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.