Walking with your dog should be a stress-relieving activity for both you and your beloved pup. It’s a good opportunity to get some exercise, as well as to develop your dog’s familiarity with the outdoors. Unfortunately, your walks may not always be perfect. Does your dog go berserk at the sight of a stranger? If so, you are not alone.
Many dog owners encounter this problem and don’t know how to manage it. If your dog barks at strangers on walks, what should you do? We talk about why dogs bark at strangers and what you can do to remove this bad behavior.
Why do dogs bark at strangers?
When your dog barks at strangers, it may not be always angry barking. Instead, they may be barking due to over excitement at the sight of a potential friend. Excited barking can be accompanied with tail wagging and jumping around, and you will notice that the sound of their barking is not intended to drive the stranger away. Your dog may even start pulling towards the stranger in an attempt to meet them up close.
However, this excited behavior is not appreciated by everyone. Some people may be as equally excited as your dog and be willing to pet them. On the other hand, most people, especially children, may become scared and threatened by the barking.
You can employ ways to minimize your dog’s excitement, but do not punish them for it. It just means that your dog wants to be social and friendly with other people. However, we recommend that you refuse treats from strangers. Otherwise, your dog may expect treats from other people and start barking at them to get one.
Fear or Anxiety
Most dogs are naturally friendly, but when they are scared of something, they can start becoming hostile. When a dog feels scared or anxious, he will start displaying signs of aggression in order to drive the source of fear away. Essentially, it is a bluff to get rid of the scary stimuli.
When a passerby sees your angry dog, they will either move away or walk to the other side of the street. Your dog will think that his ‘bluff’ has worked and thus become prone to repeating the behavior next time.
Territoriality or Overprotectiveness
Your dog may become territorial of a certain area if you spend a lot of your walks in it. Thus, your dog barking at strangers may be due to the fact that he feels that that area is his and he must protect it. This is classified as territorial barking and may be accompanied by stiffness of the body and aggressive growling.
On the other hand, your dog may be barking at a stranger because he feels that he must protect you. Protectiveness towards their owners is a natural personality trait that most dogs have. Although, overprotectiveness is another thing. Your pup may be deemed as overprotective if they show overly aggressive behavior at a non-threatening stranger. This can be due to previous abuse or mistreatment, especially if your dog is a rescue.
Why you need to stop your dog from barking at strangers
Your dog barking at strangers incessantly can become stressful for both you and your pet. It is likely that you lessen walking time due to this behavior, which is not a good thing. All dogs need enough physical activity and social interaction in order to develop properly, and walks are definitely a good way to exercise your dog and improve both of these skills.
A dog that becomes used to this behavior can also grow to be more aggressive towards strangers and guests, even if you’re not out on walks. This hostile behavior can force you to crate him or lock him away whenever you have guests in the house. You don’t want that, of course. As pet owners, we want our dogs to socialize with other people, especially friends and family who come over to the house.
Your dog needs his walks and in order to make it a stress-free experience for you both, it is important that you correct the behavior early on before it gets worse.
How to stop my dog barking when out walking
Take your dog to the vet
Your dog’s fear can stem from many different types of stimuli other than simply a stranger approaching. We first advise you to take your dog to the veterinarian in order to rule out any underlying causes, such as pain or illness. Moreover, a vet can tell you what your dog’s phobias are if he has any, and how to manage them with medication and/or training.
Distract your dog from strangers
If your dog shows aggressive or territorial behavior whenever a stranger approaches, you can try some distraction techniques to divert your dog’s attention away from the stimulus. Try giving your dog a piece of food or a small treat whenever a stranger approaches. In this way, he will see that a stranger is not a threat and he will be rewarded for calm behavior.
Another method is to reroute the direction of your walks. See a stranger approaching? Try crossing the street or turning the corner. Make your dog pay attention to new stimuli other than the stranger that is coming your way. His anxiety will eventually be reduced whenever he sees a new person.
Have your dog get used to other people at home
The first place that you can train your dog’s social skills is at home. Your dog will be comfortable with people he sees every day, but what about people that are unfamiliar to him?
When a dog barks at a stranger, it’s most likely because they are not familiar to him. This triggers their ‘fight or flight’ response as they perceive a stranger as a threat. A good way to reduce your dog’s fear or anxiety towards strangers is to expose them at home first.
Invite guests over and ask them not to retreat when the dog barks. Do not pull your dog away either. Wait for your dog to calm down and then ask the visitor to give a treat to your pup. This way your dog can learn that strangers are not a threat and he will be rewarded for friendly behavior.
The same applies for delivery men, tradesmen, or housekeepers that dogs tend to bark at. Try to give your dog time to adjust to the new person and reward them once they calm down.
Don’t punish your dog for barking
The most important thing to remember when training your dog is to not punish them for their behavior. If you yell, hit, or yank them away, your dog can relate these punishments to the presence of a stranger.
This tends to make them panic whenever they see a stranger, as they will think they are about to be punished. The panic and anxiety make them bark even worse. Moreover, they will become scared of walks and may refuse to go out because of it.
Teach your dog a command
Just like other commands, you can train your dog to be calm and stop barking with a verbal cue. However, this will only work well if he already knows how to bark on command.
To teach your dog the ‘quiet’ command, ask him to speak or bark first. After he barks twice or thrice, give him a treat whilst repeating the word ‘quiet’. Wait for your pet to stop barking before giving him the treat.
Start learning this command in quiet, distraction-free environments before moving on to an environment with stimuli. Eventually, your dog will learn how to stop barking on command while you’re out on walks.
If all else fails
If these tips do not work on your dog, you can enroll him in an obedience school where professionals can train your dog to stop barking at strangers. Furthermore, this is a good opportunity to socialize him with unfamiliar people and other dogs.
Don’t have the resources for an obedience school? You can learn more about obedience training with Larry Kay’s bestseller: Training the Best Dog Ever: A 5-Week Program Using the Power of Positive Reinforcement. With this material, you can train your dog to be obedient with the use of love and non-punishment methods.
Or you can sign up for an online dog training course to help you learn what you need to know.
There are many reasons why your dog barks at strangers while out on walks. It can be because of fear, anxiety, protectiveness, or unfamiliarity. With that being said, there are also a lot of ways you can stop this behavior, and the methods we recommend are highly effective.
You just need to have a lot of patience and understanding. With enough training, your dog will learn to not bark at strangers, and walks will become a more fun experience for the both of you.
P.S. Help a friend with a dog that barks at strangers on walks by pinning this!