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If you’re out for a walk and your dog or puppy starts barking at people, it’s easy to freeze and feel embarrassed. Barking is a natural behavior for dogs, but we don’t want to encourage our dogs to bark at people.

Dogs bark at people for a variety of different reasons, whether because they are excited, frustrated that they can’t greet the person, or even worried or uncomfortable about another’s presence. If your dog is barking while in your front yard, they may feel protective of their home or be warning others to stay away. Regardless of why your dog is barking, play these games with them to help them learn to ignore people.

Basset Hound puppy sitting in the grass.
©Kate -

First, you want to keep your dog “below threshold” whenever possible. This means setting your dog up for success by working with them at a distance from others; they will see people but still able to turn away from the distraction. As your dog gains confidence and understands that you want them to engage with you instead of barking, you can slowly build up to allowing them to be closer and closer to people.

It’s also important to start in a calm and quiet area like inside your home or yard. As your pet becomes more familiar and confident with the game, you can start to introduce them to more distracting environments. The key to each of these focus games is your dog making the choice to turn away from or ignore the person walking down the street, the kid riding a bicycle, or your neighbor gardening. If your dog starts barking, that’s okay. Just move a little further away until you can get your dog’s attention back. These games are useful in the real world to encourage your dog not to bark at people, but also can help you and your dog develop the focus and teamwork you’ll need for sports training.

For each game, you will need many small pieces of high-value treats. As you play these games, make sure your leash stays loose. We want the dogs to be making their own decision and not being pressured or corrected by the leash to get into position.

Name Game!

For this game, we are building value in our dog’s name. In the future, if your dog spots someone when you are outside, you’ll be able to speak your dog’s name and your pet will look at you instead of starting to bark.

  • In a quiet area, say your dog’s name aloud and give a treat.
  • Repeat this several times. By pairing your dog’s name with treats, they will make a positive association with the sound of their name. As your dog gets experienced with the game, they will immediately turn towards you for the reward once they hear their name.
  • Slowly, begin to play in slightly more distracting environments, such as a front porch set back from the street. Start first when no one is out (early morning and late at night are good for this). As your dog gets more experienced with the game, you can also add distance by lengthening your leash.

Watch Me!

Similar to the name game, this game has us rewarding our dogs when they offer us eye contact.

  • Have treats easily available. Anytime your dog offers a look in your direction, praise and treat (a clicker can help with being able to quickly “mark” them looking up at you).
  • After several repetitions, your dog will begin to make the connection that looking at you gets treats.
  • As your dog gets more familiar, you can add in a verbal cue like “watch” or “eyes.”
  • Play this game in a low-distraction environment and build up to more distracting areas.
©sanjagrujic -

Get Close!

Play this game off-leash in your house or fenced yard, or on a leash outside. Start first in a very low-distraction area before building up to more distracting situations, like trying to play the game in a park.

  • Start walking without saying anything to your dog, but make sure the leash stays loose.
  • Anytime your dog catches up to you, praise and treat.
  • Step forward again; when your dog catches up to you, praise and treat.
  • As your dog gets an understanding of the game, vary your pace and add in turns.
  • Keep your voice high-pitched and your tone excited as you praise and treat. We are rewarding our dog for choosing to get close to us.

Watch and Walk!

For this game, we are going to be looking for a prolonged “watch” as you and your dog are walking.

  • Ask your dog to watch you when you are walking; when they do, praise and treat.
  • If your dog keeps watching, continue praising and giving small bits of treats for as long as your dog keeps their focus on you.
  • When your dog looks away, don’t say anything, but stop giving them treats.
  • Take another few steps, ask for a watch again, and continue to rapidly treat as your dog keeps their eyes on you. Soon your dog will make the connection that focusing on you in motion means treats and he will offer attention.
  • Work this game in a low-distraction environment; eventually, you can move to areas with people at a distance. Slowly move closer to people until your dog is able to walk past people while watching you and not barking.


If your dog is uncertain or uncomfortable about people, you can always tell tell people who want to pet your dog that your dog is shy or that you are training. Remember, dogs have individual personalities and in addition, some breeds of dogs are naturally more aloof. The training goal should be for every dog to learn to appropriately ignore people when out walking.

If you are struggling to teach your dog not to bark at people, consider seeking out expert support from a positive reinforcement-based dog trainer. A trainer will be able to support you in identifying and working through your dog’s underlying feelings about people that lead to the barking.

Related article: Why Does My Dog Hate Other Dogs?
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