Dogs may bark at people or other dogs for a variety of reasons and usually this behaviour is always lumped into the label of ‘reactivity’ – meaning your dog ‘reacts’ to people/dogs but in reality all dogs are reactive, because if they didn’t ‘react’ to stimuli, they wouldn’t interact with their environment and wouldn’t survive!
So ‘reactive’ doesn’t tell us much about what your dog is doing, or why he’s doing it as it covers so many behaviours and emotions, but I will try to cover a few possibilities here.
Dogs may bark at every dog/person they see or they may only bark at certain people/dogs – based on something about their appearance (large dogs, small dogs, tall people, children, etc) or about their behaviour (bouncy or erratic dogs, people on bikes/skateboards, people who look directly at the dog, etc) and they may do so for different reasons.
There are, of course, just the very excited dogs who bark when they’re excited or pleased to see someone. This barking is different to an anxious/aggressive behaviour but it’s difficult to say how as a blanket statement as each dog is so different.
Some dogs can appear very aggressive in their barking but then when they get up to the person or dog they are friendly. This is usually out of frustration at not being able to get to someone they want to greet, and they are often labelled as ‘frustrated greeters’. Again the label isn’t really important because when working with a professional they will go far more in depth about the circumstances and your dog’s behaviour and that is what gives us what we need to work on it, rather than the label itself.
Some dogs behave aggressively towards other dogs/people out of fear – they may be anxious about what would happen should that individual get too close to them, so they behave aggressively to increase/maintain distance between them and whatever it is that is worrying them. These dogs may still, despite their attempt to increase distance run upto the thing that worries them barking and growling because by running towards someone aggressively, it usually causes that someone to retreat – and again, the distance increases! So it may look like your dog is behaving aggressively because they want to fight, but often that is not their intention – of course sometimes, if the other person/dog doesn’t retreat, or they too behave aggressively, this can result in a bite, or even a fight.
There are a smaller number of dogs that behave aggressively because they want to fight/attack – this may be that they have previously won fights and had the accompanying adrenaline rush, and want to feel that again, it may be predatory or possibly territorial but in my experience, the majority of dogs I work with that are labelled as using ‘territorial aggression’ are in fact, anxious rather than truly territorial.
Confident dogs are less likely to bark a lot at people/dogs (unless trained to do so in the case of police/security dogs) – that kind of behaviour is usually related to anxiety or frustration, whilst confident dogs tend to be better in control of themselves.
For the sake of including another cause of aggressive behaviour I will quickly mention that dogs may also behave aggressively in order to defend valued items (resource guarding) – this can include food, toys, locations or sometimes even people – but I will cover this separately.
There are various ways to deal with each of these types of behaviour and it is often a good idea to consult with a force-free professional in order to do so effectively. Using punishment in any of the above circumstances can go drastically wrong and can easily cause an otherwise friendly dog to become anxious and behave aggressively as a result, or to worsen existing aggressive behaviour.
It’s important to work with dogs ‘under threshold’ – that is, at a level that they are comfortable at – at this point they aren’t reacting, but it’s more than that, we need them to be a few steps down the ladder from a reaction – rather than just coping with the situation.
If you are going to consult with a professional, it’s a good idea to get a list of things that trigger your dog to bark – and try to be as specific as possible, keeping a journal is also a really good idea.
For further information you can contact me at [email protected], whatsapp 07518667575 or find me on social media (Instagram & Facebook) with the handle @lottiesdogs.