How to Train a Puppy to Stop Barking at Strangers

Medium
2-4 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

Puppies can develop bad habits for any number of reasons. It could be a behavior that was inherited from the mother, or it could be due to a bad experience that happened at any point before your puppy came home with you. No matter the reason, even young puppies can show fear or aggression towards the unfamiliar. This can include both other animals as well as strange people, and this fear can manifest in a number of ways.

One of the more obvious ways that a puppy can respond to a strange person is to start barking. Barking is loud and noisy and has the capacity to scare some people away or prevent the puppy from being touched or handled by someone he is scared of. Barking is annoying at the best of times and intimidating at the worst and a puppy will quickly learn that it can be an effective tool. The only problem is, barking is not polite! On top of that, you certainly don’t want your puppy starting off with such a prominent fear. It’s important to nip this problem in the bud before it escalates.

Defining Tasks

Most puppies are fully capable of dropping bad habits and developing healthier ones, though it will heavily depend on the history, personality, and resilience of the individual. Some older dogs are largely incapable of escaping fear reactivity and therefore should rely on management of the fear, rather than a cure. This is where prevention comes in, which can be used for any puppy who may be too entrenched in his ways to be able to face the fear head-on.

The other methods rely on an eventual adaptation to strangers or a redirect to a more productive activity to remove stress and fear. Whichever method you choose, you should begin your training as early as possible to catch the problem before it can grow out of control and you should begin to see progress or a complete change in two to four weeks with consistency and repetition of your training techniques.

Getting Started

The best tools for training your puppy to stop barking at strangers are toys to act as distractions and treats to reinforce a more appropriate behavior. These treats should be especially tasty or interesting for your puppy. Try foods that he’s never had before or would not get on a typical day and save these treats for these special occasions.

If you’re working on management, you may want to find a crate to keep your puppy in when guests are over. Otherwise, arm yourself with patience. Your puppy is learning and will require plenty of guidance along the way.

The Management Method

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Step
1
Avoid unplanned meetings
Try to know ahead of time when a guest may be coming over. Don’t surprise your puppy with a guest who may not understand his tendency to bark at strangers.
Step
2
Change directions on walks
If another person is coming your way, don’t hesitate to turn around and walk in another direction. Control your puppy’s line of sight if possible to keep him from stressing while he should be out exercising.
Step
3
Provide space away from guests
If you have to have guests or strangers over, provide a room away from the hustle and bustle where your puppy can relax and sleep it off. Provide white noise or a television playing to prevent him from hearing noise from outside the room.
Step
4
Use a crate
Work on crate training your puppy so he has a space to go when he is feeling overwhelmed and wants to bark. A crate can provide a little safe area for him to relax.
Step
5
Supervise outdoors
Keep an eye on your puppy whenever he is outside in the yard. Block the view of the street in front of or behind your house if possible to keep your puppy from seeing and barking at strangers.
Recommend training method?

The Redirection Method

Effective
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Step
1
Catch the behavior
Watch for signs that your puppy is about to start barking. This can be preceded by growling or an unusual amount of focus.
Step
2
Use puzzle toys
Provide puzzle toys with treats inside to use as a distraction. Keep your puppy busy mentally and physically.
Step
3
Offer food or treats
Use small bits of food or treats as a distraction by themselves in order to prevent your puppy from barking. She will have a hard time making noise when her mouth is occupied.
Step
4
Ask for another behavior
Instead of barking, ask your puppy for a ‘sit’ or a ‘down’ and offer a reward. This can help her associate strangers with the more appropriate behavior.
Step
5
Start play time
Be a distraction yourself by offering to throw a ball or other toy for your puppy to fetch. Her focus can be placed on the act of playing rather than barking.
Recommend training method?

The Association Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Use a high value treat
Use treats that are rare and tasty. These treats should only be used when training your puppy around strangers to keep them novel and exciting.
Step
2
Offer the treat when a stranger is near
When a stranger is in your puppy’s line of sight, offer the treat. Strangers will mean good things.
Step
3
Have the stranger assist from afar
When possible ask the stranger or guest to help by handing them some treats to toss at your puppy from a safe distance. He may begin to understand that the stranger is a food dispenser.
Step
4
Treats go away when the stranger leaves
Put the treats away when the stranger or guest leaves. This will help your puppy associate the tastiest treats with the presence of strangers. There’s no reason to bark because strangers will always give treats!
Step
5
Decrease distance over time
As your puppy becomes more comfortable and less prone to barking, ask the guests or strangers to toss treats from closer each time you have an encounter until your puppy can take a treat from the palm of a stranger’s hand without barking.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Shoko
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
4 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Shoko
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
4 Months

The dog likes some random people but will otherwise yap her head off and growl at everybody else. We are trying to get her to like "her" grandmother but she hates her with a vengeance, possibly because she smells grandmother's dog on her. Grandmother has also tried giving dog treats through a door open a crack, but as soon as Dog sees Grandmother's face, she goes nuts. This has to be resolved because grandmother is over a lot!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
274 Dog owners recommended

Hello Yona, Have regular get-to-togethers with your grandmother. Measure out Shoko's food for the day into a zip-lock bag and have your grandmother toss pieces of food to her without looking at her. Shoko will probably bark at first, but simply ignore her and wait until she stops for a second. This may take a while at first. As soon as she takes a break, praise her and have your grandmother toss treats over to her. Do this whenever she stops barking for a second. When she first sees your grandmother also praise her and give her a couple of treats from the bag, one at a time, before she has the chance to react. The goal is to catch her during quiet or calm brief seconds and reward those seconds. This also needs to be practiced often and practiced for long enough for her to gradually start to relax and realize that she gets treats around your grandmother. Let Shoko be the one to approach your grandmother once your grandmother is within ten feet of her. When Shoko can handle being in the same room with her, then have your grandmother ignore her, and if she comes over, give her treats. Take it slow and let Shoko initiate the interactions. Your grandmother can drop treats behind her when she walks around to encourage Shoko to stay close and face her fears. Starting the training at a new location might be easier for Shoko at first. Try taking Shoko over to your grandmother's house, the yard, or a park, and keep some distance between them while your grandmother tosses treats at first. Also, enroll Shoko in a puppy class that will practice having the owners touch and handle each other's puppies while they feed them treats. Shoko needs to be around a lot of people starting immediately. These interactions with people should involve lots of treats, toys, and fun, and work on tempting Shoko to check out new things and people by scattering treats around something new or having new people offer or toss treats, rather than forcing Shoko to get close to something she is afraid of. If she makes the choice on her own and receives a reward for doing so, that should help her be braver in the future around that type of thing again. Take her to lots of places like parks, farmers markets, pet stores, puppy class, friend's homes, on walks, local ball games, and outdoor shopping malls. Start with calmer more spacious locations first, or people you know who will calmly toss her treats and ignore her. As she improves, take her to more and more places and let people feed her treats. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Musibi
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
5 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Musibi
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
5 Months

My dog loves some strangers, and then barks and growls at others. It seems random to us who he decides to like and dislike. Even if we are in a group of people, some he will ignore, others he will approach, and then others he will bark and growl at.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
274 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jason, This sounds like a fear issue and a need for more positive socialization. People's body language and scents can effect how a dog views them. Things you wouldn't think about like hats, glasses, beards, canes, strange walks, or anything your dog isn't used to seeing a lot can also cause fear. With the help of a trainer take Musibi around as many people as possible and have those people toss him treats when he is being friendly or calm (not aggressive). Check out the video linked below. If you are worried about a potential bite (which is always a possibility with a fearful dog), use a back tie with a leash and take safety measures like tape on the ground for people to stand behind to keep him from being able to get too close to people, while people are still able to toss him treats and socialize him while he is calm or acting friendly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIJoEJfTS-E When he is very comfortable with people and not a bite risk, then you can also get him used to being touched by giving him a treat whenever he is touched somewhere. Start doing this yourself to teach him the concept, then have others do it later when he is comfortable with them. For Example, touch his ear and give a treat, touch his shoulder and give a treat, gently touch his tail and give a treat, ect...Even if he does well being touched now, do this as a preventative to maintain his tolerance later. Be careful about others doing this if he is still nervous. Go slow and wait until he is more comfortable around them in general. He needs to meet at least a hundred different people in a positive way, including men, women, children, people of different races, different ages, disabled people, different looking people, ect...think about who he normally is around in your home and make sure you include a lot of people who are different in some way from his family, to make sure he gets used to them too. If you have any reason to be concerned about more serious aggression (opposed to barking and seeming nervous), do not wait to get help. The earlier aggression is addressed the easier it will be and the better the potential outcome. Aggression gets harder to address the older a puppy gets. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Mabel
border collie cross
Six Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Mabel
border collie cross
Six Months

Mabel has never been the most sociable puppy but has recently started barking more and more whenever she sees a stranger approaching whilst on a walk. We walk her with out two year old collie who adores everybody so the fear is not coming from him. We’ve had her from 8 weeks and she’s been well socialised with people and dogs but her behaviour is getting worse. I’m pretty sure it’s fear as she displays all the signs of being scared once she gets closer to the person. How can I stop this?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
274 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kate, Check out the videos linked below on counter conditioning - making something scary, pleasant in the dog's mind instead. Barking on a walk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JY7JrteQBOQ Also, check out this video. This video is a bit more intensive but notice the use of a back tie leash, the timing of rewards (while the dog is calm - not while acting aggressive). Having people you know that your dog does not know practice this with her can also help her learn to be calmer around people. Have people toss treats instead if she is a bite risk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIJoEJfTS-E&t=475s Always take precautions when dealing with aggression. You may want hire a trainer who works with several other trainers, who will rotate working with your dog as "strangers" in public places, so that you can practice the training with people who know how to do this who your dog thinks are new. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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