What to do if your dog is nervous of strangers

Dogs are social animals, but like us, they may not be confident with everybody they encounter.

Your dog looks to you for guidance, so here’s what you can do to help them relax around new people.

Remember, always let your dog approach people in their own time; never force them to meet anybody. Give them the freedom to move away if they want to.

Passing people on walks

Always ensure that you give your dog enough space – this may mean arching around a passerby, or even crossing the road if your dog is worried. Explain to your dog that people are approaching by saying “there’s a stranger coming, can you see the stranger?”. This not only gives them the information they need but also gives them something else to focus on. Follow this by rewarding them with a tasty treat, and  praising them for walking past.

This should be done in a light hearted manner and with a loose lead if possible. If the lead is tight it will signal to your dog that they’re right to be concerned – this will make them more anxious.

Tasty treats or a favourite toy can help change your dog’s perception of strangers. Offer these as a reward for passing people confidently or as a distraction when you they seem scared. This will help your dog to associate walking past people as a rewarding event rather than a scary one.

Meeting people outside

Arrange to bump into friends or family on a walk and ask them to ignore your dog. Make yourself appealing by having lots of treats or their favourite toy to hand. Not everybody likes dogs so it’s good training to teach them to always give you attention in the company of others.

As your friend approaches, give or drop the treats on the ground for your dog to search for – or gently throw them the toy. Repeat this several times, building up as many different people and locations as you can.

If you stop to talk to your friend they should ignore your dog but engage with you. You can then concentrate on the dog and regularly reward him for staying calm. This exercise can be built up until you’re able to hold a conversation while your dog is calm and relaxed.

If your dog looks worried, then have shorter meetings at a bigger distance. Only progress the training when they are totally relaxed and calm.

Introductions at home

Baby gates or dog crates can be helpful in the home. The thought of confining your dog can seem harsh and unnecessary, but it can ultimately give them a safe, comfortable area to lie in and enjoy some peace and quiet.

This means your dog can observe visitors to the home from their safe place. Once your visitors have settled and your dog is calm and relaxed you can let them out to investigate. Give your dog a tasty chew while your visitor is there. Dogs quickly learn that the arrival of visitor means treat time, and this creates a positive association.

As with meeting people out on walks, not all visitors want your dog’s attention, so make sure you’re the one giving them delicious rewards and chews.

Your visitor should wait for your dog to approach them rather than the other way around. Make sure your dog always has a way of getting back to their safe place and visitors know not to approach them there.

It’s a good idea to pop your dog back into his safe place as your visitor leaves – dogs often stand near doors so it’s best they don’t have to move the dog to get out. Again, give your dog a treat at this point so they realise that having visitors is fun and rewarding.

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