How to Train Your Dog to Be Calm Around Strangers

Medium
4-6 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

When company comes over, does your dog lose control, jumping, barking, running around in circles, and otherwise making a nuisance of himself? When you are on a walk and encounter a stranger, does your dog act aggressive, lunge, pull, bark and growl? Unless you live under a rock, you and your dog are going to encounter other people, people your dog doesn't know, and your dog needs to know how to behave when this occurs. A dog that reacts aggressively to the presence of strangers can end up lashing out and biting. Even a dog that does not show overt aggression but gets overexcited is usually reacting from anxiety, which can eventually manifest in aggression. If you have a particularly large dog, his excitement around strangers can send someone flying if he jumps up, or result in a scratch to a face, especially with children or seniors.


Defining Tasks

Your dog is going to come into contact with guests in your home, service people, delivery people, and strangers on walks and trips. Your dog will need to learn to be calm, comfortable and quiet around unfamiliar people. Although, it is normal for your dog to let out a bark to warn you someone is approaching you or your home, this should not be excessive, and should stop once you have been alerted. A confident, controlled dog will not go on barking, become hyperactive, jump, or be aggressive around strangers, which is usually a reaction to fear. To train your dog to act appropriately and be calm when he encounters strangers you should never punish reactive behavior, do not yell or pull back on a lead, which creates more excitement and anxiety and makes the behavior worse. You want your dog to be mentally relaxed when he encounters a stranger. Although he may be happy, and excited, or bark to let you know someone is there, there would be a confident, balanced, relaxed posture, and his behavior should be controlled and calm. The best way to create calm behavior around strangers is to socialize your dog early by exposing him to lots of different people and situations. An older dog that becomes over excited or aggressive around strangers will need to have their behavior corrected and replaced with appropriate calm behaviors.

Getting Started

During the training period you will want to keep your dog from being exposed to strangers except during scheduled training sessions, where you can modify your dog's behavior. To do this you may need to avoid strangers when walking your dog by crossing the street, and keep your dog contained in a separate room when you have people over unless you are actively training. You don't want to give your dog the opportunity to be hyper or aggressive around strangers, as this only reinforces the behavior. Do not punish or force your dog to accept handling from a stranger during training, you will need to exercise patience and move at your dog's pace. Remember, your dog is reacting out of fear. Enlist friends who are not afraid of dogs, and who your dog is unfamiliar with, to assist you in training. Have lots of treats available to positively reinforce appropriate behavior. If your dog is aggressive, or apt to bite, you will need to ensure everyone’s safety, and a basket muzzle may be appropriate. The use of a crate as a safe place can be used to help desensitize your dog to the presence of strangers.

The Ignore Method

ribbon-method-2
Most Recommended
7 Votes
Ignore method for Be Calm Around Strangers
Step
1
Find a "stranger"
Have a friend act as your stranger and meet your “stranger” either out on a walk or have them come to your home.
Step
2
Ignore
When your dog overreacts to the stranger's presence, you should both ignore your dog's behavior, do not restrain, yell at, or even look at your dog while they are overreacting. Remember to be calm yourself.
Step
3
Small reward
When your dog stops reacting by barking, jumping or running, have the stranger toss the dog a treat. Neither you, nor the stranger should pay excess attention to the dog.
Step
4
Increase reward
As the dog becomes calmer around your stranger, your assistant can place a treat near them or even provide the treat by hand, as long as the dog continues to be calm. If the dog starts acting hyper, aggressive, or over excited again, withdraw treats and attention and ignore the dog.
Step
5
Repeat
Repeat with several different people, as often as possible over a period of weeks. If possible, have your “stranger” join you on a walk if you are out walking. Ignore excited behavior and reward calm behavior until your dog learns that there is no positive reinforcement for overreacting, and that being calm is rewarded with attention and rewards.
Recommend training method?

The Down and Stay Method

ribbon-method-3
Effective
4 Votes
Down and Stay method for Be Calm Around Strangers
Step
1
Teach down/stay
Teach your dog to sit/stay or down/stay on command, on a mat in your home, with no strangers present, until your dog performs this reliably. Practice down/stay on the mat on and off leash.
Step
2
Bring a stranger in
Have a planned “stranger” come over to our house. Put your dog on a leash prior to the stranger ringing the doorbell and entering the house.
Step
3
Command down/stay
When the stranger enters your home, give your dog the down/stay command and direct them to their mat, use the leash to direct them if necessary.
Step
4
Reward response
When your dog is on his mat, obeying the sit/stay or down/stay command, and is calm with the stranger present, give your dog a treat. After your dog is calm for several minutes, call him over to meet the stranger and provide your dog with treats.
Step
5
Repeat
Repeat in multiple sessions with different people, if possible, over several weeks until your dog learns to calmly sit/stay or down/stay when a stranger enters your home.
Recommend training method?

The Desensitize Method

ribbon-method-1
Least Recommended
1 Vote
Desensitize method for Be Calm Around Strangers
Step
1
Crate
If your dog tends to be particularly fearful and withdrawn, provide them with a crate or provide a safe distance from your assistant. Have an assistant come to your house while the dog is in his crate or on a leash on the far side of the room.
Step
2
Interact at a distance
Do not crowd your dog, but wait for him to be calm in his crate or space with the stranger in the same room and then give him a high value treat.
Step
3
Come closer
Gradually have your assistant come closer to the crate, or your dog. If the dog reacts, stop and wait for him to be calm, When you get calm behavior, provide a reward. You can provide your dog a Kong stuffed with food or a chew toy, to help distract him and give him an outlet for excited behavior that does not involve directing it at your assistant.
Step
4
Repeat
Repeat multiple times over many sessions, with different assistants if possible.
Step
5
Increase exposure
If using a crate, gradually have the stranger present with the door open, move to having the dog on a leash, and move to having the dog off leash. Eventually, your dog will earn that the stranger is nothing to fear and that reacting calmly to their presence is associated with rewards.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Amy Caldwell

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

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Koby
Shar-Pei
23 Weeks
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Question
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Koby
Shar-Pei
23 Weeks

My puppy seems to feel very anxious to strangers that enter the house he barks growls lunges forward then backs off he calms down but as soon as the stranger moves he’s goes wild again and even out on walks he sometimes barks at strangers it’s like he has to build relationships with people I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable in my home that haven’t built a relationship with him I’m not sure if he’s being aggressive or if he’s just so anxious around strangers he’s amazing with other dogs it’s just people he’s not keen on

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1107 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lauren, Recruit friends and family pup doesn't know to walk past them while on leash. Watch pup's body language and have the person stay far enough away that pup stays relaxed. As the person passes pup and pup is reacting well (don't reward while aggressive or acting fearful), then have the person toss several treats gently toward pup's paws and continue walking. Have lots of different people do this in lots of different place - without approaching pup after. You want pup to begin to associate the people with something fun happening and take the pressure of petting away at first before pup is ready for that part. As pup improves, have the people gradually decrease the distance between them and pup. Check out the Passing Approach method from the article linked below. That article mentions other dogs but the same steps can be used for desensitizing pup to walking past people too. Passing Approach method: https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Once pup can handle people walking right by and dropping treats, practice the protocol from the video linked below, keeping pup's leash short enough that if pup were to lunge while practicing this, they won't be able to get to someone to bite. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIJoEJfTS-E Finally, during all of this, practice desensitizing pup to handling and touch using their food. As often as you can, feed pup their meals one piece at a time. Gently touch pup in an area while feeding a piece of food. Touch their should - feed a piece. Touch their back - feed a piece. Touch an ear - feed a piece. Touch their collar - feed a piece. Touch their paw - feed a piece. Touch their belly - feed a piece. ect... Do it gently and start with areas pup is most comfortable and work up to the other areas as pup improves. When pup enjoys your touches, add in other people pup knows touching, like family members. When pup can handle that add in gentle strangers once pup has completed the other training and is more comfortable with strangers. Don't rush these things but do practice very often and with lots of different people. Watch pup's reaction and go at a pace where pup can stay relaxed - the goal isn't just for pup to act good but actually feel better about people - so pup staying relaxed and happy around people is what you want to reward, which will mean going at the pace or distance pup an handle. Having pup earn treats by obeying commands from other people, like Sit or Heel can further build trust as well, once pup is ready for up close interaction. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
maple
French Bulldog
5 Months
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Question
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maple
French Bulldog
5 Months

I've ensured that I took my puppy out, around people since I had her at 2 months old. At around 3 months old she started to become very aggressive towards people that she is unfamiliar with. Her aggression is getting worse with strangers we encounter and is very concerning.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1107 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sam, For what you are describing at such a young age after a history of socialization, I would actually hire a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression and fear and works on a team of trainer or staff, to work with you in person and evaluate pup's body language around people and new situations. Aggression can have a health or genetic component. There might also be some underlying fear or something pup viewed as traumatic that happened to lead to suspiciousness of new people. How you are responding to pup when around people might need to be adjusted and having someone to evaluate your interactions with pup and body language and pup's body language and response would be helpful. Pup could also be possessive of you - which is similar to resource guarding, and might be guarding you from others, which is often addressed through a combination of calmly building respect for you, while also counter conditioning and desensitizing pup around other people being near you. I would look and feel over pup gently and pay attention to pup's overall health. If you notice anything wrong or out of the ordinary I would visit your vet also. Something causing pain or illness could contribute to aggressive behavior, even something like an ongoing ear infection that's not been diagnosed and treated. I am not a vet so refer to your vet if you suspect anything wrong there. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Squidder
Labrador Retriever
3 Years
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Question
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Squidder
Labrador Retriever
3 Years

My dog pulls on the leash and is always trying to get to other dogs and people. He just wants the attention. I want a behaved dog that I can walk and take to restaurants on vacation. He's good otherwise.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1107 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lora, Check out the Turns method from the article linked below. Pay special attention to the steps on turning directly in front of pup as soon as their nose starts to move past your leg - don't wait until his head is all the way past your leg to turn in front of him or this will be hard to do. It should look like pup sitting beside you, slightly behind you so that head is behind your leg, step forward and as soon as he starts to move ahead of you, quickly turn directly in front of him. You will probably have to be fast at first and may bump into him until he starts to learn this. Practice in an open area, like your own yard, so that you can make lots of turns easily. You want pup to learn that he should stay slightly behind and pay attention to where you are going and where you may turn, instead of assuming he knows the way and can forge ahead. The turns keep him guessing and more focused. Start this without dogs around and work up to other dogs being around at a distance. Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Second, check out the Passing Approach and Walking Together methods from this article I have linked below. Even though these methods are written for greeting other dogs, if you can recruit friends to be walkers, this concept is a great way to practice desensitizing pup to people and working on manners around new people. https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Third, check out these videos: Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Check out the long leash and premack principle sections of this article below for recall and further building self-control also: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-to-come-when-called/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Chico
Maltese
4 Years
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Question
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Chico
Maltese
4 Years

Seeing other dogs on walks he pulls the leash and starts barking. We have 2 other dogs and they all get along. At the vets chico is calm seeing other dogs. We did training and he did so well. Just going on walks is the problem.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1107 Dog owners recommended

Hello, This sounds like leash reactivity, opposed to general aggression. I suggest working on the structure of your walk first. You want pup to be working during the walk - having to stay behind you, focus on you, perform commands periodically, and not have his mind on scanning the area in search of other dogs. The walk should start with him having to exit your home very calmly, performing obedience commands at the door if he isn't calm. He should wait for permission ("Okay" or "Free" or "Let's Go") before going through the door instead of bolting through if that's an issue. When you walk he should be in the heel position - with his head behind your leg. That position decreases his arousal, reduces stress because he isn't the one in charge and the one encountering things first. It prevents him from scanning for other dogs, staring dogs down or being stared down, and ignoring you behind him. It also requires him to be in a more submissive, structured, focused, calmer mindset - which has a direct effect on how aroused he is - it makes him feel like the responsibility is on your shoulders not his around other dogs. Additionally, when you do pass other dogs, as soon as he starts staring them down or tensing up, interrupt him. Don't tolerate challenging stares at other dogs. Remind him with a fair correction that you are leading the walk and he is not allowed to break his heel or stare another dog down. It is far easier to deal with reactivity when you interrupt a dog early in the process - before they are highly aroused and full of adrenaline and cortisol, and to keep the dog in a less aroused/calmer state to begin with. This also makes the walk more pleasant for him in the long-run. Leading the walk this way can actually boost a dog's confidence in the long run around other dogs because the dog feels like you will handle the situation so they can relax. Be picky about which dogs he greets up close once he is able to greet. Avoid nose-to-nose greetings dogs who lack manners. A simple "He's in training" tends to work well. Be picky about who and how he meets other dogs. Avoid dogs that don't respect his space, pull their owners over to her, and generally are not listening well - those dogs are often friendly but they are rude and difficult for some to meet on leash. Also, avoid greeting dogs who look very tense around your dog, who stare him down, who give warning signs like a low growl or lip lift, who look very puffed up and proud - that type greeting with a dog is likely to end in a fight since your dog doesn't know how to diffuse that situation. A stiff wag is also a bad sign. A friendly wag looks relaxed and loose with relaxed body language overall. A tense dog with a very stiff wag, especially with a tail held high is a sign of arousal and not always a good thing. 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 Reactive dog - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY8s_MlqDNE Aggressive dog - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Outside of the walk you can work on building pup's trust and respect for you in other ways too. The following commands and exercises are also good for that: Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you A down stay around distractions is also a good thing to practice during walks periodically. A good way to do introductions with other dogs is to recruit friends with calm dogs and use the Passing Approach and the Walking together methods from the article linked below. After a few practice session of this, when the dogs can calmly walk side by side finally, take pups on walks together with both in a structured, focused heel. This gives both dogs something other than each other to focus on, keeps their energy calm, and helps them associate each other with the pleasant experience of a walk. Repeat this with lots of different dogs, one or two dogs at a time - you want other dogs to be associated with calmness, pleasant experiences, and boring things - not roughhousing, wrestling, nose-to-nose interactions always, or being rushed by them. https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Sometimes you can even find others to practice with through obedience clubs, meetup groups, or hiking groups. Ideally, practice would happen in the locations pup is reactive while in right now. When he does greet another dog nose-to-nose, give slack in the leash, relax yourself, and keep the greeting to a max of 3 seconds, then happily tell him "Let's Go" or "Heel" and start walking away, giving him a treat when he follows so that she will learn to quickly respond to that command in the future. Keeping the greeting relaxed and short can diffuse tension and give the dogs enough time to say hi before competing starts. Like the Passing Approach and Walking Together methods, once pup is staying calmer around other dogs, you can calmly reward pup when you pass another dog and pup keeps their focus on you, stays relaxed, or is generally responding well in behavior and attitude. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Oscar
Goldendoodle
2 Years
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Question
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Oscar
Goldendoodle
2 Years

barks and jumps on anyone entering house whether regular visitor or stranger

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

Hello! Here is information on jumping. Jumping: Teach your dog that they receive no attention for jumping on you or anyone else. Teach your dog to do something that is incompatible with jumping up, such as sitting. They can't sit and jump up at the same time. If they are not sitting, they get no attention. It is important to be consistent. Everyone in your family must follow the training program all the time. You can't let your dog jump on people in some circumstances, but not others. Training techniques: When your dog… Jumps on other people: Ask a family member or friend to assist with training. Your assistant must be someone your dog likes and wants to greet. Your dog should never be forced to greet someone who scares them. Give your dog the "sit" command. (This exercise assumes your dog already knows how to "sit.") The greeter approaches you and your dog. If your dog stands up, the greeter immediately turns and walks away. Ask your dog to "sit," and have the greeter approach again. Keep repeating until your dog remains seated as the greeter approaches. If your dog does remain seated, the greeter can give your dog a treat as a reward. When you encounter someone while out walking your dog, you must manage the situation and train your dog at the same time. Stop the person from approaching by telling them you don't want your dog to jump. Hand the person a treat. Ask your dog to "sit." Tell the person they can pet your dog and give them the treat as long as your dog remains seated. Some people will tell you they don't mind if your dog jumps on them, especially if your dog is small and fluffy or a puppy. But you should mind. Remember you need to be consistent in training. If you don't want your dog to jump on people, stick to your training and don't make exceptions. Jumps on you when you come in the door: Keep greetings quiet and low-key. If your dog jumps on you, ignore them. Turn and go out the door. Try again. You may have to come in and go out dozens of times before your dog learns they only gets your attention when they keep all four feet on the floor. Jumps on you when you're sitting: If you are sitting and your dog jumps up on you, stand up. Don't talk to your dog or push them away. Just ignore them until all four feet are on the ground. Please let me know if you have additional questions. Thank you for writing in!

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