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You’ve got a big birthday bash coming up, with friends, family and work colleagues attending. Your kids will be there and you’d love it if you could have your canine friend there too. But your dog has developed an unfortunate fear of strangers and will be a nightmare at such an event. It’s the same when you have new guests over to the house. He gets terrified, he barks, he runs to his bed and may even shake.
Getting a handle on this behavior is essential, not just for you, but also for the wellbeing of your dog. Whether he’s had a bad experience in the past or just developed a fear, socializing him with strangers is in the best interest of all involved and may bring back your once happy and care-free dog.
This type of training isn’t always plain sailing, you will need to use obedience commands to incentivize and reinforce positive, calm behavior. You will also need to take steps to gradually introduce him to strangers. As the training must be built up gradually, it can take anywhere from one to eight weeks before your dog will be comfortable around strangers.
You may see quicker results in puppies who aren’t stuck in their ways yet, but older dogs may need considerable time to fully conquer their fears. It is essential you get this training right, as a dog that is terrified of strangers may one day attack them, causing serious injury. It is important then you get a handle on this behavior rapidly. Don’t be put off by the time frame, the results will 100% be worth it!
Before you commence training you will need to get together several things. You will need a long leash so you can secure your dog while strangers are around and still afford him some freedom. You may also want to get your hands on a muzzle until the danger of aggressive behavior has passed.
You will also need your dog’s favorite food or treats. These will be vital for rewarding him and encouraging calm, friendly behavior.
Once you have collected the above, just set aside 20 minutes a day for the next several weeks and come armed with a positive attitude!
The Managing the Home Method
Provide a safe place
First, ensure your dog has a secure space at home that he can escape to if he gets scared. You never want to force your dog to confront his fears of strangers, doing this may only make the problem worse.
When strangers come to the house, have them completely ignore him. Ensure they don’t look at him, pet him or talk to him. This may sound strange, but this will slowly show him that strangers pose no threat and won’t even bother him unless he wants to see them.
Nonchalant and generous guests
Have strangers throw treats near him every now and then. Ensure they ignore him while doing this. This will show your dog that there are benefits to having strangers around: free food!
Give a command
If he starts to look startled, have him sit. Obedience training of this sort is a quick and easy way to distract him from his immediate fear. Having him work in this way will also reinforce to him that he still has your attention and protection when strangers are around.
Practice all of the above measures consistently for several weeks. It is important you don’t skip out any of the steps. Socializing him with strangers is a slow process, you need to undo his fear and build a positive image of new people, so be patient.
Swap treating for greeting
When he is more at ease around strangers you can have them stop tossing him treats and slowly have them say hello.
The Tether Stations Method
At two or three locations in the house, set up a tether station, where you can attach your dog to a leash when strangers come to the house. You need easily accessible spots, preferably relatively close to doors.
Assume your position
When someone new comes to the door, attach him to a long leash and let the stranger in, but position yourself between your dog and the stranger. Dogs are territorial, so they may feel they need to defend your home from any new faces. Positioning yourself between strangers and your dog will signal to him that you are the pack leader and will defend him from new guests. This simple positioning could quickly put your dog at ease.
Have guests approach him slowly. It is important guests slowly introduce themselves to your dog so they don’t scare and startle him. As they do slowly say hello, stay close to him and verbally praise him for his calm behavior.
Stay calm and upbeat around strangers. Many people do not realize that dogs gauge how to behave in a lot of situations from their owners. If he can see you are nervous and agitated, he too will become nervous. So try and keep encounters jolly and friendly.
Take a stance
Take a sideways stance when meeting new dogs. Dogs perceive the sideways stance as less threatening, so they will feel more at ease if you introduce them at this angle. Also, position yourself between the dog and visitors until you can see his tail and body language suggests he is comfortable.
The Strangers = Treats Method
FInd some strangers
Head out on a walk with your dog on a leash and with a pocket full of treats. You are going to show him how to behave calmly around strangers and you’re going to use treats to reinforce that behavior.
As soon as you see a new person, give him a treat. Also, give him some verbal praise to show him that seeing a stranger comes with tasty benefits and attention from his human pal.
Close the gap
Keep giving him treats as you get closer to the stranger. As long as he is calm, reward him with treats and praise. This will not only help keep him calm but it will also show to him that there are serious benefits to be had from meeting strangers.
Keep it friendly
As soon as he displays aggressive behavior, pull him in the opposite direction and walk away. Be firm with him, you need to show him that if he can’t be calm, he won’t get any control of where he gets walked and he certainly won’t get any more food or praise.
Practice this and gradually get closer to strangers before he acts out. Using a combination of the positive reinforcement and the firm pull when he gets aggressive will quickly hammer home the behavior you do want to see and the benefits to be gained from being calm. Soon you will be able to walk him up close and personal with strangers.
When you finally reach that point, reduce the frequency of treats until he no longer needs the promise of food to behave.
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 10/05/2017, edited: 01/08/2021