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It's cute when our puppies bark at hearing another dog on the television, yowl playfully at the cat, or yip at their own reflection in a mirror but it can be embarrassing and frustrating when they take this quirk outside the house while on leashed walks. It may make you feel like your neighbors are judging your puppy-parenting skills, and if you don't take the appropriate steps early in this stage, the cute yapping puppy will grow into a big barking dog.
As a puppy owner, it's likely you find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Puppies, bundles of joy they may be, can be exhausting and require a lot of attention and training. Not surprisingly, puppies come in a plethora of personality options, and much like Forrest Gump warned - you never know what you're going to get. Many are surprised at what makes their puppies react; there've been cases of dogs being afraid of or excited by trees, umbrellas, even a chair.
A phobia or excitement caused by bicyclists is actually a fairly common canine quirk, however, and there are many different solutions to help your puppy overcome it.
Take a moment to imagine how bikes might look to you if you'd never seen one before, now imagine seeing it going at a fast speed directly towards you. How would you feel? Excited? Curious? Scared?
The true key to getting your puppy to stop barking at bikes and the people on them is to determine why they're barking in the first place. As the main form of doggie lingo, dogs will bark to communicate a variety of things and for a variety of reasons. In the case of barking at bikes, your puppy is likely motivated by fear, excitement, or aggression. Telling the difference between these is actually quite easy, as they all look different when your pup is acting them out.
Dogs barking aggressively are showing they don't want something or someone to come any closer. This looks like a dog on high-alert, tail high in the air and stiff, an at-attention stare, maybe even some growling or hair raised on the back of their necks. If your puppy is reacting this way to a bike, then they view the object as a threat and are warning it to leave or back off.
Dogs barking out of excitement will have a wagging or loosely hanging tail, a happy expression, with alert ears, or an open, relaxed mouth. If your dog is doing this to you, it's likely they want to play. If they're expressing this body language towards bikes, it's likely they're motivated by its movement and want to chase it.
Dogs barking out of fear will have their tail lower to the ground and their ears are drawn back. Excessive licking or yawning may be present as well, as this is a sign of anxiety or stress. If your puppy is exhibiting these signs, then their discomfort with bikes comes from unfamiliarity or possibly even a bad experience with one (a bike falling on them, a wheel running over their paw or tail, etc..) and it's your job to reroute their former experience with bikes into something positive. Fear is definitely the motivator of barking if your puppy even barks at sedentary, non-personed bikes.
First off, choking or shocking collars aren't a humane way to cease barking. More than that, they've been proven to not be effective, actually weakening your dog's ability to obey and not react, causing further barking. These are especially unnecessary when dealing with a puppy, as they're in their early stages of learning and are just waiting to be properly molded by a motivated owner. You may be surprised at the simplicity of this training guide, but the needed items are few.Treats
Good training treats are small and easily eaten, allowing them to be consumed quickly and not be a distraction. They may also be low-calorie, as your puppy may be enjoying several handfuls of these a day. Specifically for this training guide, you may want these treats to be high-value (small pieces of cheese, chicken, or bacon). Something your pup doesn't typically get to enjoy will keep their focus on you. Make these coveted treats by only using them during training.Retractable Leash
Although not necessary, retractable leashes are great for smaller dogs (in this case, a puppy), because they are able to sustain what little weight is at its end. The ability to easily adjust the length of the leash will also come in handy during this training, because it allows your puppy to explore distance but also keeps you in control in case they get too close to a street or in the way of a bike in motion.Clicker (or mark behavior)
Clickers are great to have in your dog-training tool belt. They're used by professionals to "mark behavior". Marking behavior helps your dog learn what it is exactly they're being rewarded for. For example, every time you ask your puppy to sit, you click the clicker and then reward them when they do. Clickers are inexpensive and can be picked up at your local pet supply store. However, if you want to begin training today and are without a clicker, there are other ways to mark good behavior. Try saying "Yes!" every time your puppy obeys. Any word, as long as it's in an encouraging tone and consistently used, works as well as a clicker.Regular exercise
Keeping your puppy exercised, especially if it's a naturally more active breed, is an important factor whenever barking is concerned. In many cases where a puppy or dog is barking excessively, they're funneling excess energy they haven't been able to appropriately burn off during a long, fun game of fetch.
While your puppy practices a new training process, it's your responsibility to practice patience. It's likely your pet won't make instant progress, it's also possible for them to make strides forward and then have an off-day or off-week. Try to not become discouraged and know that it isn't anything you're doing wrong. Regardless of why your puppy is reacting (aggression, fear, excitement), you can choose to try any of the methods listed below or even a combination of all.
The Bike Phobia Method
Know your pup
This method takes on the basic form of desensitization. If unfamiliar, desensitization looks to help a subject gain comfort around something that makes them incredibly uncomfortable by exposing them to that object, place, or person. This is the right method for your puppy if they showcase an extreme fear of bikes, whether they are manned or not. The first step is always spending some quality time with your puppy, getting to know them and, together, developing your own means of communicating.
Enlist the help of a friend
If you're anything like the typical pet-owner, it's likely your friends know all about your furry family member. There may not be a Christmas card or social media post that doesn't include their floppy ears or shining, wet nose. Take advantage of your support system by asking a friend or family member with an open schedule to take a few hours out of a day to help you desensitize your puppy.
Choose an outdoor area
The ideal area will be low-distraction, meaning not a lot of foot-traffic. If you have a fenced in backyard, this should do perfectly, especially since your puppy is already familiar and comfortable in it. However, an open field or quiet corner of a park will work just as well.
Have your friend meet you at a designated area with a bicycle. While you and your puppy stand at one end of the yard or field, the friend and bike stand at the other end. (Do not have your friend on top of or riding the bike, yet.) If your puppy begins whining or you can't gain their attention, you're too close. Move further back or instruct the bike and person to do so. While leashed, calmly walk your puppy two to three steps closer to the bike. Have them sit and look at you, give them a treat for obeying. Repeat this. If you ever gain too much distance to where your puppy is distracted, no longer calm, and not obeying, start over. This exercise may take several minutes to an hour, depending on the severity of your pet's phobia. If your puppy successfully meets the bike and person at the end of the line and does not bark, practice it a few times. Every time they act curious about, sniff at, or lick at the bike, reward them.
Introduce a moving bicyclist
If your puppy isn't able to get any closer to the bike without becoming agitated, continue the step four exercise once a day for several days out of the week or one day of the week for several weeks. Do this until they are able to calmly be close to the bicycle. When this is accomplished, you may begin step five. While in your designated, familiar environment, have your bicycling friend slowly bike a good distance in front of you and your leashed walking companion. Each time the bicycle rolls into view, have your puppy sit and shower them with treats. If they react, step further away from the bike and only give them treats BEFORE or AFTER they've ceased barking, never during. Stay in your spot and allow the bicyclist to very slowly close the distance. Ask them to keep their pace nice and slow. Once your puppy shows they can control their fear around the biker, then you can request a faster pace from your biking helper. Continue these practices every weekend, if able and necessary.
The Bike-Curious Puppy Method
Know your pup
If your pet is routinely excited by bikers, to the point that they bark playfully and lunge as if to chase them, then you're not dealing with a shy or frightened dog, but rather an adventurous little tyrant. The concepts learned in these steps, such as obedience and restraint, will help your young canine master many abilities as you continue to train them into their adulthood.
Teach the 'speak' command
Yes, we understand you're trying to get your puppy to not form the habit of barking, but the 'speak' command is a necessary basic before moving onto step three of this method. Now, find something that makes your dog bark. A common stimuli is the sound of a doorbell, knocking, or even someone walking outside past the window. Create this scenario however you can and have them leashed, even if you're indoors, so that you can keep control of them if they try to run at the door or window. When they bark, say "speak" and treat them. So this several times, at least for a half hour. Eventually your pup will catch on that they're being rewarded for barking. The ultimate goal is to have them bark on command. Slowly, over the course of the day or week, remove the stimuli (doorbell, stranger, etc.) until they bark only when you say "speak". You should both feel very comfortable with this command before moving on, with your pet showcasing consistency.
Teach the 'quiet' command
Okay, here we go. Now it's time for the good stuff. Your vocal puppy now yaps every time you ask them to. Finally, we get to where they'll learn to do the opposite. Again utilize your puppy's stimuli to get them to bark. Tell them "Quiet" or "Hush" and only reward them as soon as they do stop barking. Continue this routine for the next several minutes or over the course of a few days (until they really "get" it).
Create a controlled scenario
Enlist someone who is happy to help to be your designated biker. Meet at a park or at your home. Your objective is to re-create scenarios in which your dog has barked at bikers. Have your friend ride a bicycle slowly past you and your leashed puppy as you walk calmly down your neighborhood's sidewalk or a path in the park. Knowing the bike will pass by you, have your pup follow you off the path or walkway and gain their attention with the 'sit' command. When they notice the bike, they're likely to break their focus on you. Do not punish them for this, as this is a totally natural response and not something we're attempting to eliminate. When they begin barking, position your body in front of them to try and regain attention, and command 'quiet'. If the pup does not follow orders, ask your planted bicyclist to bike at a slower pace or further away. Find that safe space for your excitable pooch and run with it, rewarding them every time they follow the 'quiet' command.
If you plan to go on walks during these training sessions, practice both of the new commands. If the pup doesn't respond when distractions are present, take several steps away from what is causing them to bark or not mind you and ask for the behavior again. Set them up for success by requesting 'speak' and 'quiet' until they finally do so, then reward heavily.
The Aggressive Puppy Method
Know your pup
This method is for your puppy if they exhibit any of the aggressive body language discussed earlier in the article. These steps focus on "counter conditioning" which aim to rewire a brain that associates bad things with a certain person, place or thing (in this instance, a bike) with positive associations.
Now that you're familiar with your puppy's reactions to bikes and what can help them, it's time to practice counter conditioning. Get ready to practice some patience as well, because this process will take simply as long as it takes and needs to be utilized consistently on every leashed walk. The next time you take Fido on a walk, bring plenty of training treats and perhaps even a clicker. Keep a small amount of the treats in the palm of your hand, always on the ready. Being alert and prepared for any encounter with a biker while walking with your bike-reactive puppy is perhaps the most important step to this method.
Be alert and opportunistic
Every encounter with a bicyclist, while you may fear to hear your puppy's dreaded barking, should be treated as a welcomed opportunity to show your puppy there's nothing to be afraid of. Try to notice a bike before your puppy does. This will allow you to redirect their behavior and also have more control over their experience, helping make it a positive one. As soon as you see a bike crossing ahead of you, coming from behind, or especially, coming straight to you, calmly bring your puppy aside and out of the way. Gain their attention by requesting a 'sit' or even a 'stay'. When they obey the command, began feeding them treat after treat after treat, feeding until the biker is completely out of view.
Build trust with your puppy
If your puppy is aggressive towards bicyclists, it's likely they haven't been properly socialized and/or had a negative experience with one. Somewhere along the way, whether it was you, another house-member, or someone who previously owned the animal, your puppy's trust was betrayed and something scary happened to them. In order to re-build this trust and replace their aggression with a safer, calmer reaction, be your puppy's protector. This means, when you're in a tight hallway or skinny sidewalk, with a biker headed towards you, politely ask them to either slow down or keep their distance from your puppy. Don't let more negative experiences occur. Do everything you can to show your puppy that you want to keep them safe from the big, scary bike so they don't have to resort to acting aggressively.
Plan ahead and stay faithful to the process
Aggression in dogs can be hard to re-direct; they've had years of practicing it. But since you're dealing with a young dog, you have the wonderful opportunity to stop this downward spiral before it becomes habit. Try not to get discouraged if your puppy doesn't seem to make progress as soon or as consistently as you'd hope. Giving up on training them is giving up on them. If it helps you feel more prepared and less anxious, try to plan for different scenarios before you leave the house for a walk. What will you do if someone with a bike tries to get on the elevator with you and your puppy? What will you say to someone, walking a bike, with a helmet on, asks to pet your furry friend? Staying prepared for any given scenario will help you stay calm, an energy your emotionally-intelligent canine friend will pick up on and mimic.
By Candice Littleton
Published: 03/23/2018, edited: 01/08/2021