Why does my dog bark on the leash?
The first step to developing a solution for your dog’s behavior is understanding the “Why?” While we can not know what your dog is thinking or feeling, we can use the field of behavioral science to help us understand your dog’s motivations behind these behaviors. If your dog engages in barking or lunging on a leash, in most cases, the other dog or person will leave. The other person likely continued on their walk, but from your dog’s perspective, the action of barking or lunging resulted in the removal of the stimulus (usually people and dogs). In this example, barking and lunging are maintained by negative reinforcement. Due to the reinforcement for this behavior, your dog will likely engage in the behavior again.
Join us as we further discuss positive and negative reinforcement in our “What is Behavior Modification
” blog series.
How do I stop my dog from barking on the leash?
Now that we understand the motivation behind barking on the leash, we can develop a solution for the behavior! If a dog is barking and lunging at a stimulus (other people and dogs) on the leash, there is a high motivation for removing that person or dog from the environment. To correct this behavior, we need to reduce the motivation for removal. Utilizing classical conditioning techniques, we can pair the presence of the stimulus with a high-value item (typically food). During training, we strongly associate the presence of the stimulus with yummy treats. In turn, this will decrease the motivation for the stimulus to be removed, which will also decrease the dog’s likelihood of engaging in barking or lunging.
Read more about the use of classical conditioning to address barking on a leash further with our “How can I help my reactive dog
Is positive or negative reinforcement better for dogs?
What do positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement mean? A typical example of positive reinforcement is providing a treat to your dog after sitting. Your pup is more likely to sit in the future due to receiving the treat after sitting. Negative reinforcement happens when a behavior is more likely to occur due to removing something after the behavior occurs.
An example would be a dog receiving a shock or vibration for not complying with sit. Once the dog sits, the shock or vibration then stops. Your dog will likely sit in the future to avoid the shock/vibration for non-compliance. Almost everyone would prefer the positive reinforcement option, and dogs are no exception! A recent study concluded that dogs receiving training using negative reinforcement contained significantly higher cortisol levels (a stress hormone) than those receiving training using positive reinforcement.
Learn more about the effects of negative reinforcement-based dog training
Do I need a dog trainer or a dog behaviorist?
Knowing which professional to hire to help you and your dog can be challenging! An easy way to figure out if you need a dog trainer or a dog behaviorist is to identify what your goals for the training are. You likely need a dog trainer if your goals solely focus on training your dog commands, such as sitting and staying. If your goals are focused on addressing your dog’s behavior, then you should seek the assistance of a dog behavior specialist. Dog training and behavior modification is, unfortunately, an unregulated profession. You should focus on dog trainers with certifications with the Certification Council of Pet Dog Trainers and dog behavior specialists working under a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) or holding a CDBC or CBCC-KA certification.