According to one study, 22% of dogs are reactive towards other dogs. There are plenty of reasons and factors that can affect whether a dog becomes reactive, such as the way the owner handles certain situations, training methods used, whether they were taken to puppy classes and the genetics of the dogs (Casey et al., 2012).
Although it can seem silly to us for our dogs to react, we need to remember that this is their way of showing they are struggling with a situation and need our help to behave in an appropriate manner.
Usually, though, there are 2 reasons why dogs bark at other dogs.
The first, and most common, is anxiety or fear. This can be that they are scared of other dogs, or anxious that the other dog may be scary and would simply rather not find out.
The second reason is that they are excited by other dogs but get frustrated that they are stuck on a pesky lead.
So what do we do?
Step 1: Can your dog listen? Step 1 is ensuring they are calm enough to listen on walks. This will make the next step easier. A nice, focused, loose leash walk will help them remain calm during their walk.
Step 2: Your dogs forcefield! The next step is finding our dog's distance where they can cope with the other dog being there without reacting. Imagine your dog has a force field around them, when another dog comes within this forcefield, their guns come out. To find this force field, you will need to learn your dog's body language and watch for the signs that they know the other dog is there, but not close enough to be scared or frustrated.
Step 3: The Marker Word Next, we need to introduce our marker word. This is a word that tells our dog they have done something right and they are going to get a treat for it. To teach our dog this technique, simply say the word “Yes” and give him his favourite treat over and over until you say your word and they look at you for a treat. It's important that we use their FAVOURITE treat each time. When your dog is looking for the treat when we say “yes”, we can then practice outside. To begin with, simply say “yes” and feed your dog when they look at things they aren’t anxious or excited about, like people, cars, trees etc.
Step 4: DMT. The final step is to put all this together. We call this DMT, which stands for distraction, mark and treat. Basically, while outside of your dogs forcefield, your dog sees a distraction, like another dog, you say your marker word, then feed them a treat.
Results: If you continue to repeat this and stay consistent, your dog will learn that seeing other dogs means they then get a treat. They will start to look back for the treat even without the marker word and their forcefield will get smaller and smaller until they are happy being around dogs at any distance.
Essentially, because other dogs predict good things happening (you saying “yes” then feeding their favourite treat), seeing another dog becomes a good thing, rather than a scary thing.
So that’s how to stop your dog barking at other dogs. There are lots of other factors to think about like food, health, water, rest and there are even ways we can speed up the process. If you would like to find out more and get more help for your dog, check out our Reactive Dog Program here or book a FREE assessment call here.
Casey, R., Loftus, B., Bolster, C., Richards, G. and Blackwell, E., 2012. Inter-dog aggression in a UK owner survey: prevalence, co-occurrence in different contexts and risk factors.Veterinary Record, 172(5), pp.127-127.