and the dogs do theirs, coming together at prearranged times and places.
I suggest he becomes unpredictable! This way the dogs will take more notice of him.
He needs to react a lot sooner when he sees a person, taking his lead from Maya. Tightening the lead immediately can only make matters worse, The lead should be long and loose and he should remain at a comfortable distance.
He can then feed her or have a game.
Off lead, if he only calls the dogs at the prearranged ‘check-in’ places or when he sees another person, Maya will have wised-up long ago that being called means someone is about!
By engaging more with his dogs, keeping their attention, they will be walking with him. He should call them at random times throughout the walk and vary what he offers them when they return. It can be food or fun.
Out of sight, out of mind.
I would discourage allowing Maya and Tia out of sight.
With a bit of imagination he will much more easily be able to get Maya back well before she barks at people.
If he helps Maya to associate meeting people with with good things, over time her confidence should grow and she will no doubt get nearer before she panics. Ultimately I can see no reason why they can’t walk past or stop to chat to a person she’s not met before. It will be his job to make sure they don’t invade her space.