When a dog barks, don't bark back

I have a young rescue dog I adopted about 18 months ago. My boyfriend and I have spent many hours working through some of this dog's fearfulness using positive methods.

One thing that surprises me is that when my dog is afraid, and barks at a stranger, the person barks back at her. I believe people just don't know what to do in this situation. Their response causes her to become more fearful and reactive.

I wish that people had a better sense of how to approach a scared dog. Most people think that a dog who runs toward them barking is aggressive and may want to bite them, when in fact, many dogs who behave this way just want the person to move away. If the person looks at them, leans in, and barks at them, the dog is likely to think the person is menacing them in some way, and may feel like they need to "attack" before being "attacked."

If that person were to turn to the side, look at the ground, and hum a quiet tune, the dog is likely to perceive that the person is actually no threat at all, turn around and go about their business.

I was very fortunate recently to encounter a group of teen boys outside a McDonald's restaurant in town. After we got close to them, one grabbed his skateboard, tossed it on the ground, and started heading across the parking lot. Between the quick motion and loud noise of the skateboard, she started barking loudly.

Since the group seemed friendly, I asked the boy if he would mind if she "sniffed" his skateboard. I had lots of cookies with me. He agreed, after asking if she would bite him. Fair question.

I assured him that he could just leave the skateboard on the ground and move away, and I'd bring her over to sniff it. She happily sniffed it, and even impressed them by "riding" it a little, as she had learned in a clicker class we attended a year or so ago. The boy was able to feed her a cookie, and she was happy and friendly with them by the end of this encounter.

The next time we see a young man on a skateboard I'm sure she will be less likely to react so loudly. Thanks fellows!

As the number of dogs in shelters and rescues continues to increase, and more and more people are adopting these dogs, we will encounter dogs with fear issues more often in our daily lives.

Join me by researching canine body language, attend workshops and seminars in your area to increase your skills and knowledge, take your pet to a positive training class, or just come and watch one sometime.

Lastly, please don't bark at a barking dog. My dog and I thank you!

DEB WATSON

Kamloops

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