While out on a walk, it’s not always easy to stop your dog from barking at people — and if you’re worried that they’re in the habit of doing so, your apprehension might just make things worse. Expert dog trainer Ben Randall explains how to stop your dog yapping at passers-by.
Heading out on a daily walk with your dog should be a fun and stress-free experience, but if your canine companion begins barking at anyone who happens to walk past, the outing can feel like a hassle, causing you to feel on edge should you spot anyone approaching. But getting a dog to stop barking at people when they walk by isn’t always easy, as this week’s reader has found out:
‘My dog has a nervous disposition and I believe it’s that which makes her a bit of a pain, barking at people,’ [writes T.R., via e-mail.] ‘I prefer not to have her on the lead, so she can chase tennis balls — she has pretty good recall. If I wasn’t a wheelchair user, it would be easier to have her on lead. Most of the time, she comes to my right wheel when I say “here”, but ignores me when she’s more intent on barking at someone. She is more likely to bark when we set off and she’s excited, and not as bad by the end of our longer walks. Any tips and ideas please?’
Why is this happening? It could possibly be because your dog has a nervous disposition, as you say, and she barks as a defence mechanism. But there is another reason: it could be that she believes you are the nervous one, and she feels as though she needs to protect you both. Often, if a dog senses that we are slightly nervous of a situation, then they launch into protection mode and start barking, feeling as though they need to take charge of the situation.
I know the importance of building a relationship of trust with your dog, so that they look to you for direction — it’s something that’s been at the heart of the BG (Beggarbush) foundation methods I’ve been using for nearly 20 years. You can catch up on my previous articles here, where we’ve covered topics like getting a dog to stop pulling on the lead, dog recall training and stopping a dog jumping up on people. You can also see more at @beggarbush on Instagram, or ask me your own question by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
But now let’s deal with the issue at hand: stopping a dog barking at people when you’re out walking. Your dog should be relaxed and controlled and have enough trust in you and your partnership that he or she stays calm in all environments, no matter what is going on around them.
Five steps to stop your dog barking at people on a walk
1. Use the ‘leave’ command
The ‘leave’ command isn’t just for stopping a dog stealing things. Taught correctly and positively, you will begin to see a huge difference — for example, when your dog sees a distraction or a potential danger and they think about barking or bark once, a quick, sharp verbal ‘leave’ and ‘heel’ command should be all that’s required to defuse the situation.
2. Remember the importance of reward
Once your dog ignores the distraction and you have walked past, after a period of time reward them for their obedience. TR is a wheelchair user, and for my wheelchair-bound clients I ask them to lean across to their dog to offer them a reward in the form of lavish, calm praise or a piece of kibble.
3. Stop the chase (but don’t stop the fun!)
You’ll find this training easier if you stop your dog getting into a state in which he or she is more likely to bark at strangers. Allowing your dog to chase a moving object — like a tennis ball hurtling through the air — might be great fun for then, but will increase his or her prey drive and heighten their already-hyper state of mind. Lots of dogs like to chase and grab, and they will do this repeatedly — but if that’s getting them over-excited, there are other ways for your dog to have fun with their ball, without you losing control of the situation, as we’ll see in step four.
4. Make it memorable: try a memory retrieve
Keeping the dog on lead, lean down and place the tennis ball on the grass or a pathway, give the ‘leave’ command, and then move away with your dog at heel to do what we would call a ‘memory retrieve’. You dog knows you have dropped the ball and he or she learns that the closer they walk to you, the more focus they can keep on you and the quicker they will notice you stop, turn and send them back for the ball.
5. Retrieve and repeat
Give your dog multiple memory retrieves on each walk — between each retrieve, your dog will be in a relaxed and calm frame of mind, enjoying the relationship she has with you out on your walk, and you will succeed in toning everything down, so that you are back in charge of the situation.
In turn, this will help you to develop a closer and more trusting relationship with your dog in an environment full of distractions — all of the fun she’s having is coming from you.
For more detailed advice about Ben Randall’s positive, reward-based and proven BG training methods, one-to-one training sessions, residential training or five-star dog-boarding at his BGHQ in Herefordshire, telephone 01531 670960 or visit www.ledburylodgekennels.co.uk. For a free seven-day trial of the Gundog app, which costs £24.99 a month or £249.99 a year, visit www.gundog.app/trial