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Isn't it just one of the worst things when someone thinks your dog is aggressive, when you know full well they aren't?
This is the situation you find yourself in on walks, because your Cocker spaniel has a bad habit of barking at joggers. You know your dog and understand that it's just because seeing a stranger running towards him makes the dog feel anxious. The dog's natural reaction is then to bark at the jogger, to make him go away. This is unfortunate because to strangers it appears that the dog wants to do them harm, whereas you know nothing is further from the truth and he's just frightened. You've tried reassuring the dog and telling him there's no need to bark. Sadly, not only does this not seem to help, but joggers think you are praising and encouraging the unwanted behavior.
Nobody likes to be misunderstood, but it's even worse when it's the dog.
Key to stopping a Cocker from barking at joggers is understanding what motivates the behavior. This means there is little point in chastising the dog's unwanted behavior as this will only increase his underlying anxiety or over-aroused state.
Most dogs will bark at a jogger because they either feel threatened as a stranger runs towards them, or because the dog becomes over-excited by the idea of a chase. Unfortunately, the fact that the jogger goes away accidentally rewards the dog, who then thinks that barking is a great strategy for getting rid of a threat.
Instead of getting frustrated with the dog, use obedience training so that the dog concentrates on you and is less likely to feel threatened by the jogger. This will also give the dog a greater feeling of security because he's aware you are in control of the situation.
Teaching a Cocker not to bark at joggers is all about getting your dog to listen to you. For this you just need treats and good timing, and then plenty of patience to put the lessons into practice. You will need:
- Pea-sized tasty treats
- A treat pouch of bag for ready access to the treats
- A collar and leash
The Distract with 'Look' Method
Understand the idea
When you spot a jogger approaching, you get the dog's attention and hold it on you with the 'look' command. With the dog concentrating on you, rather than on the jogger, you can keep him from barking.
Start in a distraction-free room
Start teaching the 'look' command in a distraction-free place such as a quiet room at home. As the dog becomes accomplished at focusing on you, the training can move outdoors into a more distracting environment.
Use a tasty treat
Hold a tasty treat between your finger and thumb. If the treat is slightly smelly, so much the better as it will hold the dog's attention better. Have the dog sit. Show the dog the treat by placing it just in front of his nose so he picks up the scent of it, but don't allow the dog to have the treat. If he fidgets, remind him to sit nicely.
Travel the treat to between your eyes
Now travel the treat in a straight line from the dog's nose to a spot between your eyes. Make sure you are standing up straight, so the dog does the work rather than you. Move the treat slow enough to allow the dog to track its path. Rest your hand with the treat clearly visible near the bridge of your nose. You may find it helps to fan your fingers out, which helps focus attention on the treat.
The dog should be sitting staring upwards at the treat which is resting between your eyes. At this point, say "Look" in a firm but happy voice. Stare back into the dog's eyes and if he holds your attention for two seconds, praise him with "Good" and give him the treat. Repeat.
Stretch out the waiting time
As you practice, make the dog wait longer between giving the "Look" command and rewarding him. Aim first for 10 seconds, work up to one minute and then a couple of minutes.
Take it outside
Once the dog is holding your gaze for more than a minute, start practicing outdoors. At first, work in a low-distraction environment, but as the dog's abilities improve, start using it when you see people approaching in the distance. Ulitmately, you will use "Look" to keep the dog's attention on you when joggers run past, so that he doesn't bark.
The Teach 'Quiet' Method
Understand the idea
It's possible to stop your Cocker spaniel from barking by teaching the 'quiet' command. This puts the absence of barking on cue, so that you can command the dog to be quiet if he starts barking at a jogger.
Put barking on cue
The first step sounds counter-intuitive, but it's to teach the dog what "Bark" is. By understanding "Bark" is noise, the dog can learn that "Quiet" is the absence of noise. In this scenario, as the dog sees a jogger and starts to bark, say "Bark", praise him and give the dog a treat.
Hold the dog's muzzle
Whilst the dog is eating his treat, he can't bark. Gently hold the dog's muzzle as he munches his reward, so that he can't open his mouth and start barking again. Say "Quiet" in a firm voice.
Repeat and practice
Let go of the dog's muzzle. If he starts to bark again, repeat "Bark", praise him, and as he eats the treat hold his muzzle and say "Quiet."
Let go of the dog's muzzle and if he stays silent, say "Quiet" and give him lots of praise and another treat.
Reinforce the 'quiet' command
Practice some more by using the 'quiet' command in any situation where the dog barks, such as when the doorbell rings or visitors call.
The Dos and Don'ts Method
Don't: Shout at the dog to be quiet
If the Cocker barks at a jogger, don't shout at the dog to be quiet. The dog may think you are trying to join in by doing the human equivalent of barking (which, in his mind, is shouting.)
Practice your 'quiet' and 'look' commands several times a day. Remember to use them during the day as opportunities arise, so that when you need to use them in earnest the dog obeys out of habit.
Don't: Punish the dog
Never physically punish or verbally abuse the dog. Cockers are sensitive dogs and some may bark out of anxiety when they see a jogger running towards them. Punishing the dog will only increase the dog's anxiety level, which makes matters worse not better.
Do: Keep the dog on a leash
Your Cocker's instincts to chase may be triggered by the jogger passing by. When you see the runner in the distance make sure to put the dog on the leash and then command him to walk to heel. This is another way of having his attention on you. But if he starts to get distracted you have him close by to use the 'look' cue.
Do: Socialize your dog
Cockers will bark at people or situations they find intimidating or frightening. Work with your puppy or dog to expose them to as many different experiences as possible. However, make sure to do this in a positive way. This means rewarding the dog with praise or treats when he remains calm when faced with a jogger.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 01/01/2018, edited: 01/08/2021