#DogDecoding: Why Does My Dog Bark and Lunge at Other Dogs?

Decoding DogIt’s no secret, but Chester and Gretel aren’t trained very well. Although the aim of this blog, and our public identity, is to break the sterotypes of small dogs I know that we perpetuate at least one big one. Every time Chester and Gretel bark, lunge or snap at another dog when out walking or hiking they are being “little aggressive, barky dogs”.

Chester yips at other dogs when out walking to get their attention – I thought so he could say hi – but has this habit of breaking into fits of barking and lunging if they get to close. Gretel was very anxious around other dogs when I adopted her. She still is somewhat but we have fewer barking and snapping incidents if we keep a good distance between us and other dogs. Avoidance is our M.O.

One place that avoidance doesn’t work is when we are out hiking. We can’t “give space” or cross the street because trails are about 3 feet wide. When we hike, a forced encounter with a dog is inevitable. Sometimes I can manage Chester and Gretel’s reaction by stepping aside on a wider part of the trail and distracting them with treats but I know I am not fixing the underlying issue.

These encounters stress me out and are kind of embarrassing so I decided that I needed to learn more about WHY they were reacting that way and what I could do to make them “normal, nice dogs”. I’ve been looking more into dog behavior and training techniques the last couple of months.

When I was offered a copy of the new book Decoding Your Dog to review, I jumped at the chance. This book was written American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Debra Horwitz, John Ciribassi, and Steve Dale. In the book, these experts analyze problem behaviors and correct common misconceptions we have about why our dogs do what they do. It challenges the way we think about our dogs and shows us how we can prevent or solve common canine behavior problems.

The first chapter on “learning to speak dog” explained dog body language in detail and pointed out some ways that dogs and humans can misunderstand each other (who knew that Gretel staring at me with dilated pupils might mean deference rather than anxiety or over-excitement). After reading it, I felt like I had a good understanding of how to communicate with Chester and Gretel so I could try out some training exercises and, hopefully, be successful.

The most applicable chapter in the book to our little trail outburst problem was the chapter on aggression. As the book points out, aggression such as lunging and snapping can appear to be offensive when it can actually be defensive and rooted in fear. Fear-related aggression may be a last resort for dogs who otherwise cannot escape or flee – like when dogs are cramped together on a 3-foot wide trail. I am pretty sure Chester and Gretel are reacting like they do on the trail because they feel trapped and uncomfortable with the closeness of the other dogs.


While the chapter does not address passing a dog on a hiking trail, it does talk about these same fear-aggression behaviors when walking on a leash around the neighborhood. I want to concentrate on teaching Chester and Gretel to be relaxed and happy when encountering other dogs, instead of anxious and afraid, through behavior modification. I need to start training on our walks around the neighborhood before I can translate them to the trail.

Because of Decoding Your Dog, I can pay even closer attention to what Chester and Gretel “are saying”  on our regular walks and notice when they start to react to other dogs.  I’ll need to work on commands such as “look at me” and decrease the “comfort zone” distance between us and other dogs until we can reduce the distance to “trail width”.

I haven’t read the whole book yet but I plan to. The book is broken down in sections that are easily read out of order. Because Chester is a senior, the next chapter I am looking forward to is Dogs with an AARF Card: Growing Old With Grace. I am also interested in the chapter on separation anxiety because, although she has come along way since being adopted, Gretel still gets anxious when I am not around.

What is one thing your dog does that bothers you and you would like to work on? Have you ever learned about dog body language and how to “speak dog”?

This post is sponsored by Decoding Your Dog on behalf of the BlogPaws Pet Blogger Network. I am being compensated for my time spent helping spread the word about this book and received a book free in exchange for my honest review. Here at YouDidWhatWithYourWiener, free does not equal good though. Everything said here is really how I feel. 

About the Author

Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.


  1. Interesting on the barking on leash issue. At first I only thought it was a small dog issue, since only my small dog did it…but biddy does it too. We walk a lot at the park…lots of other dogs and people and same thing…I can tell she is afraid sometimes because she will have her “shark fin” up..interesting reading…

    1. Oh, I’ve seen plenty of big dogs do it! One “nice” difference for me is when a big dog does it, people can get scared. With little dogs, people usually laugh it off with “oh, look at that little guy. Thinks he’s so tough”. Sadly, that is what keeps a lot of people from training their small dog properly (me too, to be honest).

  2. I’m glad you’re working on your guys’ fear – not having to pay as much attention to where other dogs are on your walks or hikes will definitely improve your own enjoyment of the outings!
    I’ve actually been doing similar work with Gwynn, whose barking/lunging is limited to cats. of which there are unfortunately many in my neighbourhood. My recommendation to you is peanut butter. When they start staring at a dog (in gwynn’s case, cat, or place where he once saw or thinks he might have seen a cat), if you can stick your finger (or a stick or whatever) in a container of peanut butter and hold it where they’d have to look away from the dog for them to lick, then they’re getting rewarded every time they look away from the thing they’re focusing on, which teaches them that not focusing on that thing is rewarding.

    The book sounds interesting, I might have to pick it up.

    1. Someone else actually told me about that trick. My guys are so short though that I would need to carry around a 4-foot wooden spoon to reach their little mouths. Besides that looking funny and being cumbersome, do they even make 4-foot wooden spoons?? Ha, ha.

      It WOULD be nice to not have to spend my walk scanning the horizon for dogs and avoiding them.

      1. I keep peanut butter with me everywhere I go using treat toobs. I keep one in my purse and in the winter I always have one in my jacket pocket as I’m constantly training Ammo. It’s important to always have a high-value treat with you at all times – regular cookies aren’t going to cut it, you have to find that special thing that your dog will drop everything for.

        While Ammo doesn’t have the same problem your dogs do, he does have a little bit of territorial aggression towards big dogs that I am constantly training and working on. When at our home or somewhere he considers “his space” he tends to bark at big dogs (putting on a big show that he’s super tough – protecting his space). So we’ve been working on a command to look at the dogs which gets him peanut butter if all he does is look. We use “who’s that”, and while we’ve still got a ways to go to get him to associate big dogs on his home turf as a positive thing, it has been working slowly but surely. The key is to be training it ALL THE TIME.

        Anyway, good luck! I know it can be difficult to keep the training up, but in the end it makes for a happier human and dog!

        1. So then make that a 4-foot long treat tube instead of wooden spoon 🙂

          The thing is, Gretel WILL drop everything for a regular treat (she get’s small, chewy training treats all the time). She will “drop everything” so much that she will never look away from me again to the other dog. I have found it works better for us if I use treats that she doesn’t like as much. Ha, ha.

          Decoding talks about the difference between operant vs, classical conditioning. If I can stick with a training habit at all, it’s going to be the kind of training that happens in little bits while living our daily life.

          You may be interested to know, Kyley, that we are going to work on a little agility. I doubt we will every compete or officially train but I am going to set up a little course in my back yard to give Chester and Gretel an exercise break when we can’t get away from the house. A tired dog is a good dog right? 🙂

          1. Fun! Agility is great for them, helps build confidence. Ammo and I are still taking classes every other week for fun. He’s advanced enough to compete now but I just haven’t gotten around to taking him. Maybe eventually we’ll try a trial for fun, but mostly we just enjoy the exercise and training.

            We’ve posted several DIY dog agility equipment tutorials on the blog that you might find helpful.

            1. I know. Thank goodness! That stuff is expensive. I’ve looked at a couple of your posts but plan to look more as we get more involved. I saw your agility toy post and bought one of those tear-apart treat balls for Chester and Gretel. Gretel opened one in about 2 seconds and sucked the treats out of the other one without opening it very far. ha, ha.

  3. I hate to say it, but Jack has a touch of the same issue. His preference is to just ignore other dogs and usually can do that, but sometimes the get in his face and he is not happy about it. I’ve been thinking about getting that book, so I may. Our dog trainer was great at helping us identify the underlying issues in both Jack & Maggie – made all the difference.

    1. I think I may also consult with a dog trainer so they can observe EXACTLY what Chester and Gretel are doing and give me some tips to address their specific issue. I have a pretty good idea but want an outsider’s perspective.

  4. Mr. N is also leash reactive to dogs and it is so embarrassing. I swear I can hear people thinking oh one of those yappy small dogs the owner never trains. I wonder if his is more excitement-based though because he wants to go say hi to all the dogs. And we run into so many off leash dogs that the problem is exacerbated.
    I told a woman at a store that my dog was “shy” around other dogs on leash. So what does she do? Brings her Chihuahua over and practically shoves her dog in Mr. N’s face.
    You have a trainer in Seattle who is known for her work with reactive dogs (Grisha Stewart and BAT). If we were closer, I’d take a class with her.

    1. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to pay for a trainer. I spoke with a trainer down the street that seemed knowledgeable and said she would trade me a couple of sessions for some social media consulting.

      I think Chester’s reactivity is more excitement based. Gretel’s is definitely fear based and they way they act leading up to the confrontation is totally different.

  5. I’m looking forward to reading this book myself!

    We have a fearful dog who is leash reactive (aggressive barking, lunging) toward other dogs, and we’ve taken a class on reactivity, which was very helpful.

    One thing I will say about “look at me” training is that it doesn’t really help the root of the problem. That command just distracts your dog, just temporarily; it doesn’t help her with her fear. She’ll still be fearful, anxious about other dogs if you do “look at me.” That command does nothing for the fear. Instead, some classic Pavlov (classical conditioning) will help you — the slow, patient work of making new neural associations (the trigger becomes the target, see Karen Pryor’s blog on this). Every time your dog sees her fear trigger, click & treat. Repeat 1,000 times. :-p We’re still working on this in our house!

    1. Thanks for the reminder. I guess I was thinking more of the “look at that” exercise but with the result that they look away to me. My problem with Gretel is that it works….once! If she looks at her trigger (the dog) and then I click and treat, she will never look away again (a the trigger for repeated “interactions”) because she knows I have treats.

      I definitely have some homework to do. I have seen Karen’s blog but wasn’t into training at the point I discovered it. I’ll have to go back and look through it.

  6. Thank you for posting this! I’ve been considering finding a book that explains why dogs do the silly things they do and barking and lunging are some of my concerns. My dog is 50 lbs so he’s big enough to scare people. I never considered that it could be fear. I thought he just didn’t like certain people and dogs!

    1. Well, there IS some truth to that I think. He may not “like” certain people and dogs but he might not like them because he is afraid. Fear is not always the reason. Sometimes a dog IS just aggressive. I think the chapter on dog aggression in Decoding Your Dog made it pretty clear to me that Chester and Gretel are NOT being explicitly aggressive when they bark and lunge. To the other person it can look the same but knowing the difference can help an owner correct the problem.

  7. I seriously want to read this book, you know, in my “spare time”. Felix is somewhat of an enigma to me and any ideas I can get are super appreciated! He also sucks at on leash greetings, though I have noticed a remarkable improvement since we moved to the apartment (we walk 1 bazillion times more than we did when we could go out and run around in the yard.) Practice really does make perfect.

    1. I’ve noticed Gretel’s tolerance to other dogs getting better. Now that you mention it, it might be because we are walking a bit more often. We certainly aren’t walking as much as you are though.

  8. Alma likes to lunge out to greet – she’s silent about it, at least, but she’s also huge, so not exactly stealthy. I try to avoid same-sidewalk passings with other dogs, and just work on keeping her calm and attentive on me even when there’s another dog across the street. She’s generally good at this distance now, so now the trick is to decrease the distance by a little more – though not sure how to do that without walking in the middle of the road! lol. Might have to seek out some wide city pathways and dedicate some time to working on it.

    1. I stalk people on the sidewalk 🙂 I will walk behind someone at the distance that I know Chester and Gretel won’t react and stop walking if the person in front of me does to keep the distance. I’ve gotten some strange looks when their dog is pooping and I am just standing there looking at them but it works. Ha, ha. If you are moving the same direction as them it is easy to decrease or increase the distance.

    1. I don’t remember there being one specifically on recall. The basic training chapter can offer some insight on how to clearly communicate with her though.

  9. Nice review! I want to read this book as well. The only other advice I would give is to work with the dogs one at a time if you are not already. They may both be exhibiting the same symptom for different reasons as well as having a cascading effect. It is much more effective to concentrate on one dog at a time. My clients hate it when they have to do “twice” the work, but since you walk so much anyway, it might be a little easier for you. I also think that working with a trainer is extremely important because any behavior that needs modification is complex and unique in most circumstances. Good Luck!

    1. Oh, I know. That is something I figured out right away. You can’t train one dog to do anything if the other is in the room doing his/her own thing. Besides, as you said, they may not be doing the “bad” thing for the same reason so one size does not fit all.

  10. Oh I know how you feel with this one. I have 3 huskies and one of them (used) to be horrid on the leash.
    I could not go anywhere near where another dog was walking because she would begin to lunge and bark and howl. Although her tail was wagging and she wasn’t showing signs of anger per say, it still was not a pleasant thing. I started doing anything possible to avoid these situations, instead of trying to “fix” them. Then I realized that was not best, I had to work on her leash manners, which i did, and slowly but surely started bringing her closer to other dogs on walks again, but not over her threshold , and then when she was comfortable with that, even closer still. It seemed to work for me.
    Great post!
    ((husky hugz frum da pack))

    “love is being owned by a husky”

    1. That’s my plan but I am sure it took you a long time to get there. I certainly don’t expect anything to happen over night…or even see significant change this year considering how my time to work with them is limited…..especially if I am walking them separately as Patty suggested above.

  11. One of our dogs is leash reactive to other dogs. He’s a stray we adopted from Mexico, so I’m not sure what is at the root of his issue. After trying for years to address the problem, we just avoid other dogs when he’s on leash. That’s not solving the problem but it’s an easy fix. I can see how it’s a bigger problem for your dogs when you’re on a trail and don’t have much room to maneuver. Let us know if you solve the problem and we’ll try it on our dog!

    1. Yeah….I have gone the “avoid” route for a long time. It works…unless you can’t avoid the trigger 🙂 I’e ridden a while on MY ability to ignore their behavior when they do react but I do feel like we are recognizable because of our blog and club. I just don’t want to make a bad name for either. We should be better examples 🙂

  12. Cupcake will sometimes bark and lunge or turn to stone when a dog is approaching. When we get closer, she sniffs nicely, and seems to want to be friends. I can usually distract her with a treat, and “Leave it” when I don’t want her to interact, or after she gets a few sniffs in. I’m definitely going to look into that tube of peanut butter that people are talking about in the comments!

    1. I’ve thought about the peanut butter trick from time to time but it is much harder to execute when your dog is only 12 inches off the ground 🙂

  13. I have a little old Boston Terrier that has some MAJOR aggression when we take our trips around the neighborhood. She’s old and set in her ways, but I do fear for our neighborhood dogs sometimes. They look at her differently, but I know this just out of fear like you said. She can’t see anymore so I’m sure hearing something but not being able to see it is very scary.

    1. Yes, I am sure that is very scary for her. To add to that, she is probably smaller than most dogs. They say that senior dogs can start to get more aggressive when they get older due to hearing and sight problems.

  14. My dog is fine on the floor/ground with other dogs, but if he is up on a couch or chair with me or my husband and another dog approaches, he goes right for them. Teeth bared and everything! I don’t know how to fix this behavior; he is very possessive of us, especially my husband. He even barks and jumps at us when we kiss. 🙁

  15. Great post! Been reading a lot about getting my dog to not do this. Thanks for the info here!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.