Why does my small dog bark at larger dogs?


Your Dog expert Tony Cruse answers the issue of barking and lunging in small dogs.

Q: The moment my female Lhasa Apso sees a big dog, she barks her head off and charges at it, whether off or on the lead. What could be the reason for this behaviour? 

Tony says: Barking and lunging are usually the results of fear; it’s your dog trying to push the scary thing away, and a small dog can naturally be afraid of large dogs.

Sometimes, this can result from a negative experience with a bigger dog, where what may have looked like play was not fun for the smaller dog. I’ve known similar issues begin as far back as puppyhood and poorly organised ‘Puppy parties’.

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Never punish the barking because it makes the whole situation even worse. The dog is fearful of something, and his owner starts scaring him too! 

It’s hard to stop the emotion of fear, and you certainly can’t punish it, but you can change the association with a bigger dog into something more positive. Whenever a larger dog is in sight, your dog gets a tasty treat and a fuss from you. After a while, bigger dogs predict good things… not fear. The barking should soon diminish, replaced with a happy glance at you for the tasty treat.  The order of events becomes: big dog appears — your dog looks at you — treat appears.

Initially, your dog will be happier at a distance. If he’s not eating the treats, he is probably too close to the trigger (big dog). I have had huge success with this method sitting on a park bench. It’s all fairly dull for the dog until the trigger (large dog, in your case) walks by and then it’s party time (treats and fuss)! The trigger disappears, and the situation returns to normal. The previously fearful dog soon really wants to see the trigger because it now predicts good things.