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

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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

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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 and Success Stories

Question
Albie
Border Collie
4 Months
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Question
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Albie
Border Collie
4 Months

Hi I have a 4-month-old collie who has always been quite nervous about people trying to touch him on a walk but has suddenly started barking at random people on walks.
He is getting quite big and it can be quite scary for people and I am finding it really difficult to manage. I am too worried to let him off the lead and have been trying to expose him to strangers and give him treats when he isn't barking at them but it seems to be getting worse not better.
I am really worried that we will not be able to control it and he will become aggressive.
Any support would be amazing.
sami

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sami, Check out the article linked below on teaching Heel, Quiet. Turns method for heeling: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Practice those commands on the walk when people aren't around first, gradually progressing to when there are people off in the distance, then closer. Recruit as many gentle friends as you can to walk up to you but stand several feet away. Feed pup treats while the person approaches before pup starts barking, stop treats when pup barks. Have them stand several feet away and calmly talk to you while ignoring pup, whenever pup pauses barking for even a second or responds to your quiet command, have them gently toss pup a treat while ignoring them still. Practice this often so that pup begins to expect rewards and not being touched when people approach and relaxes more. When pup can handle distant approaches, after pup relaxes around the person, have the person go on a walk with you, several feet away but walking parallel to you and ignoring pup. Traveling together can help pup relax around them more. Once pup can handle that, have the person practice rewarding pup for obedience, like sitting. Finally, when pup is completely comfortable with the person, have them gently touch pup while feeding a treat. As soon as the treat is gone the touching should stop until the next treat. No touching without a treat being given right now. This needs to be practiced several times a week, and ideally with dozens of different people. 100 would be ideal, but shoot for at least 2 dozen. You may find that joining a puppy class, dog club, or training group will make finding people to practice with much easier. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Rylee
Miniature Fox Terrier
18 Weeks
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Question
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Rylee
Miniature Fox Terrier
18 Weeks

Now that Rylee is fully vaccinated we have been going for small outing to get her Leash trained. This involves going to a large grass patch in the street. When she see a stranger in the street or even our neighbours outside, she starts barking at them. I want to stop this before it become a habit and I can't take her outside! She is fine with, cars, dogs etc but people she barks constantly.

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
93 Dog owners recommended

Hello, as soon as the vet gives the okay, sign Rylee up for dog training lessons. It is an excellent way to expose her to people and other dogs, especially people who understand that dogs bark and need to be trained. Being a dog that is of working lineage, she'll need tons of exercise both mental and physical, and the training will take care of that! She'll love the activity, too. In the meantime, you can teach Rylee the "quiet command" and it will be useful in lots of situations. Take a look here: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark (The Desensitize Method may be useful, as well as the Quiet Method.) The Passing Approach Method here is also beneficial for both human and dog interaction: https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs. Rylee has the opportunity to practice her manners from a distance. Work on these suggestions every day for about 10 minutes, always ending on a high note. Good luck!

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Question
Radar
Shih Tzu
10 Months
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Question
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Radar
Shih Tzu
10 Months

He barks at people and kids wjen we are out for a walk. People want to pet him but he barks and backs away and I think people think he is mean

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Hello Corrine, I suggest recruiting some dog friendly friends to pretend to be strangers in the types of environments pup tends to bark. Have the person approach like a stranger would and ignore pup while talking with you as they bark. As soon as pup gets quiet for even a second or calmly moves closer to say hi, have the friend gently toss a treat at pup's paws without saying anything. Practice this with various friends until pup doesn't bark when a person approaches. When pup is brave enough to come over, have the friends then practice rewarding pup each time they gently touch pup, one hand touching and the other feeding a treat, then the touching stops when the treat is eaten until the next treat. When pup tolerates the touching well, have the friends reward pup for coming over to say hi, obeying a calm Sit command, then being given a treat and a small pet - to teach pup manners and calmness instead of just learning to run up to people or jump instead of hide. All of this will require a lot of repetition with different people so be proactive setting up sessions with friends. Going to their neighborhood and having them just meet you on the sidewalk can be a good way to get friends to help, since it's fairly convenient for them that way, gives pup new people to practice with, and is practice in a variety of environments. I also suggest teaching pup to Say Hi/touch: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/target-the-fun-teach-your-dog-to-touch/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Lily
Chihuahua
4 Months
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Question
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Lily
Chihuahua
4 Months

My puppy is 4 months and she is just now getting to socialize and I have tried walks and bringing her to stores and having her around people so she can get used to them petting her. My dad friends come over and all she does is bark at them amd it scares me that she will grow up to be mean towards people and I dont know what else to do. If you have any advice please anything will help

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Hello Rebecca, First, have your dad's friends ignore her when they enter, then whenever she gets quiet for at least a second, have them toss her a treat nonchalantly. Allow her to approach them on her own terms as she gains courage through the treat tossing. Once she is willing to approach, have them give her a simply command like Sit and calmly hand the treat from an open calm. You are looking to reward calmness, quietness, and eventually good manners around them. At the beginning, they are looking for just seconds of quiet to have a chance to toss the treat to her - as she relaxes more while doing this, the quiet periods should come more often to allow you to reward more often and wait for longer periods of quiet. I also recommend joining a puppy kindergarten class that practices handling and training each other's puppies with treats a bit during the class for the purpose of socialization. Often that will be one short activity practiced each week, then you will train your own puppy the rest of the time - but it can help puppies get used to others. Carry pup's kibble and treats with you when you go places also, have strangers offer pup a treat when they pet or give them a command, to make sure new people are associated with good things and not just overwhelming. Look for gentle men for pup to meet especially. Continue getting pup out in public even though it may seem a bit hard right now. Often pups will improve overtime if you continue to expose them, even though they may seem to regress temporarily as they hit various stages of maturity, that can make them temporarily more fearful. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/puppy-classes-when-to-start/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Ella
Mini Shnauzer
13 Weeks
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Question
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Ella
Mini Shnauzer
13 Weeks

My puppy is nice to some people but then out of nowhere she will start to bark and growl.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
709 Dog owners recommended

Yesid, It sounds like pup needs more socialization at this age. Pup is most likely acting suspicious due to fear because they are not used to certain types of people. Take pup to all different types of locations, starting with calmer locations first. Carry pup's food or treats with you and reward pup for acting calm, friendly, or curious around new things. Have people toss or hand pup treats when they greet pup. If pup is too worked up have the person stand far enough away pup can stay calm and toss treats to pup from there, then as pup relaxes let pup approach the person when they are feeling braver and friendlier. Friends and family who are patient with dogs are good people to practice this with. Once pup is ready to greet more people up close, continue carrying treats with you and have people give pup a command like Sit and then reward to teach pup good manners while continuing socialization. Friends and family can also practice giving pup a treat each time they touch them while touching them, with people pup isn't afraid of, to desensitize pup to being approached and touched also. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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