Tips to Help Your Dog Be Comfortable Around Strangers

by Sundays

It feels great when a dog chooses you as their person, especially when they don’t seem to like anyone else. But how great is it really?

You feel pretty special as the chosen one, but then it can start to become a problem when you realize your dog actually hates most people.

Maybe they growl at your roommate or bark non-stop at the person you just started dating. You can’t go for a nice stroll in the park because you’re afraid they’ll lunge at children. And you definitely can’t take them to all the fun dog-friendly festivals and outdoor movie nights. The last time you tried to take them to the dog beach, they guarded you and the umbrella, barked at the other dogs, and didn’t even put their paws in the sand.

If any of this sounds like your precious pup, you might need these tips on introducing a protective dog to strangers, especially around the holidays. 

Why Doesn’t My Dog Like Other People?

There must be a reason why your dog is not a fan of other humans, right? Or is it that they’re just a natural loner?

Many people assume that a rescue dog must have been abused if they have a fear or dislike of strangers. This could be true, but it might actually have more to do with a lack of socialization when they were younger. 

Socialization is an important process that puppies should go through to help them get used to new places, experiences, sights, sounds, dogs, and people. A pet parent should actively introduce their puppy to new people and things in a safe way as soon as the puppy has had the proper vaccinations.

A lot of dogs are not properly socialized as puppies, so they end up being fearful of new things, including new people. Some dogs end up reacting to all strangers, while others might particularly dislike men or children, for instance.

Introducing Your Dog to New People 

Socializing a dog involves exposing your dog to all sorts of new things, but you should just work on one thing at a time. So maybe the first can be new people. Here are some tips on how to get started.

Tip 1: Manage Your Expectations
Yes, your dog can get better around strangers, but that does not mean they are going to end up like the dog you see at the vet’s office wagging their tail and acting as the official greeter to everyone that comes in. Embrace your dog’s idiosyncrasies and learn to see every small step as a win.

Tip 2: Be Patient

On that note, you also need to know that a change is not going to happen overnight. Your pup has spent their whole life being scared of strangers, so it’s going to take more than a few sessions or even weeks to help them overcome that. Make sure you’re willing to put in the time to help your dog get over their fear.

Tip 3: Know Your Dog’s Limits

Take note of the signs that your dog is out of their comfort zone. Make a list of behaviors that you notice that mean that you need to get your dog out of a situation. This could be:

  • Not taking treats from you (when they are usually totally food-driven)
  • Freezing or shutting down
  • Trying to run away
  • Growling, lunging, biting, or barking non-stop

If your dog shows any of these signs during any training sessions or at any time, remove them from the situation.

Tip 4: Give Treats When Your Dog Sees Strangers

You may need to start with the strangers being really far away from your dog. Take your pup somewhere where they can see strangers but not have to be too close to them. This should be a place that is not too full of people. Consider going to a small park at a time when not many people are there and take a look at Dr. Tory's tips for leash reactive dogs before you head out. 

Wait until your dog notices a stranger, and then start giving your pup plenty of treats. When the stranger disappears, so do the treats. Make sure you don’t reach for the treats before your dog sees the stranger. When your dog gets comfortable with this, try moving a bit closer. 

Tip 5: Enlist Your Friends to Help

Have a friend come over for a visit, but choose one that your dog isn’t already comfortable with. Make sure your dog has a safe space or room set up where they can retreat if they need to. 

Tell your friend to ignore your dog when they come in. This means no eye contact, no approaching, and no trying to pet your dog, even if they are cute. Let your dog get comfortable with the fact that the friend is there, and be sure to give your dog tons of treats during the visit. 

Let your dog approach your friend when and if they want to. Your friend will still need to keep ignoring your dog and not make any sudden or threatening moves. Keep the first visit short, and then try again another day, but let the friend gently throw down some treats while continuing to ignore your dog. If all goes well, you can slowly move up to eye contact, etc.

Tip 5: Get Professional Help

It may be time to seek some professional help for your dog, like with a certified dog trainer or even a veterinary behaviorist. It doesn’t mean that you’ve failed–this kind of adult dog socialization can be difficult and stressful. 

Ask your vet for some recommendations of trainers or vet behaviorists they trust. If you get recommendations from friends, make sure the trainers practice positive reinforcement methods only. 

And remember that it's okay to take things slow. Maybe your dog isn't ready to have friends and family over this year, but you can work together to prepare for another time. It's their house too, so try to keep their comfort and limits top of mind. It will make a better time for all, trust us. 

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