As a dog owner, you undoubtedly love your pooch on their good and bad days. But if you have a dog that barks at strangers when you’re walking them, it’s embarrassing at best and downright dangerous at worst.
So, if you’re wondering, “My dog barks at strangers on walks, what should I do?” I’m here to help.
Dogs bark at strangers on walks for many reasons, including being happy to see them, afraid, or territorial. I’ve had my fair share of experience dealing with barking dogs during walks and will share what I’ve learned through trial and error.
Understanding Why Your Dog Barks at Strangers on Walks
Below are the top five reasons dogs bark at strangers on walks and the actions you can take to correct them. When in doubt, it’s always best to seek the support of a professional trainer, especially if your dog shows signs of aggression.
1. They’re Excited
Dogs don’t always bark because they’re angry or feel threatened. Instead, they might be barking because they’re overwhelmed by excitement for passing a stranger on the street—a new friend!
When your dog barks from excitement, it’s usually a higher-pitched bark accompanied by vigorous tail wagging and lunging towards the person. After all, every second that passes is a lost opportunity for extra ear scratches.
Most people can identify when a dog is barking viciously or as a threat. Nevertheless, not all strangers are dog people (it might as well be a sin, I know). So, they might not be thrilled with even a happy dog barking at them.
Many dogs love their owners and strangers alike, although some breeds have a higher chance of getting excited about meeting a new potential friend—Terriers being among them.
If strangers have given your dog treats in the past, your dog could be barking, thinking that they’re going to get one from every stranger that passes by. So, ask any dog-loving strangers to withhold any treats from your dog.
Meanwhile, carry your own treats with you. Then, work on teaching your dog that they’ll get a treat from you when they don’t bark at strangers. It’s also helpful to lead your dog in the opposite direction of the stranger, teaching them that they don’t get to pass new people if they bark.
2. Strangers Are New to Them
If you just moved to the suburbs from your countryside home where your nearest neighbors were cows a few miles down the road, your dog could be barking at strangers from not having socialized with other people.
According to the American Kennel Club, the first three months of a puppy’s life are crucial for socialization. So, if they didn’t get exposed to strangers and dogs outside of their litter during that time, there’s a higher likelihood that your dog will bark when you take them for a walk.
Signs that your dog might be barking because of a lack of socialization include:
Your dog also might try pulling away from the stranger instead of lunging toward them, which is often the case when they’re happy or territorial.
You might need to hire a trainer to support you, for lack of socialization usually stems from a puppy’s childhood.
However, you can try to introduce your dog to strangers by bringing unfamiliar people to them into your home. You can also ask those people to practice walking down the street while you use positive reinforcement techniques via small treats and a soothing voice when your dog doesn’t bark.
3. They’re Afraid
Dogs that bark because they’re afraid of strangers may show similar symptoms to dogs that bark from never being exposed to strangers. So, the difference usually lies in your own knowledge.
Did you adopt your dog and don’t know their history? Or do you know they have a history of abuse? If so, your dog could be barking at strangers because they’re afraid.
If abuse is at play, you might notice that they only bark at a particular group of people, such as a specific gender.
Dogs that are afraid might show their teeth if they feel threatened. But generally speaking, they tend to bark while cowering, tucking their tail between their legs.
Find some willing strangers to work with your dog when you pass them on the street. Of course, they don’t have to be strangers to you, just your dog.
Have these strangers carry treats and talk to your dog in a soothing voice as they pass them. That said, if your dog shows any acts of aggression because of their fear, it’s best to stop training them on your own and elicit the support of a professional trainer.
4. They’re a Compulsive Barker
Compulsive barking can be a frustrating situation for dog owners. If you have a compulsive barker dog, they’re not selective about who and what they bark at.
These dogs will bark at strangers, a grasshopper landing on a blade of grass, the squirrel climbing up a tree, and leaves blowing in the wind. Compulsive barkers may even bark because they’re bored or trying to get your attention.
Aside from barking, common symptoms of compulsive barking dogs include:
- Chewing body parts
“Fixing” a compulsive barking dog isn’t always easy. They could have genetic tendencies to bark, which can be the case if their breed is historically good for being a watchdog. A personality disorder or canine anxiety can also be the cause.
Regardless, most people need to hire a behavioral specialist to help manage their dog’s compulsive barking at strangers during walks. You’ll need to practice patience in the meantime because it can take time.
5. They’re Protecting You
Hopefully, you’re not in a situation that requires needing protection from the stranger you’re passing during a walk. However, your territorial dog doesn’t know this, and they might bark at strangers because of it.
Dogs that bark to protect you during a walk will often display aggressive behaviors. They might growl in a low tone, show their teeth, and try lunging at the stranger. It can be a dangerous scenario and one to take seriously.
It’s essential to manage a territorial dog with caution. If your dog seems like they’re on the brink of biting strangers, and if you have trouble controlling them on a leash, it’s best to use a muzzle or refrain from walking them around strangers until you can get professional help from a dog trainer.
Otherwise, if you have a small dog on a leash that’s easy to control, you can try to train them on your own by using the distraction technique. To do so, use a treat or toy to keep your dog’s attention on you when you see a stranger at a distance.
Over time, your dog will associate strangers passing by them with the opportunity to eat a yummy snack or chew on their favorite toy.
The No-nos for Humans With Barking Dogs
We all know the feeling of wishing a parent would control their child. Well, the same is often true of owners with barking dogs. So, if you’re thinking, “My dog barks at strangers on walks, what should I do?” the best solution is often to see if you’re enabling your dog’s barking.
Some of the top behaviors you should avoid when working with your barking dog include:
- Panicking and yelling at your dog
- Giving them treats when they bark
- Pretending there isn’t a problem
- Using physical force
Dogs are intelligent and know when you’re frustrated or stressed. So, it’s vital to remain calm when they bark.
Furthermore, although you shouldn’t give your dog treats when they’re mid-bark, treats can be an effective way to encourage your dog to stop barking. So, try using the command “quiet” the instant your dog stops barking and give them a small treat as you say it.
Before long, they should associate the word “quiet” with a treat and silence on their part.
By following the strategies here, you’ll hopefully soon be able to walk your dog by strangers without your pooch barking.
And if you’re like me, don’t be surprised if you suddenly have people reaching out to you saying, “My dog barks at strangers on walks; What should I do?”
Best of all, former strangers might become friends once they can approach you and your non-barking dog. It’ll be a win-win for you and your dog!