I started my New Year off by running with my local running group today on the trails. What a great way to start the year. One of the other runners brought their dog out for the run. The dog was a little fearful of people so when people approached the dog would BARK and stiffen up. The female owner would tighten up the leash, grab the dog’s collar, pat the dog on the head, or step over the dog and hug the dog. When the male owner had the dog he would extend the leash and offer no reaction to the behavior, the dog approached more people and barked less. Why? The female owner thought she was comforting the dog by hugging the dog or patting the dog on the head. What she was actually doing was reinforcing the behavior. She also was more nervous with the dog and thus would pull in the leash unconsciously signaling to the dog that she was stressed so the dog felt a need to bark even more to protect the nervous owner. I spend a lot of time as a dog trainer at parks just observing people and their dogs so that I can enhance my training skills. The behavior with the owners that I saw this morning I see repeatedly at parks. Unfortunately, if this behavior is continually reinforced the dog may eventually bite. Besides that the dog is very uncomfortable and stressed which is not good for the dogs overall health. The best thing that you can do for most dogs in this situation is to loosen up your grip on the leash and do not pat them or hug them when they are barking at another person. Notice I said most dogs, that is because all dogs are individuals and the protocol that I use depends on the individual dog. So if your dog has this issue please set up a training session with a trainer as soon as possible because the more the behavior is reinforced the longer it takes to change the behavior. I was very happy to see that the owners brought their dog out on the trails today. Socialization is another piece of this puzzle.