calm walks

Why does my dog bark at some dogs and not others? (4 steps to calmer dog walks!)

“I can be walking along the road and pass five dogs without my dog saying a word. But along comes the sixth and she goes mad! It can be a big dog or a small one - I can’t work out a pattern. Why?

This is a very observant question - and one which causes people a lot of puzzlement.

Why do some dogs wind up my dog - and not others?

What’s happening is a combination of rising hormone levels - known as Trigger Stacking.

Trigger Stacking is the name given to the heaping up of things that worry your dog, till she becomes overwhelmed. It could be an approaching dog + a child running by + a bang or scream … 

Maybe she could cope with these things one at a time, but all at once or in quick succession is too much.

If you were working against the clock to prepare dinner and the doorbell rang - you could cope with the interruption and carry on. Supposing while you were going to answer the door, the phone started ringing - and then your saucepan boiled over - Aaargh! Too much! You are now fraught and frazzled. The next person you speak to will get snapped at! This is trigger stacking for us.


Hormones - don’t you love ‘em!

We are driven by our hormones, as are our dogs. 

Fear is the driving force here, and that builds up the cortisol levels in the body. 


The more afraid your dog gets, the more afraid she will get.


So you’re walking along the road and you pass a dog coming the other way. Your dog may get a bit antsy, or she may just put her head down and get past without even looking at the dog.

Phew! We got past!

Now another one is coming! This time your dog glances at it and then looks away. Perhaps you give her a treat for ignoring it.

Now there’s another! Oh no - and another!

Your dog is by now getting quite tense. How long can she hold it together?

The next dog that comes along happens to be a bit “on his toes”. Perhaps he’s a young dog with few social skills, so stares at your dog and bounces around on his lead. Perhaps he lowers his head and starts walking slowly and deliberately.

Whatever it is, your dog has reached her limit.

This dog is the last straw!

So she barks and lunges on the end of the lead in an attempt to keep the other dog away.

Between your embarrassment and the other owner’s alarm, this probably works! Either the other dog goes away, or you do. Remember,


Dogs do what works


And if the barking and lunging did the trick this time, your dog now has a way to keep other dogs away. Until we give her some better strategies.


So what can I do?

When we are blessed with a fearful and anxious dog, our main focus should be on keeping her calm. 

For this to work, you need to keep yourself calm too! If, for instance, your dog gets upset by dogs 20 yards away, be sure to keep them at least 21 yards away - by anticipating and moving away yourself.

That may interfere with your accustomed walking pattern. But if your walks are punctuated by outbursts which always catch you out, wouldn’t it be worth making some changes to improve matters?

A walk may become 50 yards this way, then 10 yards that way, followed by 30 yards another way, then back to the first direction for 100 yards … and so on. You’re not trying to get anywhere, your objective is to keep your dog calm. 

While it is true that the more afraid your dog gets, the more afraid she will get, the opposite is also true:


The calmer your dog stays, the calmer she’ll be.


Four steps to changing this

1. Keep your distance

Distance is very important to dogs. If they’re uncomfortable about anything, the best thing to do is to put some space between you and whatever it is they’re worried about. The stress of being too close can build in your dog till it reaches the level where it overflows.


2. Avoid Tunnels

Remember that a narrow path or roadway lined with trees, hedges, walls, parked cars, is a tunnel to your dog, with no escape possible. Always ensure there is plenty of space around you, and note possible turning points so you can dodge out of the way when you see another dog coming, and give him plenty of space.


3. Take a dog’s-eye view

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Sounds: Traffic noises - especially in the rain. Big lorries clattering by? Children shrieking? People shouting? Dogs barking? Builders banging and whacking? Rubbish blowing about in the wind? Thunder? Cyclists speeding by?

All these things can build stress in a young or fearful dog. 

Once you get good at noticing these “triggers”, you’ll start to develop a sixth sense about what is going to be the last straw for your dog, and take early evasive action, while you’re still on straw no.1 or straw no.2.

Sometimes you could just sit on a bench, and watch the world go by without having to fight your way through it. Lots of tasty treats posted into your dog’s mouth will help to calm him and change his view of the world as being a scary place. As you see him begin to relax and stop scanning the environment and focus more on you, you’ll be ready to set sail again.


4. Keep your hands soft on your long comfortable lead

It’s very easy to react yourself before your dog does! If you clutch the lead tight and start breathing fast, your dog will be saying “What? Where? Who have I got to bark at?”

Sometimes you can turn and walk away happily. In this case be sure not to pull or yank the lead, which will only add to the stress and probably trigger an outburst even sooner! Practice holding the lead as if it were attached to a baby, and use only gentle and soothing actions.

Giving your dog freedom on lead - instead of shortening the lead and keeping him close up against you - will allow him to express his own body language to the oncoming dog. It’s hard to look nonchalant and friendly if your head is being held up in the air. The freedom to look away at the crucial moment can be all that’s needed to defuse a simmering situation.


What are these dogs saying to each other?

To go back to the first five dogs who did not appear to upset your dog, there is another reason why they didn’t elicit an outburst.

They probably had more relaxed body language.

Dog Body Language is a fascinating subject. It’s how dogs communicate in the absence of the words that we humans have.

Here are a couple of videos which give you an idea of the huge range of language dogs have:


Watch these carefully and you’ll be armed with information that will help you decide whether 21 yards distance from an oncoming dog will be enough, or whether this is the moment you about turn and head off happily in another direction.

If we’re going to communicate with someone from another country who has no English, we’re going to need to learn their language. And as for another species without any verbal language - we need to make the effort to understand their clear signals. Some of these signals are subtle to the point of vanishing, but they are clear enough to another dog. 

A lot of doggy mysteries will be explained to you once you understand what your dog is trying to tell you! So be sure to watch those brief videos - your crash course in Dog - and see what a difference it will make to your dog’s happiness and your walks.

Meanwhile, head here and get your free email course to help change your Growly Dog's walks for good!

And there’s lots of help for you in the Essential Skills for your Growly but Brilliant Family Dog book series.



4 steps to calmer walks

Can my dog be stressed? - Part 1

This post was first published on and is reprinted here with permission.

Those of us who have a reactive, anxious, or fearful dog, work very hard to make life easier for them (and us!).

We try this idea and that technique, perhaps with distressingly little success. Some days our dog just seems worse!

Here is the first of three articles based on excerpts from my next book - out soon! - Essential Skills for your Growly but Brilliant Family Dog, Book 1 Why is my dog so growly? - which points out an area which will be affecting your dog mightily.

While you’re doing your best to improve the situation and you take a look at what may be making things worse, you cannot overlook stress.

  • Stress causes reactions to be exaggerated
  • Stress causes us to snap
  • Stress wears us out

And there are some areas of your dog’s life that are building stress that will really surprise you.

1. Too many walks

“What!” you squawk! “I thought I had to take my dog out for a walk every single day! I thought I was doing the right thing!”

Well, like so much in life, that depends. It depends on how your dog is experiencing these walks.

A happy-go-lucky dog who loves meeting people and other dogs will relish his daily walks. But that’s not the dog you have, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

It may be that your dog gets sick with anxiety at the very thought of a walk. The walk may consist of you getting upset or telling him off while he runs the gauntlet of narrow paths, fence-running dogs, squealing children, dog walkers walking their dog straight towards him, traffic noises, people wanting to pat his head …

This is not an enjoyable walk for an anxious, shy, or reactive dog!

There are two reasons for walking your dog. One is for exercise. The other is for socialisation. Clearly the second reason here is a fail. So cut your losses, exercise your dog with vigorous play in the garden or on solo walks in a relatively dog-free zone - a forest trail, for instance - and save road walks for when your dog is calm and you can avoid most of the hazards.

Energy-burning games

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There are great games you can play with your dog to exercise him - without ever having to leave your home. Free running and jumping about till your dog’s sides are heaving, his tongue lolling, and his eyes shining, are what you want for exercise.

If you have outside space you can play with balls or frisbees, reinforcing the connection between you all the while. Tug is a game that uses a load of energy - and you can really go to town on harnessing your dog’s instinctive drives by playing with a flirt-pole.

The joy of these games is that you can use them to build your dog’s impulse control at the same time. He’ll learn never to jump up or snatch the toy from your hand in Tug. And the flirt-pole teaches the collection and restraint needed for a successful bunny-hunt.

And no, it won’t turn your dog into a predatory nightmare. I used the flirt-pole to build Cricket the Whippet’s impulse control around small furry things, with the result that I can call her off rabbits. I have known dogs who were so full-on in their play that their owners had to wear thick gloves to play with them and stay in one piece! Once the dog learns the rules of the game, it becomes rewarding for both parties - and no more need for gloves.

If you have no outside space, you can rely on Tug to tire your dog out - especially as you’re getting him to use his brain in this puzzle too.

Using wobble cushions and planks will help to build muscles and balance that your dog didn’t know he had. Walking down the stairs, then walking up again backwards, step by step, is a skill which uses lots of brain and brawn.

Hide and Seek is always a popular, tiring, and satisfying, game, especially if you have children to join in. My boys used to love rolling themselves up in their duvets and waiting to be found - which didn’t take long with all the squealing going on!

Choose a good time for an outing

Once your dog is rested from having to face the daily challenge of a walk, you should see some calmness entering the picture.

Then when you feel ready, you can take him out. The aim of Puppy Socialisation is to expose your pup as much as possible to all the experiences of our world - while the puppy enjoys the experience. The same goes for your older dog. Taking him places where he is scared or uncomfortable is just tormenting him without any good resulting: in fact this could make him more fearful.

So find a quiet time when you can take your dog out for a walk, and be flexible with your plans! You can turn away from anything your dog finds upsetting.

The garbage truck is collecting and making a huge noise? Just turn and go the other way. There’s a school outing of excited children heading towards you? Go! Heavy rain is making the traffic very noisy? Head home.

Resist the temptation to say “I always go this way,” and go right, then left, through the street market, across the railway bridge … Your walk can just be the same 100 yards in front of your house repeated several times!

As long as your dog is viewing this as a positive experience, then you are succeeding. Know that you can assess the benefit of the walk - to both of you - and give yourself permission to decide where to walk your dog, and whether to walk at all.

What is the result we want?

We’re focussing on the outcome here - calm walks with a happy and relaxed dog. If your daily walks are not a step in this direction, then you need to cut them right back.


Did you find this excerpt of interest? This is what Book 1 will look like.

Click here for a free e-course to help remove the stress from your life, and your dog’s life - and news about the new book!


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