If you own a dog then no one has to tell you that each one has their own personality. Just like humans, every critter has life experiences and different reactions to emotions. Dogs can be stressed out, anxious, and frustrated just as much as people can.
Not all dogs behave themselves around strangers and some may be downright scared. As a responsible owner, it’s your job to know when your dog is fearful and how to help them cope with this reaction. The following are 7 tips for your furry friend that fears strangers:
1. Understand the Warning Signs
When dogs are afraid of strangers they are often described as shy, cautious, and anxious. This type of behavior can be easy to recognize in animals that tremble, move away, or hide but it can also be recognized in behaviors like:
- Jumping up
- Refusal to make eye-contact
- Aggressive behavior
Although the urge to hire a carpet cleaner is an annoying result of your dog’s behavior, having to take someone to the ER is unacceptable. Step in before your dog’s fear ever turns into aggression.
2. Avoid Crowded Areas
If you are already aware that your dog does not do well around strangers, you should avoid bringing them to places with large gatherings of people. Regardless of whether your dog is on a leash or in a carrier, this type of interaction can cause them great distress. If the situation is unavoidable —like traveling in an airport—make sure you seek advice from your vet about possible medications to keep your dog safe and calm.
3. Protect your Dog
When an individual approaches your dog to pet them, it is your duty to protect both your dog and the stranger. The situation can easily be deescalated by placing yourself in between the two parties.
The more distance that is put between your dog and a stranger, the better. If you have to cross the street to avoid people, do so. It’s much better to possibly offend someone rather than stressing your dog out or worse yet, creating an aggressive situation.
4. Who are They Afraid Of?
Just like a human, sometimes turning a person from a stranger into a friend will alleviate anxiety. Ask yourself “does my pup respond to certain people in particular?” The answer may be gender-based, age-based, or simply due to their scent. Once you know exactly what is causing fear in your dog, you can take steps to minimize it (even if that means total avoidance).
5. Never Reprimand Them
If your dog expresses fear, show them comfort, identify the source, and work to help them cope. Never punish them. This may cause your animal to internalize their fear but it does not necessarily make it go away. When a dog has to hide their emotions, they may feel vulnerable and lash out with biting.
6. Be Responsible at Home
Sometimes strangers need to enter your home and you don’t need Fido biting the plumber. If you know your dog is fearful of strangers, and worse yet, if you know they act negatively, your best bet is to keep them in a separate area of your home at all times when they are present. If your pet cannot be locked in a separate room (you’re not wanting to pull out the carpet cleaner), baby gates can also be utilized. For bigger breeds, sometimes crating is the safest option.
7. Reward Good Behavior
If you are trying to break your dog of their fear (i.e. you’d like to take a walk without worrying yourself), it may be wise to carry around a bag of treats in your pocket. Whenever you notice your dog sit and relax around strangers, loudly proclaim positive affirmations like “good dog!” and reward them with a treat.
Creating a pattern of this behavior will positively reinforce your pet to react the same every time and slowly ease their anxiety around other people. However, never let anyone else feed your dog a treat if you are unsure of your dog’s reaction.
Lessening the fear of a loved one knows no bounds between species. Making sure your dog is comfortable is important. Understanding the warning signs of their anxiety, reacting appropriately, and rewarding them for good behavior is the first step to getting your pup a little more social with strangers.
John Davidson is the owner of Superior Carpet Cleaners and enjoys sharing is knowledge of environmentally friendly ways to keep your house clean using all natural ingredients and safe methods. In his spare time he enjoys sharing useful dog training tips on the web. He is also an owner of two large Akitas who love hiking, swimming in the lake, and rolling around in the snow.