How to Train Your Dog to Accept Strangers

Medium
1-8 Weeks
General

Introduction

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.

Defining Tasks

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!

Getting Started

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

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Managing the Home method for Accept Strangers
Step
1
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.
Step
2
Teach visitors
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.
Step
3
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!
Step
4
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.
Step
5
Practice
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.
Step
6
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.
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The Tether Stations Method

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Tether Stations method for Accept Strangers
Step
1
Make stations
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.
Step
2
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.
Step
3
Approach slowly
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.
Step
4
Be cool
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.
Step
5
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.
Recommend training method?

The Strangers = Treats Method

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Strangers = Treats method for Accept Strangers
Step
1
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.
Step
2
Happy approach
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.
Step
3
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.
Step
4
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.
Step
5
Practice
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.
Step
6
Reduce treats
When you finally reach that point, reduce the frequency of treats until he no longer needs the promise of food to behave.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Walter
Chihuahua
1 Year
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Question
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Walter
Chihuahua
1 Year

Hello,

I take my dog to the park multiple times a day and he's pretty good with strangers when we're out. He ignores them for the most part. If someone holds out a hand to pet him, he'll sniff their hand and walk off. He never lets anyone pet him, which can be frustrating but most people understand.

At home and when we're visiting others' homes he's completely different. We don't have many guests, so I have a hard time getting him use to visitors.

He barks at anyone who comes to the door and he's very suspicious of guests – he even growls at them.

I've tried putting him away to calm down when he doesn't stop barking, and only bring him back after he's calmed down.

I've had guests give him treats to gain his trust, but that doesn't make him comfortable enough to allow for pets. He might let them pet him, but then he'll start growling at them again. It all feels very precarious.

How do I help him become more trusting of strangers, especially inside? He's a very friendly, snuggly dog with my husband and I (although he's still known to let out a growl when being pet or moved in a way he doesn't like). And it's really frustrating that no one else gets to see that side of him.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
147 Dog owners recommended

Hello Amanda, Walter needs opportunities to practice guests coming over and simply being around. When he behaves calmly, reward him with treats or favorite toys. If he likes fetch, they can toss a toy for him and play with him to help him warm up...but you be the one to take the toy from him and hand it to them to throw again at first. When he warms up even more, have the person give him a command like "sit" before they throw the toy for him. Getting him to work for them with a command amidst the fun should also help. To see results, he needs opportunities to practice this with a lot of different people, practicing with only one person at a time. Building his respect for you will likely also help. When he is out in public, he is out of his element and in a more submissive position. At home, that is his territory and he feels more confident (although still insecure and afraid) but that fear is expressed more aggressively. That combined with not being used to people coming over, likely results in the aggression. The fact that he is not tolerant to being touched by your family at times is also partially respect based. He needs to be desensitized to being touched also to build not only respect in that area, but also trust. To practice handling exercises you would give a gentle touch with one hand and feed a treat with the other hand at the same time. Practice with each area of his body, starting with the areas he is most tolerant of and working up to other areas carefully. It sounds like working with a trainer who does a combination of private in-home training and can visit your home, work there while you have guest over who are willing to help, and works with other trainers so that they can come to your home for your dog to practice warming up to them also. Plus, practice some more intensive socialization training sessions at their facilities around more people (trainers) who will work with Walter the way that he needs with you also there. A trainer can also help you do the handling exercises, and when Walter is ready the trainer can also practice those with Walter himself and the other Trainers at the facility practice with him, to help Walter overcome his objection to being touched in general. A dog not wanting to be touched by those he does not know is not always an issue, some dogs are simply more reserved and bred to be that way, but a dog reacting aggressively when touched is an issue and a symptom of general anxiety and usually a lack of respect. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Olive
Border Collie
3 Years
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Question
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Olive
Border Collie
3 Years

Hi! My border collie mix is okay when people come to my house (takes her a minute but she warms up quickly). But she's fearful of strangers when I take her elsewhere - i.e. shops, parks, etc. People often want to pet her but she cowers behind me. There's no aggression, but I would like her to be more comfortable with others petting her. I've tried having the strangers give her treats but she just grabs the treat and cowers again! How can I get her to be more confident?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
147 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kari, I suggest recruiting friends to meet you publib places while she is with you. Have your friends pretend to be strangers and give her treats, or play fetch with her (if she loves fetch) while she is on a long leash, or play with another favorite toy or game with her...the difference between this and real strangers is you need your friends to spend more time warming her up at her own pace with her favorite treats, games, and toys until she can relax around those people/people (that she thought were strangers), then move onto the next friend next time. Continue to have strangers give her treats also (make sure they know that she is shy and they do not overwhelming her. You want her to willingly take the treat when she is ready to, and not because she is forced to get close with the leash. Something to build her confidence and get her used to people being around while she is having a fantastic time and not thinking about other people might also help. Fly ball, frisbee competitions, agility, or another canine sport that she would love - think about what she loves doing and would be good at and use that thing as your motivator. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Chewie
lhasa apso/ shitzu
3 Years
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Question
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Chewie
lhasa apso/ shitzu
3 Years

I have a real problem when someone comes to the house. Recently he had a vet appt. It didnt go well. It seems to get worse as he gets older. He acts really aggressive towards them and they cant even examine him because he tries to bite them. This last time i got nipped on the hand as i was holding him trying to control the situation. Ultimately it seemed he was scared.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
147 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tammy, If Chewie's only encounters with the vets or someone examining him are during times when shots are being given, blood is being taken, swaps are being done, things are being poked, and other unpleasant experiences are happening, then he will be afraid. Some dogs respond to fear by acting submissive, hiding, urinating, or shaking. Other dogs respond by fighting back. Chewie needs to have regular experiences with people that he does not know while being given tons of rewards. This needs to happen as often as possible, likely for several months. Every week or several times a week would be ideal, but do it as often as you possibly can, even if you can't do it that frequently. Have the stranger come into your home and toss him tons of treats while ignoring him in other ways. Save your dogs entire meal kibble for this if you want to. Practice this with different people until he learns to like it when people come to your door and walk inside. When he will relax when that happens, then have the person toss the treats closer to himself. As Chewie gets more relaxed and is willing to come closer, then have the person toss the treats right by his feet. Next, have the person feed the treats out of his hand, when Chewie is willing to approach the person on his own. Tell the person not to touch Chewie yet. Practice this until Chewie is totally relaxed. You want to recruit people who will remain calm around Chewie and be patient with him. While you are practicing the treat training with other people that Chewie currently barks at, also work on getting him used to being handled by you. Touch an area of his body while you feed him a treat with your other hand. Be gentle and careful. Practice this by touching his ear, his paw, his tail, his belly, his other paw, his other ear, his nose, his mouth (carefully), and every other location. Start slow, and touch the areas that he likes best at first, to show him that you are not going to hurt him. As he begins to relax, then touch the areas he is more resistant to, but feed a treat while you gently touch that area, then remove your hand when the treat is gone. Repeat this over and over again every day, until he enjoys being touched anywhere. You can do this at meal times, and use his entire portion of food, measured out into a baggie, to practice this, rather than giving him a bowl of food. When Chewie is relaxed around visitors and will let you touch him anywhere, then practice having the visitor gentle touch him while he feeds him a treat. Practice the handling exercises with the same person for multiple days, giving a treat for each touch, until Chewie will let that person touch him without getting tense. When that happens, then practice with a new person. Also, have the visitors dress like Vets some of the times when they visit, at this point. You can purchase one white coat or whatever your Vet tends to wear and leave it outside for the guest to put on before they enter. If he is likely to bite the person still at this point, then get him used to wearing a soft silicon basket muzzle ahead of time, so that he can wear the muzzle during the touch training. A basket muzzle will have holes to let the person feed him the treats through it while she touches him. Before you have him wear the muzzle, spend time getting him used to it and have him generally just wear it around the house at times when you are there to supervise him, so that he will not associate the muzzle with a person coming to visit. To introduce the muzzle, feed Chewie a treat every time that you show him the muzzle. Touch it to him gently and then feed him a treat. Practice this until he enjoys the touches because of the treats. Next, progress to holding it against his face while you feed him a treat through the holes. Gradually increase how long you hold it there for and feed treats, one after another, as he becomes more relaxed around it. Finally, put it on him, feed him treats, then take it off after a couple of minutes. Gradually increase the amount of time that he wears it for while you feed him a treats every couple of minutes. Overtime, also space out how often you give him a treat too, until he can simply wear the muzzle around without noticing it. You can also spend time introducing Vet's tools to him, by doing the same gradual introduction process with his food or treats, like you did to introduce the muzzle to him. Make sure you hire a Vet who will take the time to warm him up to her and go slow with him. There are good mobile vets out there who will spend time getting a dog used to them before starting, feeding treats and helping the dog relaxed first. Ask around and read reviews to find someone like that. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
tango
Dogo Argentino
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
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tango
Dogo Argentino
1 Year

my dog is fine with kids and my family but with strangers she will bark growl at them while on leash

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
147 Dog owners recommended

Hello Marla, I would suggest using the "Strangers = Treats" method from the article that you commented on in her case. https://wagwalking.com/training/accept-strangers . I also suggest hiring a professional trainer that is part of larger group of trainers, so that different trainers can work with your dog on her issue. Your dog's breed is naturally more protective and distrustful toward strangers. She will likely need a lot of intensive socialization to help her relax more. She will also need a solid foundation of trust and respect toward you, her owner, so that she will let you handle situations more and take her lead from you rather than trying to control situations. Accomplishing this is more complex than what I can answer here. I would highly suggest hiring a trainer. In the mean time, practice "Strangers = Treats" with strangers at a distance, work on her respect and trust toward you by using the steps found in the article I have linked below, and get her used to wearing a soft-silicone-basket muzzle so that she can be socialized safely at closer distances later. Use a basket muzzle because it will be more comfortable and allow you to pass her treats through the holes. Spend time slowly introducing the muzzle to her with lots of treats and gentle touches with the muzzle. Meal times, using her kibble as rewards, is a good time to do this for at least two weeks, and until she is completely relaxed while wearing the muzzle. Here is the link to the article on teaching respect and trust. Pay special attention to the "Obedience" method, in addition to applying some of the principles of the other methods as well. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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