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Diamonds in the Ruff

Why does your dog bark and lunge?
Vocalization is communication.  Just as in humans, we raise our voices for many reasons.

Dogs bark for a number of reasons:
  • Because they are excited, "Hello! Hello!" 

  • Most often because they are afraid, "Don't come any closer! Stay Away!"

  • And far less often, because they are actually issuing a challenge.

​Dogs bark more when on leash because they feel trapped (can't escape if they need to) or because the tension of the leash increases frustration.

Barking doesn't always equal aggression.

  • Excitement or greeting.
    "Look! Look!"  It might be at the sight of another animal - dog, cat, squirrel. It could be a "Hello!" to a visitor, potential friend, or something novel that he's never seen before that is AMAZING.  It could be an announcement - "we're here!" or "daddy's home!" or "it's the doorbell !" Normal dogs bark during play.


  • Alarm.  
    "What is that?" - "I heard a noise" - "Something's out there!" - "Come quick!"


  • Fear.
    An action designed to increase personal space. "This is scaring me!"  A warning: "Stay away!" - "Don't come over here!" or "Help! Help!" - Alerting the family; a call for back-up.  Fearful dogs bark more and louder than confident dogs do.


  • Conflicting emotions.
    Whatever is happening might be safe, but they don't know if it really is.  Worried and excited.  Growling, barking, and wagging.  Darting forward and backward.


  • Genetic trigger.  Breed trait or just dogs being dogs.
    "Move the sheep" - even if it's a car or bicycle or skate board or broom.  "Bay until the hunter comes to shoot the critter out of the tree" - "Patrol the perimeter" - "Scan the horizon and notify if anything is out of place" - "There's a MOUSE!"


  • Territorial - resource guarding - protective - maternal instinct.
    Intruder alert.  "You don't belong here." "Stay away from my car, fence, house, person, puppies, bone" - "Don't touch my stuff" "Don't hurt my family"


  • Reactivity - defense.
    A reaction to something startling or painful.  Like screaming or yelling "ouch!" or swearing when a car runs a stop sign in front of you.  Sometimes we lash out when surprised.  So do dogs.  You might get nipped in the face if you kiss a sleeping dog.


  • Pain - Health-related issues.   Does the dog have any chronic health issues?  Ear infections, hot spots, thyroid, hip dysplasia or back pain issues, bad tooth, allergies, burrs or mats that might pull?   When behavior suddenly changes or appears random, it's often a health/pain issue.  Start with a complete health check-up to rule out pain or illness.  Remember, health issues can be fine one minute and flare up the next.


This dog is barking because they are afraid.

They are screaming "Stay away!"  This dog is on leash.  They can't run away.  The tighter the leash, the more dangerous the scary thing seems. 


All dogs (and people) will fight back in self-defense when cornered or threatened.   

The question is, to what degree?  Is it a last resort when all other options fail?  How high is that threshold?  Some dogs have been well-socialized and are comfortable with just about any type of person and situation.  Others are inexperienced.  This causes them to be cautious, nervous and jumpy and quick to startle and reflexively react.  And some people and dogs seem to always be looking for an argument and some even seem to enjoy a good row. 

What is aggression?

Aggression is defined as the threat of harm to another individual involving snarling, growling, snapping, biting, barking or lunging.


When triggered, the dog will confront and bite.  A bite history gives you important information about the dog's specific triggers, thresholds, degree of bite inhibition (when he bites, how bad are the injuries?)  A bite history gives you the facts to make a safety and risk assessment and will help you decide if the liability and risk are worth taking to try and resolve your dog's issues.  This difficult decision is based on the severity of the dog's issues and also takes into account the complexities of your living situation, your ability to ensure safety through management, and your ability as a trainer.  Living with a dog with issues means a lifetime of management and ongoing maintenance and training.  You don't just send him to a trainer to "fix" it and now he's a happy go-lucky dog.


AGGRESSION - from the ASPCA - this article gives a breakdown of many types of aggression.


Dogs who show reactivity and aggression are not suitable for group classes.  Visit this link for other options.


See also: 


Fear & Reactivity in Adolescence

Bossy Demands & Attention Seeking

This handout may be reprinted in its entirety for distribution free of charge and with full credit given:

© CAROL A. BYRNES "DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF" Training for Dogs & Their People

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