Does Your Dog Bark And Lunge At People?
By Lon L. Flewelling For The Dog Files
A Question and Answer session between Lon and a potential client, Jenni.
I took a 1-2 (?) year old Aussie from a shelter in NC that was picked up as a stray and scheduled for euthanasia. I’ve now had her for 3.5 or 4 weeks.
She has an escalating issue of barking and lunging at people. On walks, she goes berserk. If the target doesn’t go away, she will escalate in intensity to barking, snarling, growling, lunging, frothing at the mouth, etc.
I had 5 trainers at one school evaluate her – some could walk right up to her no issues. Other’s had to toss hotdogs her way, which stopped the barking mostly. However most weren’t comfortable handling her or getting within bite range. They advised 100% positive interaction with everyone, everyone gives her cookies, etc. Petsitter came to meet her and she did her usual display. He gave hotdogs.
She stopped barking but was aroused and when he moved, nipped his leg. No blood. A front teeth nip. I kept her away and practiced sits with good attention, etc. She seemed to want petting and would go lean on him, but when he moved slightly she’d bark. Once the initial insanity was over, however, I could verbally correct her. She eventually seemed to accept him.
The trainers felt she was mostly bluffing but if aroused enough, they thought it could certainly escalate to a bite.
There are a few issues taking place in this situation. First and foremost is she sounds like a submissive dog, that has gone through trauma via the multiple people, places and handling she has endured prior to you getting her…i.e. rolling and exposing her belly is offering other dogs/people her softest, most vulnerable. In the wild a wolf enemy could then tear her open thus eliminating a possible threat.
Submissives often exhibit fear based aggression much like some people do. It is a survival mechanism to push other people and in this case dogs away from their ‘personal bubble’ or comfort zone. just that. Staring, growling and barking is a verbalization of the same to enhance the stare. It is saying ‘stay back or else…’
Depending on the dog or person receiving the information will determine the next step. Another submissive will often dip their head, avert their gaze and or back away. If the other dog has an alpha attitude, they may challenge the stare and growl and ‘it’s on’ as you put it. Even the act of not budging can be construed as a challenge back.
I feel that ANY reward during barking is 100% incorrect. When I greet a dog with this issue, I make NO eye contact, do not talk to them nor touch them in any way. I turn my back and back to them. This is alpha wolf posturing. It sends the message that I am not interested nor tolerating the behavior. The sitter giving hotdogs set her up to think the behavior was ok, it did indeed reward that behavior and seems like she interpreted it as no hot dogs, no longer a friend.
Leaning by a dog is also a dominant behavior, I do not allow it particularly at the early stages. It is a sign of ‘ownership’.
I generally evaluate dogs, in order…She’s a dog first, part wolf, a pack animal with certain inbred laws of existing, second is the breed.
Start watching body language and postures and distract her RIGHT when they begin. Watch her stance, does it tighten up, legs stiff, ears back, pupils big, tail stiff not loosely wagging? Also, when she stares redirect her with a two finger ‘tap’ to the neck and say, “Leave it!” fairly sternly. If she’s on lead a gentle but firm tug on the leash with the same command. If possible, when she JUST starts the listed posturing, growling, etc. turn her away from the situation. This takes away the ‘reward’ of the pleasure of getting aggressive and puts her in more of a submissive, follower position to your leadership.
“No hotdogs, no longer a friend”. That is exactly how she acted. As soon as the food stopped, she geared up again, until more food was produced.
What you said allows me to see how her behavior makes sense. She is telling people to back off. She persists when they don’t move. She sees them as challenging her. Her posture is alert, forward, end of leash, ears up and forward, tail up, and stiff all over – dominant and assertive looking. A few times I’ve seen the same posture but with a wagging tail. I’ve also seen her clamp her tail to butt, ears back but only once or twice when actually approaching a person. Usually she will rush the person while maintaining this assertive stance, which is why she appears to be only seconds away from biting. I have seen dogs do this and appear fearful – she does not look fearful at all but ultra confident.
Now if she’s meeting someone that she must get along with… upon seeing that person she would bark, so I should give a “leave it” and correction and turn her away, get her under control, attention, reward, then try to approach again, when she barks, “leave it” then correction and turn away, etc and repeat until we could approach the person who has their back turned to us the whole time and let her check them out? Should they have food to reward her for sitting?
The tail clamped down and ears back are almost always a sure set of signs of fear aggression, a preemptive strike usually follows. They appear confident despite the tail, partially because in the wild they must do so to get results. The tail is often like our blinking, we cannot control it. A sign of aggression or dominance is when the tail ‘goes antenna’ or a rigid, quivering wag, as opposed to a lazy, hip to hip friendly wag.
I would indeed do the ‘leave it’, turn away until she gets the reward of forward motion or another denial of the same reward if she doesn’t comply. Food rewards can be done by the approached person, but I wouldn’t rely on that alone as she may simply smell the treat and act to get it and not the actual reward of attention.
My approach as a sitter would be to walk into the room confidently, no talking, touch nor eye contact. Back up to just in front of the crate and stay in that position for a few moments forcing her to realize he’s the leader, the one who will reward her good behavior, i.e. lying down, becoming calm and submissive. I have even reached back to open the crate and allowing the dog to exit slowly by using my heel against the gate to slow progress.
This will force her to drop any level of exited/dominance aggression, and allow him to take some deep, calming breaths to prepare his energy to be read as assertive but calm. Oprah, not Hitler. Dogs read energies, and react accordingly MUCH more than people think.
The food/treats should be used ONLY when she exhibits that submissive, calm posture.
You have helped me considerably, thank you!
Lon L. Flewelling was born the middle and most charming of three boys in rural Minnesota where he spent many formative hours on family farms directly interacting with animals nearly from day one. Since his youth he enjoyed the gift and magic of close communication abilities particularly with dogs. Lon followed his gift into the world of wolf studies to further develop my passion and abilities to understand canines and their communications with each other and humans. He is a perpetual student of canines and sees no end to the absorption of canine knowledge.
“Lon L. Flewelling is the human owner’s manual on how to operate your dog in Denver!”