Not all barking dogs are afraid

My Goal for 2024 is to improve the social well-being of dogs like Greta, an adolescent German Wirehaired Pointer I had the pleasure of working with on New Year’s Eve. 

Greta was rescued by her humans 10 months ago. They had met with three other trainers to understand why she barked at dogs. They were told by each trainer to feed her treats when she sees a dog to relieve her fear of them and to keep her away from all dogs. Each trainer agreed that Greta’s barking meant she was over threshold.

I began our session by watching her approach my fake dog without hesitation and plenty of upward barking.  She had a loose jointed flat back with purposeful forward foot placement, an open mouth and neutral tail dock.  After a thorough sniff, she walked away as if saying “that was a mean trick, Judy — I thought I was going to meet a real dog!”  I told her I would not only get her a real dog, but one with a big heart that loves all dogs.

I explained to Greta’s humans that she was indeed dog-social, as noted by her persistence and overall body language to get to the fake dog. She showed no signs of passivity, hesitation or anxiousness. I explained that she does not need treats when she sees a dog. They looked at me and smiled as they knew the ‘Look at That’ game was not working for Greta. Now they knew why.

I explained to them that Greta is much like a confident, sassy, vocal 12-year old girl who loves to shop! Imagine this 12-year old goes to the mall each Saturday afternoon with her parents. They walk through the mall with her and when she sees a summer dress in a window, she squeals in delight and grabs her mother’s arm.  She begs and pulls her mother toward the store opening, but her mother calls her name and pays her $5 to stop whining and just walk on by.  

As expected, when Greta saw Drake she pulled hard towards him with bouncy foot placement and high pitch barking. We repeated this process of approach and retreat a few times so Drake could understand her rules. Oh yes, she was most definitely a Rule Setter! You know, that dog who hits the end of the leash and postures with a forward lean and closed mouth. Most people misread this as dominance, as they are unable to dissect sociability from social confidence.  She was strong in both, which was fine as Drake is well-versed with confident Rule Setters. (I learned of this description Rule Setter from Suzanne Clothier a few years back. Suzanne said, “Once you see it you can’t unsee it.” She is right! To better understand canine body language attend Suzanne’s CARAT program.

After walking Greta and Drake through my 7-step ‘Let’s Talk’ process, we were ready to let them greet. As I expected, she was excited to greet Drake and wanted to smell him thoroughly. What I did not expect was her awkwardness when he tried to smell her. Drake was showing many friendly signals to her, which was met by a stiffness with quick jerky movements towards and away. It was as though she did not know how to play or even respond. Drake continued to playbow and dance around until she responded with a playbow and a few happy barks.  We were all thrilled to see Greta enjoying this social engagement with Drake.

How sad for people to keep their dog away from dogs just becasue they are jumping and barking. How else was Greta to express her intentions? 

What about her barking from the house and car windows? Remember, I said she is a Rule Setter. That means she did not give those dogs permission to pass by. This does not mean she is afraid, but it does means she is opinionated and has a lot to say!

My Second Goal for 2024 is to bring back my Outdoor Adventure Class this spring, where I can improve the social skills of frustrated dogs like Greta and work with their humans to meet their social needs. 

For more information about my upcoming ‘Let’s Talk’ process webinar, which outlines how to introduce frustrated dogs safely, join my Newsletter at the bottom of the page here!

For science based and educational dog training videos, subscribe to Judy’s YouTube Channel!

2024 is going to be a great year!