A reader contacted me about her dog’s behavior, which was troubling her. As I always do when asked about pet behavior, I asked my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, to weigh in. Here’s the question and her response — I hope they help you, too!
Q: One of our dogs always barks and growls when he sees other dogs. My husband yells at him to try to get him to stop. I know that’s not the best response, but what should we do instead? We try to drag him away, but that’s not always possible.
A: It can be embarrassing when a dog starts to bark at other dogs, especially if they haven’t done anything to provoke him. Your husband’s reaction is normal, but as you say, it’s not very effective. Neither is dragging the dog away (or picking him up if he’s a small dog).
In fact, both of those responses can increase the likelihood that your dog will bark at other dogs, especially if he’s barking out of fear. Punishment can escalate his anxiety and teach him to associate other dogs with negative consequences. Dragging him away can make him think that his barking is working because it removes him from the presence of the other dog, causing him to bark even more the next time he sees a strange dog.
Instead, work with a trainer or behaviorist to teach your dog an alternative response, such as sitting and looking at you when he sees another dog. You can also pair the sight of another dog with rewards, such as treats or play with a favorite toy. Both of these techniques can help your dog develop a positive reaction toward other dogs and relax in their presence.
It’s also important for you and your husband to remain calm when this behavior occurs. The anxiety that you undoubtedly feel when you see another dog approaching travels right down the leash to your dog and can contribute to the likelihood that he’ll start barking. – Mikkel Becker
All this and more, including the cats of monasteries around the world, in this week’s Pet Connection!