Reactive barking – what can we do?
I’ve just checked my post on reactivity in dogs, which I wrote in January 2018, and I am revisiting this because it is still one of the biggest problems people have with their dogs. I did some more work with Aura on this same problem yesterday, because I realised she was getting worse again. If you want to stop reactive barking, you have to keep on working on it. It’s hard to be bothered!
I was asked by John about how to stop a dog from barking at everything out on walks. Their little dog had apparently broken through into a neighbour’s garden and been ‘savaged’. Understandably the dog was now afraid of everything. Apparently it barked loudly whenever it saw another dog, or at lots of other things. This is known as being ‘reactive’ and it is an expression of fear.
Step 1: Recognise the problem
The first step in solving the problem is to recognise that the dog is being reactive and that this is because it is afraid. It is therefore hard for the dog to relax in any situation where it feels under threat. This can be stressful for the dog. Surely it is better if we can solve the problem? John said the dog had become really reluctant to go out.
Step 2: Decide to take action
This might seem obvious, but honestly, it involves effort. So there are three courses of action we might take;
- do nothing
- work around the problem
- try to solve it.
There are some problem behaviours that you just put up with, either because you don’t see it as a problem, or because it doesn’t really bother you. Aura’s squeaking is an example of this – she gets all silly when people come into the house (especially people she knows!) But we just ignore it, on the whole, because it doesn’t seem that big a deal.
People also often take steps to avoid situations that have become an issue. Unfortunately, with a reactive dog, this usually means that we can’t be bothered to take them for a walk, because it is just too much hassle. Such a shame for you and your dog!
Let’s try and solve it then?
Step 3: Training to reduce reactive behaviour
My advice to John was to try and distract the dog and get her to focus on him, rather than on the ‘big scary thing’. This means really paying attention to what is around you and being ready for something to come along, so that you can pre-empt this and act accordingly.
First of all, you need treats – lots of treats ! Grab the dog’s attention before she sees ‘the enemy’ and reward her for ignoring the monster and looking at you. You need to be quick!
You need to remain calm. If your dog is on the lead and the minute they start reactive barking, you begin shouting hysterically “Poppy! Be quiet! Stop that noise!” and so on, you are basically joining in with the barking! That’s what your dog hears, anyway.
Finally, I suggested that walks are shortened to just a few minutes, to start with. It is pointless working on the issue for a while and then getting bored and letting her bark for the rest of the walk! Go out, work really hard for 5-10 minutes, creating a happy experience. Then go home and have a cup of tea and a piece of cake. You’ve earned it! Short, sharp sessions are much more successful when teaching a new skill.
Practice makes perfect
If you work at it, you will be amazed at the result you can achieve. You need:
Easy, when you know how!
When I’d given this advice (sounding as though I knew what I was talking about – amazing lol) I got home and found a very similar question being asked on a Facebook group. With a brilliant video demonstration of the training.
Much better than my efforts with Aura!
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