One of the many reasons we love our dogs is the simple nature of the relationship. We give them food, shelter, love and attention, and they offer loyal companionship in return. If only most of our daily interactions with other humans could be so simple!
But what happens when even our closest furry friends seem to have “picked a favorite” when it comes to members of the household? When a dog barks at or seems indifferent to one family member vs. another, it’s understandable to feel a sense of disappointment or even betrayal. So how does one reconcile this behavior or change it?
Understanding the Nature of a Dog’s Behavior
A very important distinction to make right off the bat is the following idea: dogs are not humans. It’s not uncommon for people to project human-like behaviors onto animals that do not possess them. A fancy word for this is known as “anthropomorphism.”
If a dog is barking at one person in particular, it’s usually for a much simpler reason than the complicated ones people project onto poor Fido. There are different reasons why a dog would choose to bark at one person and not another.
Let’s look at a few examples and give a brief outline of possible solutions.
The Barking is An Effort to Get That Person’s Attention
Barking for attention is an easier to identify instance and usually a more preferable situation. For example, a dog barking for playful attention is much better than barking out of fear or aggression. In these instances, the dog may be showing that they want more interaction with that individual.
One way to potentially curb this behavior is to have the person who’s being barked at become more involved in the dog’s activities.
Walks, training sessions, or just more general play with the dog may help curb the vocal pleas for attention. Managing a dog’s energy levels is an important aspect of pet ownership. However, do not go overboard with this. While more interaction with your pup is probably warranted, you do not want to create an expectation that you will drop everything whenever your dog thinks it’s playtime.
The Barking is of a Protective Nature
This behavior is a bit trickier to fix because it also involves correcting owner behavior in some cases.
Some dog owners or family members will develop a sense of self-flattery when they see a dog has a protective defense mechanism towards them. They will say “It’s ok the dog is just very protective of me”.
Many of these people do not seem to understand that while the idea of an animal wanting to protect them may be serving their ego, it is typically an accident waiting to happen.
It is critically important that the person “being protected” understands that this behavior is unacceptable. Some dogs are naturally more protective or clingy than others.Going in with the proper mindset we can then shift our focus directly to the dog’s behavior. There are a couple of different things we can try in these instances.
One is a repeated exercise where the dog is rewarded through attention and possibly treats when the behavior around other people is calm and controlled. If the barking or aggression starts the dog is quickly removed from the situation. Once the dog has calmed down, they are allowed to socialize with the group again. Over time, the dog will get the message.
Another option is to go back to the method in the previous section. If your dog is barking at you, and not your husband, perhaps some quality 1 on 1 time with your pet will create an understanding that you are not to be feared. Whether through play, walks or learning sessions involving treats the dog will learn that your presence is one to be anticipated and not feared.
The Dog is Barking Because of Something About That Person In Particular
“I knew it!” you think to yourself as you read the above title. “Dogs can hate people and my husband’s dog hates me in particular!”
The above headline doesn’t mean what you think it does.
When talking about how a dog reacts to a particular person it usually isn’t “personal” in the way that we think of when talking about human relationships (remember that whole “projecting” thing we talked about right at the start?).
The reasons for a dog barking at a certain individual could be one of the following:
- Something about the body language, appearance or voice of the person causes the dog to be fearful
- If the dog has had a history in another home or environment, the person may resemble someone associated with a past trauma. Dogs do indeed have a memory.
- The person is at unease with the dog. The dog senses this and the barking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy
In addition to trying the solutions mentioned in previous sections, this behavior can also potentially be corrected simply by having the dog become more socialized overall. Once the dog has been taught to be more relaxed around a wide variety of people, they will start to have less and less reaction because of someone looking different from what they’re comfortable with.
When All Else Fails, Consult the Professionals
Many pet owners forget that sometimes a behavioral problem isn’t just mental. While not a common reason for a dog to bark at one person but not another, there may be an underlying medical issue at hand.
If you’ve tried everything else and nothing seems to be working, perhaps it’s time to take your furry buddy to the vet and get a thorough exam.
If there isn’t an underlying medical issue but the issue persists even after multiple attempts at socializing and training then it may be time to call in a professional trainer. Qualified specialists in dog behavior often have the experience and necessary toolbox to approach the problem from multiple angles. Just remember that even with a professional on the case, correcting the behavior will take time.
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