Barking at Other Triggers

Sure, we know that triggers such as the sound of the doorbell or the presence of critters can send a dog into a barking frenzy, but these aren’t the only possible culprits. Indeed, there are many other triggers that can cause barking behavior. For example. perhaps your dog starts barking when he sees strangers (animal or human) during walks or through the fence in the yard.

In this section we will cover how to deal with these situations.


In a dog’s dreamland, dogs would be free to roam and greet as many other dogs and people as they want, and everybody would be friends. In a real-life scenario, though, things are very different, and dogs are walked on leashes to keep everyone safe and out of trouble. This may lead to barrier frustration in dogs who are eager to go meet every stranger they see, but find themselves restrained by a leash. The result is a big barking explosion, a dog’s version of a toddler’s tantrum, which can make your dog seem aggressive. Yet those who know your dog well know for a fact that he is the friendliest pooch on earth who plays well at the park and is eager to make friends.

Course of Action:

How do you deal with this type of barking? Letting your dog go meet everyone may seem like an easy fix, but not everybody is willing to meet a dog who is barking his head off. And even if the person or other dog doesn’t seem to mind, you’ll be rewarding your dog’s barking behavior by letting him meet and greet anyone he wants to. As a result, it’s likely he’ll be pulling and barking even more next time!

The best way to tackle this problem is to make sure your dog has a chance to vent his energy before going on walks (by letting him play with an interactive toy such as a stuffed KONG, or playing brain games with him at home), and to up his obedience training by using these situations as a chance to practice heeling.

Einstein spots a dog he wants to meet and I ask him to “heel.”

This means every time your dog sees another dog or person he wants to meet, ask him to “heel” (as taught in Heeling & Attention Heeling from the Brain Training for Dogs course), and heavily reward his attentiveness to you. This makes for a more polite dog and a flashy “attention heeling” type of behavior that will make other owners compliment you on how well trained your dog is. Win-win!


If while on a walk your dog barks at strangers (animal or human), it doesn’t always mean he wants to meet them. Some dogs don*t want to have anything to do with strangers and their barking is a distance-increasing signal that says “stay away!” This behavior is often seen in dogs who weren’t socialized enough and dogs with a history of negative experiences with strangers. This type of reactive barking isn’t that uncommon, either. If you find yourself walking your dog more and more at the wee hours of the night to avoid strangers, you may be wondering what to do about it. Here are a few options.

Course of Action:

To better control your dog, invest in a front-attachment harness and use it in place of a collar. This piece of equipment will help you to maintain control of your dog so you feel less vulnerable about being dragged down the street. Then, work on creating positive associations with strangers, starting at a distance from where your dog doesn’t react. When your dog is under threshold, he’ll find it easier to pay attention and respond to you.

So how do you build these positive associations? Every time your dog sees a stranger from a distance, make a smacking sound with your mouth (as described in the Look into My_by             game from the Brain Training for Dogs course), and give him a tasty treat. With time, your dog will get the idea that seeing a stranger equals treats, which should help to reduce the barking episodes.

For safety and proper implementation of behavior modification, consult with a dog trainer or dog behavior consultant.

I give Petra a treat whenever she sees a stranger. Over time she begins to associate strangers with good things threats!) and stops barking.

Resource Guarding

Last but not least, some dogs see their owners as a valuable possession worthy of guarding. Just as if they were guarding a big bag of food, some dogs will bark and lunge at any stranger—animal or huma who dares to come close to tneir valuable owners. This form of jealous” barking can be quite problematic, especially when meeting dogs who are off leash or not kept under good control by their owners.

Dogs who exhibit this type of behavior typically do well around strangers until the owner is around, at which point they suddenly start snarling and growling. Often these dogs won’t care much about strangers on watks until the strangers come too close and invade the dog’s personal


Course of Action:

You can remedy this behavior by teaching the dog to associate strangers with good things. To do this, the dog should be given a treat whenever a stranger approaches. When the stranger goes away, the dog is ignored and no more treats are given. With time, the jealous dog should learn that great things happen when strangers approach, which should reduce the barking, growling, and lunging behavior over time. For serious cases, consult with a dog behavior professional.


Whether a dog is defending his herd of sheep, his owner’s yard, or the home, territorial behavior takes place mostly within a designated area he perceives as being his territory. Therefore, the main factor that distinguishes this type of behavior from others is the fact that it usually happens around the home. It‘s not always a home, though. Some dogs will also defend the car, a crate, or certain areas on walks where the dog spends a lot of time. Generally dogs start barking to protect their turf at the onset of adolescence, which occurs at around six months of age, depending on the breed.

The way dogs defend their territory depends on several factors. Age, breed, genetics, and the level of socialization and training the dog has received are all possible factors.

Some dogs bark mainly to alert their owners to an intrusion. Once the owners acknowledge the bark and check the area, the barking often stops. Many dogs bark when guests arrive dut calm down once those guests enter the home; however, some dogs may still keep an eye open if they don’t trust the guests.

In some cases, a dog left alone in the yard to fend for himself will feel insecure due to a lack of owner guidance. You’ll likely see the dog bark, run along the fence line, growl, and even make himself appear bigger by raising his hackles to scare the intruder away.

What emotions contribute to a territorial dog? A component of fear is often present in territorial behavior. Dogs who are fearful or weren’t socialized much may not like having their safe haven invaded and may feel threatened by outsiders. These are dogs who will nervously pace, bark, and act restless until the intruder is gone in an attempt to protect an area they perceive as being crucial to their safety and survival.

Course of Action:

The best course of action is to reduce territorial barking through management. I like to catl it “magical management” because it can accomplish a lot. In this case it means managing your dog’s environment to prevent a rehearsal of unwanted behavior. There’s a finale to management. Its purpose is to prevent your dog from acting out problem behavio              at least until he has learned better behaviors.

Below you will find a number of methods to “magically manage” territoriality in dogs.

Territoriality: Managing Behavior in Indoor Dogs

Indoor dogs who bark at people or at other dogs passing by the window should first be provided with exercise and more mental stimulation, and then should be prevented from accessing windows unsupervised (at least until they have learned better behaviors). Covering the windows is a good way to prevent a dog from rehearsing unwanted barking behaviors. There are many privacy window covers available that make windows Iook nice while preventing your dog from barking at passing triggers all day. Blinds and curtains often don‘t work, as dogs may still detect movement and can easily move them aside with their muzzles. Despite this, those coverings can be useful tools for behavior modification in difficult dogs (see the Look at That game in the Brain Training for Dogs course).

Dogs who are reactive toward noises do best being kept in a room far from the road, with a blowing fan or switched on radio/TV nearby to drown out any outside noises. When left alone, these dogs should be walked and exercised first, then left with a safe interactive toy, such as a stuffed KONG, to keep them busy.

Territoriality: Managing Behavior in Outdoor Dogs

Erecting privacy fences can be a good investment for overly territorial dogs. The best solutions are brick walls for those owners who can afford them, or wooden privacy fences with no gaps between the pickets.

Some fencing options such as bamboo walls, wooden fences with room between each picket, and (most) chain-link fences with slats do not work well since dogs can still detect movement through them. In fact, these types offences can actually make territorial barking worse in dogs who bark at things which they can detect but not see completely.

Territoriality: Behavior Modification Program

We now go to the meaty part of this section, which aims to change the dog’s behavior. A good start is to teach the dog to be calm, and to reward his calm behavior. For both indoor territoriality and outdoor territoriality, this involves several steps:

Step 1: Work Under Threshold

How many times have you tried stopping your dog from barking or tried using a command, only to have it fall on deaf ears? Most likely that’s because you dog is overly aroused and therefore unable to pay attention. How would you feel if there was a burglar trying to jump your fence and your mom was asking you to fix your messy hair? You would probably tall your mom “Hey, Mom, there are more important things going on!” That’s exactly how your dog may feel.

  Here is an example ofa bad fencing option. The gaps between the pickets allow a dog to detect movement and can thus worsen barking.  

To train around distractions during training sessions, or to change behavior when there’s excessive fear or arousal, you‘ll need to take small steps and work with your dog under threshold. This often entails adding distance. To do this, put your dog on a leash and let him see triggers from a distan      rhaps from the window or from the fence. If the distance is right, he should acknowledge the triggers but not react to them. When your dog is at a distance that’s far enough for him to remain calm, he can become desensitized. Conversely, when he’s too close to the triggers, he can become sensitized. This is why your dog’s distance from a trigger can mean the difference between improving and worsening his behavior.

Einstein and I work on the .Look at That game from the Brain Training for Dogs course. Here, I am holding him on leash at a distance from the window while he looks at triggers. From this distance he does not react, which earns him a reward. Over time I gradually move closer and closer to the window with him.

In desensitization, your dog is exposed to less-intense versions of the triggers that arouse him, which makes them easier to accept. If you’re scared of spiders, you’ll likely do better if your therapist has you looking at one walking across the room than at one crawling on your arm! In sensitization, your dog is exposed to more-intense versions of his triggers, which makes them harder to accept. This should be avoided. If you’re scared of spiders, putting one on your arm will likely increase your fear of them, and you may even want to quit therapy!

Step 2: Use Classical Counterconditionine

Don’t let this tern intimidate you; it just means changing your dog’s emotional response to triggers through pleasant associations. Back to your spider phobia: How would you feel if every time you saw a spider, a $100 bill fell from the sky? Most likely you would want them around you more and more!

My variation on Leslie McDevitt’s “Look at That” game (seen here) is one of my favorite exercises for changing a dog’s emotional response to triggers. In this game, you let your dog see triggers from the window, and every time he sees one, you make a smacking sound and feed him a treat!

  “Look at That’ from the Brain Training for Dogs course helps your dog weave pleasant associations with the sight of triggers.  

Step *: Use Differential Reinforcement

Do you remember when we spoke about how a dog may stop listening to you if he senses a real threaf? Well, now that your dog’s emotions toward outdoor triggers have changed, he should be able to put on his listening ears—and you can start implementing diPerential reinforcement, which is where you reinforce any behavior other than the barking.

To do this, every time your dog sees a trigger, ask him to “sit,” then when he sits, give him a high-value treat. Alternatively, you can ask him to come to you, and then give him the treat when he reaches you, or even tell him to go to a mat and give him the treat when he gets to the mat. Regardless of what you ask him to do, the take-home message for your dog is the same: “Every time the trigger pops up, my owner asks me to do something and I get a treat.”

Consult with a Professional in Severe Cases

Behavior modification comes with risks. If a dog is overly aroused while barking and defending his territory, he could become dangerous. This is why you sometimes see dogs fighting when they see a trigger—they just get so worked up that their adrenaline starts pumping and they redirect this energy on each other, which triggers a scuffle. Humans could also find themselves on the receiving end of redirection. For example, if your dog is overty aroused and you touch him or interfere, this can put you at risk of getting bitten. This is why your best bet is to consult with a professional. A professional will help to keep your dog under threshold so your dog is calmer and you are safer. Professionals indude dog trainers well versed in behavior modification techniques, and specialists such as Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB) or Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB). Avoid professionals who use pain or intimidation; you want your dog to trust you and Iook forward to seeing triggers without stress.

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