Monday, 25 October 2021
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Dog Gone Problems: Our puppy barks at strangers

Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at

Dog Gone Problems,

My puppy barks at everybody she doesn’t recognize, and she doesn’t stop barking. We tried training her to stop, but she still doesn’t learn. When we take her out on a walk she barks at other people.

Hi Melanie,

Puppies bark for many reasons…to get attention, warn, disagree, protest, complain and when they are disturbed or upset.

You didn’t mention how old the puppy is or how you tried to train her to stop barking. If your training method involved verbally disagreeing, this can actually intensify the barking. Some dogs interpret your telling them to stop barking as you agreeing with the dog.

If you jerk the leash or use other punishment-based corrections, that can also amplify the barking, as dogs learn through association. If your dog is looking at someone who is barking and you jerk the leash while she is looking at the other person, the dog can associate the correction with the visual representation of the person. This will often cause the dog to bark even more.

As a dog behaviorist, I try to identify why the dog is barking, then fire the root cause of the problem. With the limited information you provided, I can only guess that the pup is disagreeing with the presence of the person she doesn’t know and barks until that person leaves.

Many puppies who are not enrolled in puppy classes or failed to meet a large variety of people during their critical socialization period (from 3 to 16 weeks old) can feel uncomfortable around new people or situations and act out as a defense mechanism. This is why early socialization is so important. But puppy socialization should continue until any pup is 9 months old, when his or her personality is set.

A barking problem like this can quickly become a self-rewarding behavior. Most people move away from a barking dog, which causes your pup to think it works. This will cause her to bark even more.

If your pup barks at people outside or on walks, I’d create a scenario where you can change the interaction into a positive. Go to a place where many people will walk by. A path in a park or a boardwalk on the beach make great options for this approach.

Enlist the help of two friends who stand about 15 feet away from you on your right and left side. Give them a bag of high-value training treats with a strong aroma. I like using chicken liver.

As people pass by, have your friend ask people if they wouldn’t mind tossing a treat at your dog. You may need to get a large bowl or bucket for people to toss the treats into. Just make sure the pup can stick her head in to gobble up the treat. If the dog can catch, tossing the treats directly to the pup is even better.

If your dog starts barking as people approach, you may need to walk back a few steps to increase the distance between where the people pass and where the dog is.

Dog behavior tip: Increasing distance between a dog and something he or she is reacting to is always a good idea.

Keep moving back until you find a spot where your dog doesn’t bark. It’s important there is enough distance so your dog doesn’t feel they are a threat or need to be barked at. It’s OK if it’s fairly far…as long as the people are in eyesight.

After the people pass and toss the treat into the pot or bucket, walk your dog up and let it get the treat. You may want to assign a command word to use like “introduction,” “greeting” or “socialize” right after the pup eats the treat. (I prefer fun sounding dog commands.)

If you do need to move your pup farther away to start, the next time you practice you should be able to move a few feet closer. Keep working at it until she is on the path/sidewalk next to the bucket.

After a while, your dog should want to start moving back towards the bucket or pulling towards the people passing by. Instead of seeing them as a threat, she should start seeing them as treat-delivery people.

While this will take some coordination, you shouldn’t have to do this more than a few times unless your pup is very fearful.

I’d continue to reinforce the positive after this by walking with treats. When you meet a new person, give them a treat. Ask your pup to sit, give them a treat and then say “sit” out loud. Then ask the new person to do the same. This will help your puppy think that sitting in front of new people is the best way to get them to give the pup a treat.

Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.


The Bark Box

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