Walking your dog has been shown to help us live longer through exercise. However, is your dog always barking and lunging every time you take them on a walk and they see a new dog? If so, then you’ve got a behavioral problem on your hands that needs fixing to ensure safety to both you, your dog, the other dog and the owner of the other dog.
When the dog barks and lunges, it is called reactivity or leash reactivity. But, before you can fix the problem, it is crucial to understand why your dog is always barking and lunging at other dogs in the first place. Understanding the problem is the first step towards fixing the problem.
Understanding reactivity aka barking and lunging?
Reactivity is a behavior displayed by dogs when they get overly excited over stimuli in their environment. A good example is when your dog sees another dog. In short, if they are scared or stressed by the presence of the other dog, they get the fight or flight response which then causes the barking and lunging.
In the majority of instances, the leash reactivity is a dog’s way of putting distance between them and the new dog. Therefore, by behaving aggressively, they are hoping that the new dog will go away.
There is an exception to this. Sometimes your dog may want to go say hi to the new dog but holding him on leash causes frustration. As a result, your dog may then resort to barking and lunging at the new dog even while he has good intentions.
Aggressive barking and lunging
To solve your dog’s barking and lunging, it is also important to identify whether the behavior is friendly or aggressive.
In many cases, dogs that are notorious with barking and lunging are surprisingly friendly when they get close to the new dogs. However, when the dog picks a fight with a new dog, then this is not leash reactivity anymore but aggression. Moreover, if the dog approaches another dog when off-leash dominantly and aggressively, then it is safe to assume that your dog’s barking and lunging is aggressive even when on the leash.
Why your dog is always barking and lunging
Now that we understand barking and lunging, let’s take a closer look at reasons why your dog barks and lunges at other dogs.
- Under socialization – this is perhaps the main reason why a dog resorts to barking and lunging whenever they encounter new dogs. An under-socialized pup will simply not know how to react in the presence of other dogs and this can make them highly nervous. Furthermore, when they figure out that they can get away with barking and lunging when they are on a leash, this enforces the negative behavior.
- Frustrations- it may be that your pup is well socialized and spends a lot of time playing with other pooches at the dog park. However, if you have had your pup on a leash before and allowed them to pull towards another dog whenever they want to say hi, then this could encourage lunging. Also, if you used to let your pooch say hi to other dogs but you no longer do, then your pup may want to say hi to a new dog that they encounter but get frustrated when you do not allow them to. This could cause barking and lunging.
- The fight or flight response – dog owners sometimes lock under socialized pups behind a pet gate or fence. Other times they may be on a leash most of the day. If they saw a new dog, they will feel stressed and may want the other dog to go away. Consequently, since flight is no longer an option, the dog learns that barking and lunging works.
- Poor training- many people are unaware of the ill-advised training methods that they use to stop their dogs from barking and lunging. Whenever the dog encounters an unfamiliar dog and gets excited, some owners use unpleasant methods to try and get their dog to calm down such as chocking, spanking or scolding the dog. Consequently, the dog resorts to barking and lunging, even more, to get the new dog to go away to reduce the unpleasant experience.
The right way to stop barking and lunging
If your dog is barking and lunging, then this is no longer about socialization but teaching the dog to remain calm when they encounter an unfamiliar dog. A few tips can help you manage the barking and lunging.
Barking and lunging tend to cause dog owners to react negatively towards their dogs in an attempt to gain control of the situation and prevent the overexcitement. However, to correctly prevent a dog from barking and lunging, it all comes down to instilling positive behavior whenever the dog is around unfamiliar dogs.
The best way to do this is to associate the presence of new dogs with good things. For instance, whenever your dog sees another dog and then looks back at you, provide them with treats.
Avoid rewarding the dog when they bark at another dog. Instead, reward the dog when they remain calm and look back at you. You can do this exercise when the new dog is a long distance away and then slowly progress by bringing the new dog closer.
Next, move on to teaching your dog commands when they are around new dogs such as sit and down. Most importantly, whenever your dog responds calmly and positively, reward them with a treat. This also teaches the dog that new dogs are not a threat and is an effective way to prevent barking and lunging.
You can also play a game to teach the dog to remain calm and to ignore other dogs.
Keep in mind that the learning process takes time and patience is paramount when teaching your dog to stop barking and lunging. Do not be too harsh on your pooch. At the end of the day, his wolf DNA drives him to drive other unfamiliar competitors from his territory.