When your dog is that dog at the park, “the barker”, it can become frustrating and embarrassing. Barking in social situations can happen for a number of reasons.
Our reader today asks:
Whenever other dogs don’t pay attention or play with my dog he will bark at them. How do I train him to not do this and accept when other dogs don’t want to play with him? – Barking Rover
Reasons for Barking at the Park
Dogs communicate with their body. However, some dogs are more vocal than others. Some have even learned that barking gets them attention or serves a greater purpose. Why might a dog bark at other dogs at the park?
- Demanding Attention. Demand barking is a way of gaining another person or dog’s attention. Sometimes when dogs have limited social exposure during their critical socialization period (from 3-16 weeks old), they do not learn the appropriate skills to communicate with others. Other times, the inherent traits of particular breeds also come into play.
- Not Great at Reading Other Dog’s Social Cues. This goes along with the all-too-important socialization period, as well. Some dogs do not have the opportunity to learn to read the body signals of other dogs. Sometimes they do, but just don’t catch on as well as others. These socially awkward pups might bark because they’re not very good at communicating more subtly.
- Fun Police. Some dogs get frustrated when others are playing and they are too aroused or nervous to join in. Again, there may also be some herding instinct in their genes. These are the dogs that react when other dogs are playing, usually by barking or trying to control them.
- Frustration. Barking Rover mentions that her dog barks when others don’t pay attention to him. He could likely be feeling frustrated. And without ideal communication skills, he could be awkwardly going about soliciting playmates in all the wrong ways! It may work every now and then to get another dog to engage, which is why he may keep trying.
- Overly Excited. Arousal levels can easily skyrocket in dog parks and high level play areas. The results can manifest in several different ways. Last week I talked about humping as one outlet for over-arousal. Barking can be just another way to express this excitement or any overwhelming feelings.
How Do I Prevent My Dog From Barking?
The number one piece of advice I recommend when it comes to undesired behaviors is, don’t let it happen in the first place. The more a behaviour is practiced, it’s no surprise it becomes more and more solid over time.
Having said this, the behavior isn’t ideal, but it is likely much more annoying to us than it is to any of the dogs involved.
Here are some tips to prevent barking on the playground:
- Change it up! If this behavior is happening at the dog park where the play is localized in one place (I’ll admit, not my favourite place for dogs to interact in the first place), try somewhere different. I enjoy the types of parks that allow you to walk around, rather than stand stationary allowing dogs to interact for long periods of time. This way, your dog can satisfy his need to say hello and be social, but move along quickly. Particularly if the other dog(s) are not interested in interacting!
- Instead, try a hiking trail, the beach, or a drive to the country. Alternatively, try going to the park super early or late at night to avoid running into too many other dogs that could trigger a barking episode. Or instead, practice your leash work and foundation skills around the neighborhood.
- Redirect his attention. Another great option is to redirect your dog’s attention away from other dogs before he begins barking or engaging. A simple way to do this is to just take a handful of treats and scatter them on the ground. You could also have him do some simple tasks, like “touch” to refocus his attention onto you.
- Engage/disengage. Barking Rover could also grab her dog’s attention by rewarding him every time he looks at another dog without barking. Mark the look with a “yes” followed immediately with a high value treat. Eventually, the presence of dogs will have him looking at her. This is known as the engage/disengage game.
- I do this every single time my dog, Juno, sees a person or dog on our walks. She now automatically turns to me when someone is approaching. From there, I can direct her as to what I would like her to do.
I Can’t Get Him To Listen When He is Barking!
If you find you are unable to call your dog to join you on your way, or call your dog back to you, this is something you should work on before returning to the park. This is something you will have to practice at home or in less distracting areas, so you may want to take a few weeks to try some new walking locations.
Barking Rover should set her dog up to be successful by:
- Evaluating the environment (will he likely bark at other dogs at a particular park and/or at certain times of the day when there is a lot of activity?)
- Practice perfect recall. This is a must for any off leash dog. The last thing we want our dog to do is run full speed into a dog who is nervous of an unwilling participant. Practice with a long lead (20’) to begin. This will allow you to teach impulse control and manners, though still allow more freedom than a standard leash.
- Making sure her dog is not on leash in an off leash park. This can be thoroughly frustrating for any dog.
- Find some new walking trails that allow her to pass other dogs without lingering. This will help to prevent her dog from pestering those who ignore him.
- Redirect her dog’s focus to something other than the playing dogs.
- Teaching other cues such as “leave it” or “with me”, by using lots of high-value treats. Treats like cheese, hot dogs, or peanut butter. Treats that her dog finds irresistible!
Remember, in a situation where he is highly reinforced by his interactions with other dogs, YOU need to be more fun, more interesting, and offer a BETTER alternative to barking!
Through a combination of planning, management, and training, there are some ways that Barking Rover can work to change her dog’s response to being ignored. Always remember, dogs do what works and what is motivating. So use that to help guide your dog to make ideal choices.
Kayla is from Ashland, Wisconsin but lives in Missoula Montana. She holds a degree in biology from Colorado College and has spent years working in zoos, animal shelters, as a private dog trainer, and with working detection K9s. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She shares her life with her border collie Barley.