Owner at the end of his leash with lunging dog

JOHN WADE, Special to QMI Agency
(QMI Agency files)

(QMI Agency files)

Dear John: Our seven-year-old dog will bark and lunge at people as they are walking towards us. Otherwise he walks very well.

He also will bark and bite at the back fence boards if someone with a dog passes our yard. I am not sure how to turn this behaviour around so we can all enjoy our walks.

-- D.P.

Hi D.P.: I see a lot of this when people live on a corner or have a recreational path behind or beside their homes, but also just with dogs that spend their days looking out windows.

Dogs are territorial by nature and they have great imaginations. You may think that looking out the window all day breaks the monotony during your absence, but if they could talk, the conversation you'd have every time you came home would go like this: "You'll never believe how many people/dogs/squirrels/cats tried to break into the house today, but you should have seen me. I glared and I grumbled and I growled . . . "

Without you to remind them that it's your house and they just get to live there, a lot of dogs come down with this sort of watchdog-itis. It's fixable but it's not the sort of thing you can really turn around through training alone.

I don't care how great the training philosophy or the technique -- your dog is learning 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whether you're teaching him or not. So, you can be teaching “No!” in training, and later and far more often he's looking out that window or running at that fence thinking, "Did he say ‘No!’ That can't be it. I think surely he must have meant ‘Go!’"

You really have to be motivated to pull off this sort of thing. It's not that it's hard; it's just that the level of supervision required is, for most companion dog owners, a pain so they end up working around the behaviour.

I can relate to that, but these are the dogs that end up biting someone who comes to the door or walks unannounced into your yard or comes within the "no-fly zone" when you're out on a walk. I can't imagine, when you think of the number of times a day this sort of dog has these episodes, that it's all that healthy either.

To truly turn a dog like this around, you have to find ways to prevent unsupervised access to all his triggers when you're not home. And when you are home, you're always sure you can get to him before he can physically get to the window, the door or the fence.

Just as important, you need to get to him before he gets so mentally invested in his hissy fit that he can't absorb what you're hoping to teach him. He'll be no less free, just not free to make mistakes that reinforce the behaviour.

I start treating dogs like this like I'm looking after a two-year-old kid in a room full of cacti. Since dogs have an edge as far as speed and agility, I have them drag a leash inside and something longer outside. The length of the leash is directly proportional to how fast you feel that day.

Think of it like this – if our kids were faster than us, they'd all still be naked. Dog or kid, if they can't be caught, they can't be taught.

John Wade helps dog owners through his books, workshops and telephone consultations. If you have a question, e-mail him at