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Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Barking on the lead

Hello Dogs Today,

I wonder if anyone could offer any advice.

I have a six-year-old Cocker Spaniel that we have had for one year. My problem is that she randomly barks at people and most dogs when she's on the lead, barking and lunging at them. I have been to an animal behaviorist. He advised lots of treats, but she's more interested in barking than eating the treats. She has been on Zylkene for 10 days now, is it too early for it to have started working yet? Off lead she is fine, but on the lead she barks at people/dogs across the road and I cannot even get her to focus on me.

Have you any suggestions please?

Many thanks

Sally Vincent, by email


  1. I had my chihuahua on Zylkene for 40 days as she has bad separation anxiety. The vet told me that it rarely works but I tried it anyway. She gave me 20 and said that if I didn't see a difference after 10 then I wouldn't at all. However I continued to buy it to give it more time but it still didn't work. All in all i spent £40 on medication that didn't work and if it had of worked, it wouldn't have dealt with the underlying problem anyway.
    I don't have this barking on the lead problem with my chihuahua so I can't give you any advice for that but I would advise you to take her off the medication even if it is working as it's not stopping the behavioural problem, it's only stopping the physical.

  2. Hi Sally
    Firstly if the advice you have been given so far is not appearing to work, then I would go back to the behaviourist to ask for further assistance. This gives them the chance to look at the problem in the light of the Zylkene and so on. It is the fairest approach for them and for you - and for your dog too! I would recommend that you book some follow-up one-to-one sessions with them to get you started. In that way you can deal with the practical problem and build up your skills, whilst helping your dog to stay calm.

    Speaking more generally, it is hard to say here what to do without seeing the animal. If the dog is more interested in barking than eating the treats then it is possible that they are either far too excited or far to stressed to be interested in food. It is possible that you are taking things too fast, too soon and should probably build up more gradually, using food as an early distraction. There are very few dogs that will want to eat when in 'full flow' and it needs to be introduced in a specific way for it to work well.

    There are other issues when a dog is on lead - they may feel trapped, or frustrated, or may have learned all sorts of associations with the lead in the past. Leads can inhibit 'normal' behaviour so I usually work on handling skills with an owner if I feel this is the case.

    Nevertheless I strongly recommend you go back to the behaviourist - if they cannot help you further, they should be able to explain why this is in more detail and this may well help to solve the issues.

  3. Chloe & Cleo - as you rightly state, Zylkene doesn't work on the underlying causes of problems, that is something that *the owner* (i.e. YOU!) have to work on ALONGSIDE using medication. If you don't want to work on the underlying cause (as the tone of your post suggest), then why do you even have a pet?

  4. Hi Sally,
    I've started training to become a Tellington TTouch Practitioner. TTouch massage can have an amazing calming effect on dogs. Relieving tension in their body and helping to create a great bond between you. As Karen Wild said, obviously something had happened before you got her. You may have a TTouch Practioner nearby that could help you. Also if you research about Calming signals (Turid Rugaas), it may help you work out if your Spaniel is showing signs of being scared, fear, excited.
    Melody Todd,

  5. Presumably she is barking only at people/dogs that she percieves as being a threat. She barks/lunges they go away. So her in her eyes barking/lunging has worked, so she will use this behaviour again. The fact that most people when confronted with a dog that barks and lunges at them with or without a dog, will normally hurry past if not cross the road, is obviously not going to be taken into consideration by your dog. She has acted in this way and the threat has moved away.

    Personally I would put her into a headcollar, or an anti-pull harness (Halti make one), this will allow you to turn your dog away with little effort, and walk the dog out of the situation. Just walk a few paces away, then turn back again. If your dog kicks off again, then repeat, until your dog is calm. This will be helped if you can enlist friends with dogs, or even helpful passersby's, so that your dog can find out that calm behaviour works better and you are ready to put your plan of action to work, and only then will the perceived threat go away. It sounds as though lack of socialisation before you get your dog, may be the route cause here.

    However behaviour problems can be caused by certain foods that contain a lot of cereals, colouring and artifical additives. It may be worthwhile looking at the diet that you are feeding your dog, a natural or BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Feeding) diet may be helpful.

    As for titbits, then use high value ones, such as hotdog peices, chicken, cheese, liver/liver cake. Basically very smelly and tasty foods. If you can clicker train your dog to sit and watch your hand for a few seconds then she gets the titbit, then this could then be used when the other behaviour is displayed.

  6. Please see my comment here as it also applies to your situation.

  7. Nathalie Ingham, Behaviour Advisor, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home5 July 2011 at 09:11

    Dear Sally,

    Thank you for your question. The approach you take with your dog really depends on the reason she is barking in the first place. If she is worried by certain people maybe because of what they are wearing, their stature, or way they are moving and certain dogs then yes what your Behaviourist has advised should work but would need to be done in a controlled manner. The idea behind giving her plenty of treats as she spots what she is worried by is a training process called counter conditioning when you associate something that the dog is currently worried by with something that the dog likes (ie food) and therefore start to change the dogs perception of that particular thing.

    In order to do this though your dog needs to be far enough away from the “scary thing” so that she isn’t worried by it and will therefore concentrate on the eating. Similarly to us if dogs are too anxious about something they will refuse food. I’d suggest setting up situations with somebody that she isn’t worried by at a rather large distance from her (for example other side of a field) every time that she looks at the person reward her with food, keep doing this until the person is out of sight and then start again. Get the person to dress up in different outfits (for example wearing hats, carrying umbrellas etc). Slowly you can start to reduce the distance between you. It is really important however that you are careful not to encourage or put your Cocker into a situation that does worry her as she may otherwise feel that she has no other option but to use the behaviour to get herself out of it. The same procedure can be used with dogs.

    Another potential reason for the behaviour is frustration because she is restricted by being on lead. If this were the case she would be fine once she introduced to the person or dog. However it would not be advisable to try this unless you were with a trainer/behaviourist who could ascertain that it was safe to do this.

    You should speak to your vet in regards to how quickly you should see an affect with the Zylkene.

    Kind Regards,