I’m A Veterinarian: Here’s Why Dogs Bark At You More Than Other People

chocolate lab barking

Every once in a while I’ll meet a person who claims that dogs just don’t like them.

They say dogs always bark at them and growl at them, for seemingly no reason at all. It can feel frustrating to get barked at by every pup you meet, despite a love of dogs. So what’s going on here?

Dogs may bark at you more than others due to a range of reasons including your body language, direct eye contact, unfamiliar scents, or reminders of past experiences. Anxiety, fear, or making direct eye contact can send unintentional signals to dogs, leading to barking.

Scents such as food or strong perfumes can also trigger barking. Additionally, some dogs are trained to bark at strangers or have not been properly socialized, making them more likely to bark.

To address this, consider altering your approach when meeting dogs by moderating your body language, avoiding direct eye contact, and being mindful of any scents you carry. Understanding and adapting to a dog’s perception can significantly reduce instances of barking.

In the article below, we’ll take a closer look at each explanation and how you can figure out which explanation makes the most sense for you. We’ll also discuss how you can work to improve your communication signals with dogs to decrease the barking.

Do ALL Dogs Really Bark At You?

Before we get started, we need to make sure we’re on the same page with what a bark really means.

High pitched, frantic barks can often be a sign of excitement. These types of barks are often accompanied by very loose, “wiggly” body language and an overstimulated dog may also be jumping up and down, spinning in circles, or even mouthing at the person he is excited to see.

A bark that is deeper, steadier in pitch, and more consistent in tone can often be a sign of anxiety, warning, fear, or aggression. These barks are often accompanied by very stiff, tense body language and the dog may be giving off other signals that they are uncomfortable and need some space. This is the type of bark we’re focusing on in this article.

Those are only two of the many, MANY types of barks and vocalizations a dog can make, and for many people, it can be difficult to distinguish one type of bark from another. But if you are “always” being barked at, it could be that you actually do give off a very exciting and inviting vibe to the dogs, and you are just perceiving that the barking is a negative thing.

This video gives you a quick look at the types of barks dogs can use and could immediately help you understand why you’re being barked at:

Really paying attention to the situation and the specific type of noise and body language each dog that barks at you is displaying is key information as to whether you should be concerned or not.

Reason #1 – You Are Anxious Or Fearful

Dogs are much more in tune with our body language that we may realize, and if you are giving off signals that you are fearful or anxious about the dog, then they may respond by barking at you.

While our anxiety can have different reasons, if you had a negative experience with a dog in the past, that previous trauma could present itself in your body language whenever you are interacting with a new dog.

Hunching over, moving erratically, moving too quickly, or generally acting skittish around dogs can cause confusion or unease in the dog, which can result in them responding by barking at you.

Your anxiety about being barked at might actually be a self-fulfilling prophecy and be the cause of the barking!

When we are anxious or fearful, we often tend to sweat more and our sweat contains different pheromones due to a heightened state of anxiety or fear. Our dogs can smell these pheromones!

When smelling us, they may think “wow, this person sure is scared of something! Should I be scared too?” and they may bark at you in their confusion or misunderstanding about the “threat” in the area.

Reason #2 – You Are Making Direct Eye Contact

While there is a lot of overlap with how dogs and humans communicate, there are some very important differences, one of those being how we handle eye contact with one another.

With people, eye contact is not necessarily a bad thing. It may mean that you are listening closely, sharing an intimate moment, or are otherwise subconsciously signaling that you trust the other person.

Prolonged periods of eye contact with a dog will often result in the dog averting his gaze, shying away, or perhaps attempting to get away from you.

For some dogs (particularly those who are poorly socialized or don’t get along well with strangers), this direct eye contact can trigger a protective response and the dog will bark at you to try and increase the distance between you.

Reason #3 – You Smell

Don’t be offended! You might smell good!

Dogs have a tremendous sense of smell and a brain that is perfectly calibrated to process all of the smells that they take in.

Most dogs are familiar enough with most common smells not to get triggered by most things. Even if they do encounter a new smell, it’s unlikely that they’d want to bark at you over it.

But, certain smells (both good and bad) may trigger a dog to bark at you. Some of these smells may include the scent of certain foods, like bacon or sausage. If you work in a restaurant and smell like these things, a dog may bark excitedly at you because you smell good and they may think you have some of the food on you.

Alternatively, a dog may also bark at you if you have an agitating smell on you, such as a particularly strong fragrance that is upsetting to the dog’s nose, or a scent that reminds them of something unpleasant, like the scent of gunpowder that can remind them of fireworks or the scent of a cigar which can remind them of a previous cigar-smoking owner who hurt them.

If you are sick or injured and smell of it, a dog may also bark at you because the smell is unnerving to them and they don’t understand the source of it.

Reason #4 – You Remind The Dog Of Something Unpleasant

Dogs primarily learn through association, and if they’ve previously had an unpleasant encounter with someone who looked or smelled like you, they may react aggressively or fearfully toward you because you triggered that negative association.

You may also remind the dog of someone they really like, and their barking at you could be a sign of excitement, too!

If you are on a bicycle, using a cane, or wearing clothing that the dog is not used to, this could also trigger their barking because they may be uncomfortable that they do not understand it. They may not actually be barking at you, but rather at whatever you are using, wearing, or carrying.

In this case, a bark is generated as a fear response, not as one of aggression.

Reason #5 – They Have Been Taught To Bark At You

Personal protection dogs are a growing subset of family dogs that are specifically trained to protect a family or individual. These dogs are generally taught to bark and growl when cued, but with poor training they may bark at anyone and everyone that they deem a potential threat, rather than on the cue of their owner.

Some owners may also unknowingly teach their dogs to bark at strangers, either because they want people to stay away from them or because they’ve unwittingly taught their dog that barking at the scary people gets the scary people to go away.

When you unknowingly approach one of these dogs, their barking at you could be because they were trained to bark at strangers, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Dogs who receive little to no socialization as puppies have also likely learned to bark at strangers. It’s very difficult for your average person to differentiate between a well-socialized and poorly socialized pup when you approach, which is why asking before interacting with or petting a strange dog is SO important.

Reason #6 – Barking Is Contagious

Just like the common cold, a dog bark can spread through a pack of dogs one by one until they are all barking.

Barking is contagious, so once one dog gets started barking at you it is very likely that all of the other dogs around you both will get started barking too, even if they don’t have a real reason for it!

Those other dogs are not necessarily responding to the same cue set off the first dog. Instead, they are simply barking at you because dogs, being social animals who are used to living in packs, are quick to bark and howl when those around them do.

So, while the first dog may have their own reason for barking at you, the rest of the barking dogs may very well just be responding in kind!

How To Get Dogs To Stop Barking At You

Being barked at by dogs is usually an unpleasant experience, especially if it happens frequently to you. The good news is, there’s a way to stop the barking!

First and foremost, it’s important that you really analyze your body language whenever you encounter a dog (strange or otherwise). Take note of what you are doing with your body, hands, face, posture, voice, and so on. Look for patterns when dogs bark at you, and what you are doing just before the barking.

Are you approaching head-on with direct eye contact each time? Are you crouching over the dog as you go to pet them every time one barks at you? Do you encounter barking only after you’ve left your job at the butcher shop?

If you’ve determined a pattern, then you can take steps to change your behaviors to decrease the barking. Educating yourself on dog body language and the stress signals a dog may display will help you determine a softer approach to a nervous dog.

Bringing a change of clothes to work or just avoiding dogs altogether until you get home and change is another way to decrease barkers who are interested in your smell.

It’s also important to remember that no matter what you may do to make yourself more inviting to dogs, there will still be dogs that bark at you. This is totally normal, and usually not something to worry about!

Again, the best piece of advice I can give is to always ask before you interact with a strange dog.

Closing Thoughts

A dog may bark at you for a variety of reasons, with only a few common ones listed above. If you find yourself constantly being barked at by a wide variety of dogs, you might want to take a closer look at your behaviors, and seek out patterns between yourself and the barking.

Every dog is an individual, so multiple reasons may also be present. But by tracking and scrutinizing your interactions with the barking dogs, you’ll be better able to come up with a solution to help your interactions go more smoothly and stop the constant barking.

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