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!
my dog is fine with kids and my family but with strangers she will bark growl at them while on leash
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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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.
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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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?
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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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.
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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Hi, my dog is a total sweetheart. The problem is when we are out for short potty breaks or walks, he will growl and ‘boof’ at strangers and will get very riled up if there is another dog. He has never hurt anything besides sticks and he seems playful when at the park (wagging his tail and running around) but he still seems a bit aggressive with other dogs lately. We try and take him out a lot but recently it has gotten harder to take him to a dog park without the owners seeming uneasy about tucker and calling their dog away. He is super sweet and listens well at home and is listening more when walking outside but I can’t seem to get a handle on him when there are strangers and dogs out. I usually turn around and go the other way but I’ve been doing this for a long time. He’s also not very motivated by treats or toys when he sees another dog. It is tiring and I’d love to get him out more without worrying about how others think of tucker and showing that he’s a sweet dog. Thank you in advance!
Hello Chrystal, First, I suggest teaching Tucker a "Say Hi" command and a "Touch" command and a "Quiet" command. You can practice these with treats and rewards when it's just you (so he will take the treats). Doing that will associate the commands with fun (which will be important later when he is tense). When he gets tense or comes across something that would normally make him tense you can use the commands to give him instruction, instead of letting him decide how to feel about it on his own. It sounds like he is getting defensive because he is nervous and needs more structure and direction so that he can depend on you for how to feel and act. The Say Hi command can be practiced with people he knows to help him learn that say hi means that a person is safe. The Touch command teaches him when it's safe to approach a person. The Quiet command tells him to stop acting out. Video of reactive dog being worked with on a walk: https://youtu.be/i8WEi9BfTIc You can use the "Quiet" method to teach Quiet: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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My dog is 10 years old Black labrador and chow chow. He is still stingy around other people and dogs. He's good with my family but everyone else he goes crazy. He starts barking and tries to jump at them and I don't know if he's going to scratch them or just wanting to say hi. Please help.
Hello Leslie, First, I suggest having him evaluated by a professional trainer in person. Whether he is aggressive or just excited changes how you will train. If he is aggressive, he needs to be desensitized to people and be taught respect and trust without a lot of direct confrontation. People Aggression protocol video- notice the back tie and line on the ground for safety (those working with the dog should never be put at risk. Only train with the correct safety protocols to keep everyone involved safe. I highly suggest hiring a trainer. Aggression is serious https://youtu.be/mgmRRYK1Z6A Beat of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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Ferro is very protective and when we are away he would not let anyone near him . We have a friend who is willing to walk him but it’s impossible ! As he’s quite big we don’t want to risk it . How do we get him to be familiar to the walker ?
Hello Niko, First, because this is a potentially dangerous situation, I suggest that you hire a professional private trainer to help you with this. Get Ferro used to wearing a silicone basket muzzle. A basket muzzle will allow him to open his mouth to receive treats through the holes still, and silicone is usually more comfortable. To get him used to wearing a muzzle, place the muzzle on the ground and scatter his meal kibble around it at meals. When he is comfortable with it being near him, hold it up and give him a piece of his dog food whenever he touches it or sniffs it -- grab the food from a bag that you have measured it into; do not reach your hand into his food bowl to do this. Feed him at least one meal a day this way as often as you can. When he is comfortable touching it, hold the treat inside the muzzle through the holes so that he has to poke his face into it to eat the food. When he gets comfortable with that, gradually hold the food further down inside the muzzle so that he has to put his face into the muzzle more to reach the food. When he will put his face all the way into the muzzle and hold it there for ten seconds while you feed him pieces of food through the holes, then practice buckling and unbuckling the muzzle while you give him treats. Gradually work up to leaving it buckled for longer and spacing your treats further apart until he is comfortable wearing the muzzle around without food. When he is used to wearing a muzzle and can relax while wearing it, go on walks with him and have your dog walker walk parallel with you on the other side of the sidewalk. If you are working with a trainer, I suggest you practice this with the trainer before implementing it with your walker under your trainer's assistance also. Put enough distance between you and the other person that Ferro notices her but can still respond to you. Practice a structured heel where he walks with his head behind your leg and has to focus on where you are going (This is important, it will set the tone for aggression vs. responding to you). Interrupt any fixating on the walker, barking, or other tense unwanted behavior he tries to display toward the walker. When he is focusing on you, being calm, or being friendly or relaxed, reward him with treats through the muzzles holes and calm praise. When he is completely comfortable walking with the walker across the street, have her gradually decrease the distance between you. Practice at each distance until he is comfortable with her again at that new distance; do this until she can finally walk with you, and eventually take the leash from you and continue the walk on her own with him. When she can do that work up to her starting with you earlier and earlier in the walk process until she can initiate leashing him up and taking him herself. The days that she is supposed to come walk him, I suggest having him wear a muzzle still. Have a trainer help you with all of this. He needs a lot of structure in general, and his overall aggression also needs to be addressed. A qualified trainer should be able to help you with the walking but also the aggression issues overall as well. You need to work on building his respect for you also, which comes through having boundaries, consistency, and teaching commands. It should be done with a calm but business-like attitude. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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My dog is very sweet to the direct family, but she’s very agressive towards strangers and new people. to the point were its hard to walk her past new people. How do I teach her that people aren’t bad?
Hello Larkin, The answer to your question depends partially on why she is acting aggressive (fear or lack of socialization, protectiveness, possessiveness, genetic predisposition, ect...) For fear based aggression a combination of carefully timed interruptions and then rewards while calm around people. Check out the video linked below. Notice the safety measures (a back tie), when to have people reward a dog (during calmness and not during aggressive displays). Aggression video: https://youtu.be/mgmRRYK1Z6A If the aggression is due to something like possessiveness then he would likely benefit from adding a lot of structure and boundaries in general to build respect for you and his overall confidence and trust. Implement obedience commands into his daily routine. For example, have him sit before you feed him, lay down before you pet him, or "Watch Me" before you take him on a walk. Avoid encouraging any pushy behavior from him. Teach him a Place command and work on him staying on place for up to an hour, even when you walk into the other room for a minute. Practice crate manners. Work on teaching a structured Heel and have him walk with his face behind your leg and not in front - being in the following mode sets the tone for how he will react to people when you pass them. Forget about getting places during a walk for a while right now, instead go somewhere open, like your front yard, a park, or culdesac and practice a heel where his nose does not go past your leg. I also strongly suggest hiring a trainer to help you. Look for someone who is very experienced with aggression and different types of aggression - many trainers are only experienced with fear-based aggression and there could be something additional going on too. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Crate manners: https://thegooddog.net/training-videos/free-how-to-training-videos/learn-to-train-the-good-dog-way-the-crate/ Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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Lucky--has been with my mother since she got him as a puppy. Mom now lives in an apartment in a retirement community and will start having outside help come in to help her on a daily basis. Lucky barks whenever someone enters the apartment--even at my brother, who walks Lucky twice a day. Lucky eventually calms down and is just fine, but the barking at strangers is a real drag and upsetting to my mother. Is there a way to have him stop this? We are getting ready to start daily care for Mom and the barking is going to be a real drag for both Mom and the caregivers. Lucky doesn't growl and has never bit anyone, but he is a barker! Perhaps that's somewhat inherent to the breed? Please help!! Laura (the daughter)
Hello Laura, Check out the desensitization video linked below. Work on desensitizing him to things associated with people entering like the video demonstrates. Also have visitors reward him for being quiet when he is quiet and calm. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxPrNnulp5s Also, check out the "Quiet" method from the article linked below. Teach Quiet so that she has a command to tell him to let him know he can calm down. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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My dog will bark and become aggressive with strangers, especially when new people come over to the house. He's nipped a few people before, and I've put him in a room or in his crate to calm down, letting him out after he's stopped barking. I'll keep him on a leash with new people and let him gradually get closer to sniff the person. He usually jumps up to give kisses after that, but sometimes he "randomly" will revert back and try to attack the person after he's decided to enter their space and they pet him. He doesn't have an aversion to pets with people he knows, so it's hard to tell when the person can stop ignoring him and when it's officially safe. When we are taking walks sometimes he is fine with strangers passing, other times he tries to bark and bite at them. I put him on the other side of me and give little yanks on his leash, but that doesn't seem to do much. I would like to be able to bring him to dog parks or to family functions without being worried he will try to bite someone.
Hello Abby, I suggest hiring a professional trainer to help you. There are several things that need to be shown and worked on in person, in live time. Look for a trainer who uses both positive reinforcement and gentle discipline. He needs a lot of structure and boundaries. He also needs to be rewarded when he does something right to build his trust of other people. Check out Sean O'Shea from the Good Dog Training for more information on aggression. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3ElhSrziUvg4FOY4xKou5w Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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Hello,my dog is very afraid of strangers and to have a walk outside.We have triedto make her use of having a walk everyday but she shakes, stay still.When we have families at our place,she hides herself behind the couch and does not come out until everyone has gone.Can you please advice how make her not to be fear of people.Thank you.
Hello Aswina, For the general fearfulness check out the article linked below for information on what to practice with her. Especially read the section "How Do You socialize a Dog with Humans?" https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-socialize-a-shy-dog/ To help her gain confidence while leash walking, check out this article linked below. Start by practicing it in calm, less scary locations to simply build her confidence around the leash before tackling the socialization-fearfulness issues also. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-your-puppy-to-accept-leash Finally, I suggest hiring a professional trainer who is very experienced with highly fearful dogs. It sounds like she was either not socialized while young, had a traumatic experience, or is genetically prone toward fearfulness. I would not wait to start resolving these issues. The earlier you deal with fearfulness the better the potential outcome. If genetically prone toward fearfulness she will probably need long-term confidence building and help working through fears, but starting now can still improve the outcome. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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Hello! My dog is scared of strangers, but it seems a bit more than that. She's afraid of: my brother, my cousin, and general strangers (i.e. brother in law, sister, etc.), but not of the people who live in the house with us (my mother, father, sister, and grandmother)and she gets along with the other animals in our house too. When my brother/cousin are not around she comes out more often and socializes and eats lots of food until they come home or a stranger comes by, and she sounds meaner than she is. We got her from a friend when she was 6 months- 1 yr. old, she is fixed, but there is possible inbreeding. The woman we got her from has 4-6 adult dogs, only two of which I believe were female and possibly all related, and raised outside. D.O.G. seems perfectly normal when she's in her safe space (my room) and outside, even very sweet, but when she sees a stranger or anyone mentioned above she barks/growls and hides. She knows some basic commands, but not all of them. Recently she nipped my brother in laws pants leg, no skin, only fabric but it was a wake up call. How do I help my sweet baby? She has NEVER bitten anyone until she nipped him, and she hasn't since. I don't want anything bad to happen to her, but what can I do to help? Should I just go back to the basics, or is she too old for that?
Hello Angel, Working on basic commands again is always good to do. This will help more with management and your relationship with her - but not the aggression directly. Check out the article linked below to learn more about how to socialize shy dogs. Since she has also shown some aggression the training will need to be done with more precautions though. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-socialize-a-shy-dog/ Because of the aggression, practice training using a back tie so that she cannot get all the way to someone rewarding her - to try to bite them. The person rewarding her should be calm and almost boring - no roughness. Also, notice when they reward. It is never when the dog is acting aggressively but when the dog is being calm. Once she can handle being generally near those she is currently afraid of, then going on a walk with her, you and them can also help (if she relaxes on walks), or them playing a favorite game with her like tug or fetch - just avoid overly rough play that could scare her again - keep things calmer. https://youtu.be/mgmRRYK1Z6A Many insecure dogs also benefit from adding to structure to build their confidence and trust and respect for you. Check out the articles and videos linked below for some general obedience you can practice with her to add more structure and routine. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Crate manners: https://thegooddog.net/training-videos/free-how-to-training-videos/learn-to-train-the-good-dog-way-the-crate/ Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo You can also practice all the basic obedience commands that she knows with her. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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