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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.
The Management Method
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Redirection Method
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.
Use puzzle toys
Provide puzzle toys with treats inside to use as a distraction. Keep your puppy busy mentally and physically.
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.
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.
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.
The Association Method
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 03/13/2018, edited: 01/08/2021