Barks at People She Doesn’t Know.

Maya barks at people


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.

Tia – what eyelashes!

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.

Won’t Come When Called

Lhasa Apso mix Sophie is a teenager.

She is friendly and fearless and a perfect companion for the widowed lady apart from the two things I was called out for.

The gorgeous little Lhasa Apso mix is eight months old. Where on walks she never goes far when off lead and willingly comes back when called, on the few occasions when she has managed to get out of either the front door or the garden gate she has run off down the road, totally deaf to any calls to come back. It is only by luck that she’s not ended up under a car.

When the lady has people to stay, they are not always careful or quick enough to shut the front door and Sophie squeezes out. She has also climbed over the garden gate which is now fixed.

I suggested that she shouldn’t rely totally on the training and when she has people staying with her that she puts a child gate in the inner porch doorway, to make doubly sure that people are reminded to be careful about not letting Sophie through. Already she has learnt to hang back in the hall when the lady opens the door to someone and she will build on that. As with everything, playing safe is always best.

We took a whistle out into the fairly large garden having already taught Sophie indoors that one blow on the whistle means she gets something tasty. The lady smiled to see how, when she whistled, the little dog turned immediately and came racing back to her – ears flapping and tail wagging!

It’s important for now that Sophie is only whistled when it’s certain she will come until an automatic response is established and that it’s not over-used so she becomes immune to it.

We also called ‘Sophie – Come’ from one to another of us in the house, and she ran back and forth for a reward. (The lady was another person who didn’t realise that the tone of her call was nowhere near sufficiently bright and interesting to penetrate a dog’s mind if she’s busy doing something else).

The other issue is that neighbouring cats use her garden as a toilet and like many dogs Sophie finds what cats produce irresistible. The lady will chase Sophie around the garden to take it off her – a losing battle! In a way this is part of the same problem – ignoring being called.

In the garden we also rehearsed a cat-poo exercise. First thing in the morning when most of it is about, the lady will put Sophie on a retractable lead to go on ‘cat poo patrol’ armed with whistle and poo bags. Sophie can find it for her! This is made easier by the little dog having a ritual whereby when she finds some she will first roll on the ground nearby. The lady can whistle her and as soon as she comes back, feed her something extra special. If she doesn’t come immediately, then she can be reeled in. The lead handle can then be hooked over something while she collects the mess or she drops another piece of food on the ground while she picks it up with a poo bag.

Each time the dog hasn’t been outside for a while the lady can repeat this exercise. It may be a nuisance but not so bad as trying to retrieve the unmentionable from a little dog who is running off with her treasure! Eventually she shouldn’t need the lead anymore and will learn just to come away – though unless she grows out of it, it may be too much to expect her to resist if out there alone!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Sophie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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).