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Why Is My Dog Barking At People?

Last week I received a really good question from a reader of the blog about barking:

My dog has just turned 1 and he has recently started barking at people when they walk past the window or when we are out and about. He used to love all people but in the last couple of weeks will bark at anyone he doesn’t know! Nothing traumatic has happened to him and I have no clue what has started it! Do you have any thoughts on this?

I think it’s fair to say that no-one really LOVES their dog barking, and in social situations such as when they do it to other people that we don’t know it can’t get embarrassing pretty quickly too!¬† ūüė≥

There are several reasons that dogs bark, and I’m just going to pick on one particular instance in my blog today. But if you’re interested in learning more about why dogs bark, there is a fascinating short-read book by Turid Rugaas which I would highly recommend – understanding the why quite often helps with¬†problem solving.

I’m going to focus in on the fact that this is a young dog and that the dog is barking at people he doesn’t know. Whilst I haven’t been given a lot of details, my initial thinking is that is¬†sounds like the barking is caused by anxiety.

My query¬†is about whether or not this young dog really did used to “love all people”. You see it can seem to us like our dogs love fuss and attention from people because they’ll get excited, roll on their backs, and generally play the fool.

I think it’s possible that this dog might have found the way that people quite often greet dogs a bit overwhelming, and found it a bit stressful.¬†Canine body language is beautiful subtle, and quite often we miss the signals they’re giving us when they’re feeling unfortunately. I recommend every dog owner reads another fantastic little book¬†by Turid Rugaas to learn more about what their dog is trying to communicate to them:

My guess is that most¬†people will have heard of the ‘Fight’ or ‘Flight’ fear responses. And as they’re so obvious we’re all pretty good at recognising¬†a¬†dog that is running away in fear or barking or biting when on the lead or cornered. But the lesser known responses our dogs often give us are ‘Freeze’ or ‘Flirt’.

My experience has been that there are lots of lovely, polite young dogs out there who feel a bit overwhelmed when people, especially “I’m great with dogs, they always love me” ūüėČ ¬†people, stop to say hello.

Now if we miss their signals telling us that they’re not feeling very comfortable (and they can display several in the space of just a few seconds) the dog now has a decision to make about how to respond in that situation. Quite often lovely, polite dogs go into ‘Flirt’ mode – not a sexy thing, but a court jester type response. Goofing around and generally playing the fool to indicate that they’re no threat and please don’t hurt me!

The trouble is if this approach isn’t successful, i.e. the person doesn’t then goes away – then if the dog is really feeling unsure, then they may try a different tactic instead. In this case barking to stop the person approaching. This can be quite a good way to avoid a hello! If a dog is anxious it isn’t being deliberate about it, it’s more a frantic – “go away I’m really scary” response to something it feels it can’t control.

I’ll explain how I’d form the basis of a solution in reply to another question I received last week about a dog who is frightened of livestock – in particular horses, in my next blog post.

Do you recognise ‘Flirt’ behaviours in your dog? What triggers them? Comment below with your experiences ūüôā

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