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Why do dogs bark at one person and not another?

Jack Russell dog barking advice

Dogs bark at people for many reasons

© Pixabay

Have you noticed that your dog barks at one person and not another? While it can sometimes cause embarrassment when you are around specific people, it can be helpful to understand what’s causing your dog to behave like this with certain people as you may be able to get it to stop.

By Zoë Monk

Published on the 26/09/2020, 17:00

Dogs are always alert, especially when it comes to meeting new people. With their incredible sense of smell, it’s impossible to know just how they perceive the world around them and what additional information they get from people.

You may have noticed that your dog is quick to spot new people, and will bark and growl at them. While this barking can indicate defensiveness, anxiety, aggression or even just excitement it may not be consistent with everyone they meet. So, why does your dog have different reactions to people?

Why do dogs bark at certain people?

Dogs may bark at certain people because the individual mistreated the dog in the past or they look like or smell like someone who mistreated them. It could also be that your dog finds the person’s body language or tone of voice to be threatening. But barking doesn’t always mean something negative. It could be because the dog is excited to see the person. After all, they remember that they rewarded them in the past with treats, playtime or attention.  

Three reasons why dogs only bark at certain people and strangers

There are three potential causes for your dog to bark at particular people:

  1. Mistreatment: The specific person may have mistreated the dog or someone who looks, sounds or acts similarly to someone who mistreated them in the past. Your dog may show their teeth, pull their lips back, stiffen their tail, or simply try to avoid the person.
  2. Excitement: The person is someone your dog knows well or has had contact with in the past, and they get excited when they see them. Your dog may show their excitement by wagging its tail and excessive licking.
  3. Person seems threatening: While the person may be harmless, it could be that your dog doesn’t like their body language and considers the person as threatening. They may give intense eye contact which your dog doesn’t like, or the dog feels the person is on their territory or has got to close to you and they think the person is a threat to you.
Find out what causes your dog to be aggressive with other dogs.

Why does my dog growl at only one person?

If your dog growls at one specific person, this is quite normal canine behaviour. It could be because the person reminds your dog of someone who mistreated them in the past. It could also be the way they interact with your dog or even how they feel about your dog, which your pup has picked up on. It could be the shampoo or deodorant the person uses, the food they eat, the perfume or aftershave they wear or even if the person is afraid of your dog. It could be many different things.

Do dogs bark at certain people to get their attention?

It’s easy to assume that when a dog barks at someone, it’s because they either dislike them or the dog has aggression issues. However, it can be as simple as the dog using barking to attract the attention of someone, such as their owner. A dog can bark at a person because they want attention, food, to go for a walk or to play. Many dogs will bark because they simply want to play or share a positive experience, not to be aggressive. If the dog is jumping in anticipation, wagging their tail or showing signs they are happy; their barking is likely to be an extension of how they are feeling.

Why don’t dogs bark at some people?

If there are some people who your dog never barks at it could that your dog doesn’t view them as any threat, but also doesn’t view them as a source of excitement. That’s not to say your dog doesn’t like the person; they just don’t get over-excited in their presence. 

Why does my dog bark at some people and not others?

The likely reason why your dog growls or barks at some people and not others is because of their body language, the way they look or smell, how they interact with the dog or behave towards you or because the person reminds the dog of someone who previously mistreated them. But it could also be because the dog feels happy to see that person and wants their attention.

How to stop your dog from barking at certain people

If you know that the person your dog is barking at has good intentions, dog trainers recommend using positive reinforcement training to teach your dog not to feel protective or defensive around that person. This method of canine training uses rewards to encourage your dog to behave the way you want. Whenever your dog does not bark at people, reward them, and they will eventually learn that refraining from barking at people means they some playtime or a tasty treat.

Why do dogs bark at specific people?

Dogs are very expressive animals, and their body language and behaviour will show how they are feeling. While barking at people shouldn’t be treated as bad behaviour, it’s helpful to recognise why your dog may be doing it. With positive reinforcement training and ensuring you don’t inadvertently encourage them, your dog can learn that barking at people is not acceptable and won’t benefit them.

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