How to Train Your Dog to Accept Strangers

How to Train Your Dog to Accept Strangers
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon1-8 Weeks
General training category iconGeneral

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.

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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!

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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!

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The Managing the Home Method

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Managing the Home method for How to Train Your Dog to Accept Strangers
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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

The Tether Stations Method

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Tether Stations method for How to Train Your Dog to Accept Strangers
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Strangers = Treats Method

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Strangers = Treats method for How to Train Your Dog to Accept Strangers
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

By Amy Caldwell

Published: 10/05/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Nala

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Australian Shepherd

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1 Year

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Question

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My dog is a 1 year old Aussie mix with German Shepherd and Chow Chow. She is loving, playful and energetic with people she knows very well and loves. With new people, she tends to become defensive. We have for quite awhile tried to contain it as best we can. We encourage our new guests to pay her no attention when they come in and as she becomes more curious, they’ll offer her a treat. Our issue is that recently she has almost become more confident in her defense. She will be calm with a new person until they decide to get up and move around and then she starts growling/barking. Tonight one of our friends who she knows fairly well was leaving and saying goodbye to our pups. He knelt down to pet her and she growled and lunged towards his face and snapped at him. He luckily wasn’t bitten but this was scary enough for us to become fearful that something bad could happen. Especially because this was NOT a stranger to her. We are at a loss with our sweet girl and can’t have this continue the way it is. We desperately need help.

July 4, 2022

Nala's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kate, For this situation, I recommend hiring a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues, who has a lot of aggression experience and will come to your home to evaluate pup. Make sure they know pup's aggression history before they come so they can take safety measures. This doesn't just sound like fear aggression, this sounds like something that needs to be evaluated in person to determine exactly what's going on, to be able to offer the best training advice. Pup may be possessive of you or other people who live there, they may have learned to use aggression to get what they want (like pup doesn't like being touched and anytime someone breaks pup's rules pup bites or warns them), they might be resource guarding areas or things, there may be competing, there may be territorial behavior, or even something like a chemical imbalance or medical issue. I would have pup evaluated to determine what's going on here, taking safety measures, and putting pup away when guests visit until there is improvement through training. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

July 4, 2022

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Bailey

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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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1 Year

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He barks in the window when a person or animal go by the house Also is afraid of strangers now

July 3, 2022

Bailey's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Rosemary, Check out the reactivity and barking playlist I have linked below. Pay special attention to the vides on barking at guests, teaching let's go to shy dogs, barking at strangers, barking on a walk, and teaching leave it. If pup is a bite risk, there is also a video on introducing a basket muzzle with treats. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a If the issue is fear based, I would desensitize and counter condition pup to new people gradually with safety measures like distance, a leash or a muzzle in place to ensure everyone's safety, as well as work on some obedience commands with pup to help build their respect and trust for you, so they will defer to your leadership and instruction when nervous or reactive. If there has been a bite where pup has drawn blood, I would hire a professional trainer who works with a team of trainers to guide the training and trainer around the other trainers as "strangers". Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

July 4, 2022


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