If your dog barks at people walking past your house, or past your apartment door, you are not alone. Some of us want our dog to bark in these situations. But for many people in suburbia, we don’t want our dog barking at every single person that walks by.
The history of barking dogs
It’s important to remember that we bred our dogs to bark in specific situations. Depending on the breed, emphasis may have been placed on selecting for a dog who would alert the humans to an intruder by barking. Alternatively, some breeds are designed to bark as a warning and then make sure the intruder doesn’t make it on to the property by scaring them off in any way necessary. The level of aggression these dogs show can increase if the intruder gets closer to the property.
Dog barking is normal in these situations for many breeds. But, with a change to higher density living, this means that our dogs could be spending a significant period of the day and night barking at any change in the environment.
The individual barking dog
All breeds of dog can have this trait of barking at things approaching their territory, but some breeds will generally show this trait more strongly than others. Also, individuals within a breed will also vary greatly. So, we can’t assume that just because your dog is of a particular breed that they will or won’t bark in this situation.
What does your barking dog look like?
Consider what your dog looks like when they are barking. If they were human would they be saying:
A) “Hey everyone, just letting you know something has changed in the environment”. This might look like one or two barks, your dog may not even get up if they were lying down. They relax within a second or two after the person has walked past the house.
B) “Aaaaghhh! Something has changed in the environment! We are all going to die! You out there, go away or else!”. This will look like multiple barks, potentially charging towards the front door/fence. Your dog will likely be worked up with a higher rate of breathing and difficulty in settling straight after the person walks past the house. You will also notice they will have difficulty listening to any cue you might give at this time. This is not them being disobedient, they are simply so panicked they cannot think properly.
If you think your dog fits in category A, and you don’t mind if your dog barks at things then there is nothing you need to do.
But, if your dog fits more in category B, regardless if you want the barking to stop or not, we also need to consider the stress the dog is experiencing each time they have a panic attack that an intruder is coming. One or two mildly stressful events over time won’t have a massive impact on a healthy individual. But, if the stress is extreme, or even if the stress is minor and continually repeated, your dog may be living in a heightened state of stress. Prolonged stress then impacts both their physical and mental health. Your dog then has less capacity to deal with additional stressors or challenges.
What can I do about my barking dog?
We need two techniques to change your barking dog.
- The first, and most important one will be to reduce your dog’s access to sounds and movement on the street. This will prevent them practising both the behaviours and feelings that are rehearsed each time they bark at a person walking by. Think of a tally board and put a mark for each time your dog practised feeling stressed and barking when a person walked past your house. The more your dog has practised this, the stronger the feelings and behaviour will be. For more information on the importance of this step, check out our earlier blog here.
- The second step is to teach our dogs what we want them to do instead when a person walks past the house. Instead of being a barking dog, they could come and boop you with their nose. Or they could go and relax on a mat. There are many options for this alternate behaviour with some options working better for different individuals. This second step is all about putting tallies on the currently empty column of the board that is titled ‘Not Barking at People Walking Past’. In most cases this second step will not succeed unless we do the first step as well. Over time, as your dog is more inclined to choose their alternate behaviour, you can relax the management needed in step one.
If your dog gets really stressed with people walking by, these techniques may not be achievable. These dogs may benefit with assessment and treatment by a vet who specialises in behaviour.
Want some help?
Fixing this issue sounds simple in theory, but in practice can be very difficult. Please let us know if we can help you and your dog.