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.
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.
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.