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How to Train Your Dog to Be Calm Around Strangers

How to Train Your Dog to Be Calm Around Strangers
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon4-6 Weeks
Behavior training category iconBehavior

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.


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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.

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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.

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The Ignore Method

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7 Votes

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7 Votes

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Ignore method for How to Train Your Dog to Be Calm Around Strangers
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Down and Stay Method

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4 Votes

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4 Votes

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Down and Stay method for How to Train Your Dog to Be Calm Around Strangers
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Desensitize Method

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1 Vote

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1 Vote

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Desensitize method for How to Train Your Dog to Be Calm Around Strangers
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.

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.

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.

4

Repeat

Repeat multiple times over many sessions, with different assistants if possible.

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.

By Amy Caldwell

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

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Grace

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French Bulldog

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Six Months

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Question

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While we’re out on walks and a stranger is walking, my dog will try to run and pull and jump to go up to the stranger to say hi and it’s the exact same for dogs because she has absolutely no fear, what should i do to stop that?

Aug. 16, 2023

Grace's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I would see if you can recruit friends, family or neighbors to help you practice the Passing Approach Method, then later the Walking Together method from the article I have linked below. This method was written for passing other dogs, but the principles are the same for passing people too. Passing Approach method and Walking Together method: https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Aug. 25, 2023

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Mailo

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Affenpinscher

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One Year

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Hello, I have a small dog, one year and four months old. In general, he is calm, loving and friendly, but there are situations in which, when he plays with one of his "friend" dogs, he gets overexcited and starts protecting. At these moments, if a bystander or a dog passes by, he starts barking and even getting down. We have an analogous situation when walking in the park when he sees a cyclist or a person running. It only protects against certain people or dogs, but I'm worried about the fact that the situation will escalate. How can I prevent this behavior. How to deal with these stressful s

July 18, 2023

Mailo's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, It sounds like he is getting aroused, then acting aggressively as an outlet for his arousal. I would hire a professional trainer with experience with both desensitizing and building impulse control. Often this looks like practicing commands that require self-control, such as Heel, Down-Stay, Place, Quiet, Wait, Leave It, and Out; as well as having him in situations you have set up and can control where he can become slightly aroused, then shown how to calm back down, usually through the commands mentioned above, and rewarded when he not only obeys but his body language shows that he has relaxed again. Overtime the excitement would slowly be increased before asking him to calm back down, to help him gradually learn how to de-escalade from even higher levels of excitement and arousal. Finally, I would modify daily interactions where you can when not intentionally training with him, to minimize situations where he is practicing becoming aroused and acting out, so he isn't ingraining that behavior even further. For example, instead of playing with another dog in a playdate in a way that involves rough housing and a lot of excitement, set up interactions that are more structured, like going on heeling walks or hikes with dog friends, or structured obedience practice in locations you would enjoy also. For the cyclist and running person, desensitizing and counter conditioning specifically will be very important, starting with slower movement through the help of volunteers or training staff, and slowly increasing that speed as his self-control improves during practice. Check out trainers who have videos places like youtube on counter conditioning with this area specifically. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Aug. 3, 2023


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