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.
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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.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Wookie
AnimalBreed object
19 Months
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Question
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Wookie
AnimalBreed object
19 Months

I have a two-part issue:
My dog doesn't like strangers - he's usually fine until they look at him, then he starts barking aggressively at them. (i.e. we can take him to a restaurant and he will sit there and behave...until the waitress notices him and looks at him and tries to say hi, then he goes nuts). I've tried the 'watch me' commands, but when he starts barking, he doesn't hear anything I say.

He goes to daycare and loves other dogs. However, if we are on a walk and I DON'T let him meet/greet a dog, he starts barking aggressively at the dog & his owner.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
672 Dog owners recommended

Hello Alexis, For the human reactivity, I suggest recruiting some dog friendly friends and family pup doesn't know well. Practice having them approach but staying far enough away that pup doesn't react poorly. When pup stays calm, have them toss a treat at pup's paws. Practice until pup is relaxed around them and gradually decrease the distance between them and your dog overtime as pup relaxes more. Decrease distance first, then when pup can handle them being close, add distance again and have them talk to pup when they approach from far away. When pup can handle the interacting with distance between them, then decrease distance again with the talking. When pup can handle the person being within a couple of feet and talking to them and stay calm, have the person give pup a command and toss a treat. Repeat with different people until pup looks forward to someone approaching and will obey commands given by other people - to further build trust. For the leash reactivity, work on pup's structured heel and focus on you at a distance where both you and pup can stay relaxed around other people. Pup shouldn't be scanning the horizon or staring at people. You need to work at that distance from people, interrupting any staring or fixating on people early, and rewarding any focus on you and calmness - until pup's body language stays relaxed and happy while heeling. When pup can stay relaxed - pay attention to body language, you need to change the mental state here, not just stop the lunging, then practice at a closer distance. Very gradually decrease the distance only as pup is actually relaxed around others at the current distance - interrupt pup for focusing on people or tensing up, and calmly let him no not to do that with a calm and confident "Ah Ah" or "No", then give alternate instruction like heel or watch me. Reward pup for focusing back on you, relaxing again, and staying focused or relaxed for certain periods of time - reward the most for STAYING calm and focused. Do not reward while he is tense or fixating - only reward the correct mindset. Having pup heel quickly with lots of turns and changes in pace, can help pup refocus back on you. Heel - Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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luna
AnimalBreed object
8 Months
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luna
AnimalBreed object
8 Months

i had luna since she was a puppy but i moved out and she stayed with my mom for awhile. i brought her to my new home and foster family. she wasn’t around people a lot and now she is so scared and skittish around people. and never stops barking, what should i do ?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
672 Dog owners recommended

Hello Hallie, First, if pup has shown any form of aggression I suggest hiring a professional trainer to help you with the training. You may also need to get pup comfortable wearing a basket muzzle for others' safety while practicing around people. Introduced with food slowly, the muzzle can be no-big-deal for pup. Sit down - so that pup is calmer, and have you or your step parents (one person at a time) toss pup her dinner kibble one piece at a time without making eye contact. Do this as often as you can. Keep enough distance between them for pup to relax enough to eat the food. As she gets more comfortable, decrease the distance by tossing the treats slightly less far, so that pup has to come closer to your parents to eat them. Watch pup's body language to determine when pup is relaxed enough to decrease the distance - don't rush this process but do practice often at the current distance. When pup will come within a foot of the chair they are sitting in to eat the food and is relaxed at that distance, start to practice this in other positions like standing up, sitting on the ground or laying down. When you change positions, you will likely need to go back to tossing the treats further away again because the new position will probably make her nervous. Once pup will go up to their chair when they are sitting or in one of the other positions and is even more comfortable with you both in general, put on a front clip harness or collar that pup cannot get out of or pull too hard on on pup. Spend time slowly introducing the harness using the method from the video linked below once pup is comfortable enough to get closer to you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title Choose a secure, front-clip type harness. Ideally, practice this in a fenced in area since pup may be a flight risk and is so strong. Clip her leash on the harness and go on a walk with pup and one of your parents (practice with both, but do each separately first, then do both together as pup improves). If pup is nervous, have your foster parent stay several feet away while walking in the same direction at first - with you (or whoever pup is most comfortable with at that point, holding the leash). As pup relaxes during the walk, gradually have your foster parent get closer until you can hand the leash off to your foster parent and let them walk pup alone - without you. This might take several sessions before you can do that without pup stopping or tensing up when your foster parent gets close. Don't rush this - be aware of pup's body language and any tensing up. Definitely practice in a fenced area if available, even though that will mean walking back and forth a lot. Once pup will walk with your foster parent and get close to your foster parent and you to eat, practice having them and you hand-feeding her the dog food and walk her regularly to develop trust. When you get that far, also have everyone teach her commands and tricks using positive reinforcement to further build trust. Check out the article linked below as well, and be aware of pup's body language and not putting her into situations that might lead to a fear bite. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-socialize-a-shy-dog/ When pup is comfortable with everyone, then also move onto teaching her to enjoy physical touch and handling too. Use puppies daily meal kibble to do this. Gently touch an area of puppy's body while feeding a piece of food. Touch an ear and give a treat. Touch a paw and give a treat. Hold her collar and give a treat. Touch her tail gently and give a treat. Touch her belly, her other paws, her chest, shoulder, muzzle and every other area very gently and give a treat each time. Keep these times calm and fun for pup. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Milly
AnimalBreed object
1 Year
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Milly
AnimalBreed object
1 Year

Hi there! My dog, Milly, has been having trouble meeting new men. She’s fine with meeting new women, but it’s only when new Men try to pet her and walk up to her quickly. When she meets new men, she growls and sometimes snips at them when they try to pet her, however, when women meet her and try to pet her she’s comfortable and allows it. What would you recommend us try for her? The treat = strangers method seems like it would work.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
91 Dog owners recommended

Hello! Yes, utilizing treats when you are dealing with some fear based behaviors really makes a huge difference. It is one of the few ways to create positive associations. It will show her that the things she is fearful of mean lots of delicious treats are coming her way. Soon, her positive response will become a habit. You can start with doing something like asking for a sit when she sees men. Give her a treat for sitting. Then you can have a male toss treats her direction. Then work up towards having men giving her treats. Working in phases like that will help with any overwhelming feeling she may get if you just start with the men giving her treats.

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Kossie
AnimalBreed object
7 Months
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Kossie
AnimalBreed object
7 Months

She recently has become a bit stand off ish towards strangers. She growls, and a few times has gone towards their hands with her mouth but has never actually bite anyone yet. She also began growling and barking at the door when she hears someone outside. After a while she warms up and is as loving as can be, but she scares people at first.

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
85 Dog owners recommended

Hello, you may want to work on the Desensitize Method with Kossie: https://wagwalking.com/training/be-calm-around-strangers. You can also work on teaching her a command like "Place" after designating a spot like a mat or certain area of the room to go to when the "place" command is given. You'll have to teach her to stay in that spot as well until she is given the okay to greet people who have arrived. I would also teach her to heel when on walks so that she is focused and listens well to you when you meet people on the street: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel. Is Kossie well socialized? I suggest enrolling her in dog training classes. She'll gain confidence, learn to listen to your requests, and will also be socialized with lots of different people and dogs. I think you will find quite a difference after the classes. She is a clever breed and will thrive in training and using her keen brain. Good luck and have fun!

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Question
Ginger
AnimalBreed object
7 Months
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Ginger
AnimalBreed object
7 Months

My wife and I have recently adopted a 7 month old puppy from a shelter, when I take her for a walk she is nervous around strangers but is still polite and is reinforced with attention and affection for good behavior, however when my wife walks her and strangers are coming close to her she will growl and lunge at strangers, why is this and how can I help my puppy stop this bad behavior?

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
85 Dog owners recommended

Hello, it is possible that Ginger senses that your wife may be apprehensive about what will take place on the walk. This apprehension is sensed by the dog, who in turn, acts upon it. Your wife can try the methods here: https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs. All of the methods are good but perhaps start with the Passing Approach Method. As well, I suggest that Ginger be enrolled in obedience classes so that she looks to you for leadership. Have your wife take her, or come and watch at the very least so that she can practice the commands with Ginger. You can also look into an in-home trainer to get things started, to help Ginger gain confidence in herself, potentially curbing the aggression. This is another good guide: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-rottweiler-puppy-to-not-be-aggressive. Read the entire guide for great tips. Good luck!

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