Training Tips: Stop a dog from whining & barking on walks

A reader emailed me asking about on how to stop her 17-pound Yorkie/schnauzer mix Apricot from “squealing,” whining, barking and yanking on the leash during walks.

Since this is such a common problem with dogs, I thought I’d tackle the topic in a post in case some of you would be willing to weigh in with your own experiences.

Of course, everything will be general advice and should be used for brainstorming. What works for one dog will not necessarily work for another dog.

The problem:

Here are some of the main points from the reader’s email:

“… as soon as we go past our driveway (with his leash on), he turns into a different puppy – he pulls, yanks, squeaks, squeals, high-pitched barks, I have tried lots of walks with him, running with him, playing in the backyard for energy release before walks, I tried the tight leash, the loose leash, etc….. it’s to the point where I dread taking him for walks …

“… the problem is the leash which brings the ‘anxiety’ or the ‘anxiousness’ that causes Apricot to just want to ‘run’ as soon as the leash is on him and when he has to ‘walk’ he can’t he pulls, yanks, squeaks, and squeals.”

Here’s a picture of the dog we’re talking about. He’s the puppy on top.

My thoughts on how to stop the dog from barking and whining on walks:

It seems like Apricot is a high-energy, young dog who doesn’t know what to do with all his energy. When the leash is on, he gets anxious and frustrated because he wants to go-go-go!

The leash itself, in addition to being out in an exciting place, seems to be what brings out the anxiety/frustration. Apricot is pretty good off leash, according to his owner. He typically doesn’t bark or squeal when the leash is off and he generally stays close. When the leash is on, he starts the barking and yanking.

The owner has tried using treats, switching directions, choke collars, prong collars, a harness and different leashes.

My suggestions to stop the barking and whining:

1. Try a Gentle Leader.

I am not against prong or choke collars, but when I’m dealing with highly anxious/vocal dogs the corrections sometimes have no effect or they make things worse. Using a Gentle Leader on a strong, anxious dog helps me stay more relaxed. I don’t have to worry about giving corrections. The Gentle Leader comes in a size small, which should work for a snorkie.

2. Find a routine.

Dogs love routine, and I find that they do settle down a bit if you can make life predictable for them. A routine could involve getting up at this time every morning, eating at this time every morning, heading out for a walk at this time, going in your kennel at this time, playing at this time, etc.

3. Try a dog backpack.

Dog backpacks come in small enough sizes for little dogs. I’ve found that dog backpacks really help some dogs focus on something other than moving ahead. It’s not a quick fix, but it often helps. Use a small amount of weight in the pack such as paperback books or some kibble in a Ziploc bag. Pictured is a reader’s dog named Chip.

Dog backpacks for small dogs

4. Feed the dog with puzzle-type toys.

Dogs that appear anxious and overly excited out on walks are often hiding that anxiety all the time, we just don’t see it. When you’re dealing with an anxious dog, anything you can do to drain that energy throughout the day will pay off in the long run. One easy way to do this is to only feed the dog through Kongs (aff link) or other puzzle-type toys. Don’t even use a bowl for food at all. This will mean your dog is always working for her food, using up some of that pent-up mental and emotional energy.

You can also cut back on the dog’s meals so you can use the remaining food when you’re working on training. While the dog may be too anxious to care about food on a walk, you can still use the food to work on training in less challenging areas.

Playing tug with a rope toy is another easy way to drain some pent-up energy.

5. Make the time for group obedience classes.

I know time and money are tight for a lot of us, but if you can swing it I would make group obedience classes a priority. The reason for this is because they are valuable for teaching the dog to work and focus while in the presence of other dogs. It’s hard to create these situations in “real life.” But if you take a class, you’re all working on similar goals.

With a vocal, anxious dog, you would want to speak to the instructor ahead of time so he or she knows about your dog’s issues.

He or she should be able to give you some additional tips for both on your own as well as in the class setting. And if the instructor does not seem tolerant of your dog’s barking/whining (I’ve seen it happen), then hopefully you can find a different class with a different instructor!

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6. Work on general obedience every day.

A dog with strong obedience skills has better self-control and will be more likely to listen to her owner in challenging situations.

Achieving this takes time and patience, but starting out small with realistic goals can go a long way. This will transfer over to better behavior on walks and better behavior in all public settings. Some basics all dogs should learn include sit, down, stay, come, heel and watch.

Some examples:

  • Work so the dog will lie down and stay for 30 seconds in the living room while you’re standing right there
  • Work so the dog will stay for 30 seconds while you walk across the room
  • Increase the time to 1 minute
  • Practice sit and stay on a leash in the house
  • Progress to working on this on the driveway or in the backyard, etc.

7. Stay calm and focused on walks.

For me, the hardest part about walking an embarrassing dog is keeping my own frustration under control.

I have to remind myself to stay calm and relaxed. I have to stop and think about my own posture. Am I tense? Am I frustrated? (It helps to take a deep breath and laugh at the situation).

Then, I do what I can to keep the dog focused and quiet. I switch directions when the dog pulls. I walk in a zig-zag pattern. I talk to the dog in a high-pitched voice, encouraging eye contact.

I bring highly valued treats like hamburger or bacon to reward the dog if he happens to look at me and accept treats.

And, for the record, I almost always recommend keeping an anxious dog at your side on walks at all times. Hold the leash the way I’m holding Ace’s leash in the photo below. Ditch retractable leashes for now.

(See my posts Should I teach my dog to heel? and Tips for teaching a dog to heel for more ideas)

8. Add running to your walks.

If possible, run with your dog for the first 10 minutes or so to help drain the initial energy.

9. Practice eye contact exercises.

“Watch” or “watch me” is a command all dogs should learn, and it can be really handy on walks, especially when you see another dog and switch directions. “Watch” can be used to get the dog to look at you rather than turning around to check out the other dog.

Patricia McConnell writes about this in her book Feisty Fido, which is a book I highly recommend for any dog with “excitement” issues outside, not just reactive dogs.

10. Only walk towards other dogs when your dog is calm.

This only works if your dog is happy and excited about seeing other dogs (vs. fearful).

You could set up a scenario with a friend and another dog where she is standing 30 feet ahead and you are walking towards her with your dog. Pre-determine how much excited behavior is acceptable and what is not. Then, if your dog reaches the “unacceptable” level, simply turn around and walk the other way.

Once your dog is calm, reward her with pieces of hotdogs or bacon and then turn around and walk towards your friend again. The second your dog pulls or whines (or whatever), you would turn and walk away. And so on, repeating this as often as needed.

Note that this takes a lot of patience, and will be very challenging for some dogs. It’s easy for the dog and the owner to get frustrated, so if you sense that happening, it’s best to just end the session, keep on walking away from the source of “excitement” and reward your dog for calm behavior going the opposite way. Then quit while you’re ahead.

OK, so how about the rest of you?

Examples? Ideas? Experiences? Have you ever owned or fostered a dog that was constantly vocal on walks? Let me know!

For more tips on how to stop your dog’s pulling on the leash, get my ebook: “Ultimate Guide: How to Stop My Dog From Pulling on the Leash.”

How to stop my dog from pulling

18 thoughts on “Training Tips: Stop a dog from whining & barking on walks”

  1. We started out this way when Mort came to us from the shelter! He would whine, stare, and become very over excited when seeing any other dog. And no wonder – high intensity 7 month old puppy who just came from a huge shelter, and until recently lived with his sibling!

    I am so on board with the jogging – that has worked wonders for all sorts of behavior issues. The other thing that worked for us was simply redirecting some of the energy on a toy, and then asking for specific behaviors so he had to listen and focus. Pretty much what you’ve already described above! The effect was two-fold: removed the energy directed at other elements of the environment, like the other dog, and it was controllable because the toy required interaction with me. And it also intensified his interest in toys, which was great for training and dog sports. 🙂 Now a dog can literally … ahem… straddle him if I have a toy out and he doesn’t even notice anything other than the toy in my hand (not good, but it did happen a couple times unintentionally and was interesting from a behavior mod standpoint!)

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh, wow! That is some focus as far as the toy goes! My dog is a also very focused on toys, and come to think of it I used to bring a ball with me on walks to keep his attention on me. He’s one of those retrievers who are obsessed with retrieving sticks and balls. At the dog park, other dogs have humped him as well while I’m standing there holding a ball. He acts like they’re not there. Kind of embarrassing.

    2. That’s great he has such fixation with toys. Maybe mine will become this way with treats! They ignore toys on their walks.

  2. Hi, My senior rescue dog Billy used to pull and pull on the lead, he pulled so hard once that he dragged me and I fell over and really hurt myself. I found that if I use the Gentle Leader Headcollar this behaviour stops. He has been an absolute dream to walk now. Though if I take the Headcollar off for even a minute the pulling behaviour starts again. You can purchase the Gentle Leader Headcollar here in Australia – http://www.mypetwarehouse.com.au/GENTLE-LEADER?gclid=CPSR6NeQkbwCFUEHvAodVgwAaQ or direct from their website here – http://www.gentleleader.com.au/

  3. Great tips! Some dogs are just naturally more excitable, nervous, energetic, high-strung or whatever the case might be. I guess I’d just add, forget about worrying about what others think and just do your best with your dog. Stop comparing. Easier said than done I know! And I love the Gentle Leader. Just love it. That might be something Apricot’s owner should consider trying.

  4. I keep forgetting to try the backpack when we go on walks. I think it will really help Maya since her leash reactive behavior is because she is so excited. I’ve read Feisty Fido and really love it! I use the “watch” command ( but say “look”) and it works pretty well unless the other dog reacts too. The U-turn didn’t work very well with Pierson. I go across the street instead and make him sit and look. There are a lot of other great tips in this book that I don’t remember off the top of my head. I highly recommend it.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Glad you liked the book as well. Today on my walk, I was getting frustrated with Ace because although he is very friendly, he is still pulling a lot when we see other dogs. Time to crack down on that a bit and use some of my own tips. When the dog is not reactive, it’s so easy to let them get away with pulling.

  5. I read recently that if a dog starts getting excited once you put on his leash try putting on the leash just when he is around the house (obviously you need to make sure he doesn’t get tangled up), so he gets used to having it on not just when heading out the door. My Simon does fine with other dogs, I just ignore them and walk briskly by sometimes talking aloud ‘keep moving. there’s nothing to see’, but still pulls on the leash overall. It is getting better, but for me it means taking a deep breath and stopping when he pulls primarily to calm myself down. My trainer suggested lifting my eyes up to a distant focal point. It could be 1/2 a block away and just head briskly towards that and then choose another point. It seems to have helped, but it is a daily point of training for us.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Great ideas! I like the point about putting the leash on in the house. I need to work with my dog about not pulling towards other dogs. I’ve been slacking off lately and I’d like to work on this. It’s hard to find treats he is interested in more than the other dogs, but I’m thinking some small pieces of bacon might be the trick. I also make a point to ignore the other dogs and move along like you said.

  6. I have a 7 year old Patterdale terrier who continually and very loudly vocalises on walks, from the moment I reach for the lead, for the majority of the walk and pretty much until we get back indoors. I’ve just had a reputable trainer – our 4th! – spend an entire day with us, and he said he’d never seen a dog exhibit so many different anxious, high energy and territorial behaviours in such rapid succession! We have literally tried everything over the years and I don’t think she will ever stop. We are working on more basics at home this time and hoping that the new “calm” might carry over onto our walks, and certainly a headcollar is helping – but it doesn’t prevent her from shrieking and shaking as she’s walking beautifully beside me. I get super frustrated with the perpetual noise, which doesn’t help. I suspect the cure is earplugs for me and the neighbours. 😉

    1. Yes, that would be frustrating! That would test my patience as well. I’m so glad you keep trying new ideas and working with her. I agree that working on calming exercises at home and just self-control in general may help carry over to the walks.

      Is she too nervous to accept treats on the walks? Hot dogs? Bacon? Real hamburger?

  7. I am looking forward to trying some of these strategies. I just recently purchased the Gentle Leader and that has slowed Rile down a bit. I am using a retractable leash as I feel like I have to conquer one issue at a time. He was both pulling and yelping. The Gentle Leader has helped with the pulling, so now I have to address the yelping. Ironically, when I let him run with the retractable, the yelping doesn’t happen as much. I see it more when I require him to stay close to me.
    He is certainly going to be a “challenge” but I love this little fur baby and am up to the task.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh I’m so glad the Gentle Leader has helped. I’m sure you will continue to make progress. You’ll have to update us in a few weeks.

  8. Reading the comments here have given me hope for my VERY vocal and anxious 17 month old Chi-weinie. She is a barking, whining, squealing, pulling mess from the time I put her harness on to the time I take it off. I have a 4yr old Doxy/Bassett Hound mix but he just pulls a little at the beginning of every walk but with a little encouragement he will walk beside me. Missy, my 5lb Chi-weinie is a mess from start to finish and it really works the nerves! I generally have a headache before the end of a short walk!! Looks like I should be investing in a Gentle Leader. Thanks for all the help!

  9. I’m having problems with my dog whinning when I take him somewhere in my car. It’s irritating. Any help on getting him to stop?

  10. Patrice Gerrish

    My miniature schnauzer, Lucy, loves walking in a park on a trail around a lake. But I think she’s decided it’s her trail. She barks and whines at other dogs. I make her sit and if she remains seated and calms down then she can meet the other dog. Thought that worked for a while but she would get anxious to meet, so now I find it’s easier if I just make her sit or walk by. When she pulls I make her stop and stand until leash is loose. I find it takes a lot of consistency or she’ll decide when she’d like to pull. Now she can go loose leash but the minute the leash tightens she has to stop. I enjoy your advice and as you say each dog is different.

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