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Why Don't Some Dogs Like Strangers?



scared dogIt’s a pretty common situation for dog owners. You’re out for a walk, minding your own business, when suddenly someone comes up and tries to pet your dog. Out of nowhere, your dog starts growling and barking at this stranger. Why is your dog acting this way toward the stranger? What can you do to help him in the future? Read on and find out more.

A lot of dog owners seem to either be unaware of this fact or just forget, but dogs, like humans, can become fearful, paranoid, and just plain distrustful. Sometimes this is a result of a traumatic event or series of events in the past, such as an abusive previous owner, but more commonly it’s as simple as the dog never having a lot of social interaction with strangers as a puppy.

Dogs are very quick to pick up training when they’re still very young, though this applies to far more than just training commands like “sit” and “stay.” They learn what behaviors are acceptable in the house. They learn what things get the best reaction (read: treats and ear scratches) from their owners. And they also learn to trust strangers. That’s why, if you want to reduce the likelihood of your pup becoming an anxious dog every time a stranger comes around, you should have them interact with lots of people when they’re still puppies. This teaches them that people, as a general rule, are not scary and can indeed be trusted.

I’m lucky and have a dog that’s as friendly as can be (being part Golden Retriever helps of course), so when strangers walk up to him on the street and instantly start petting him, he’s already prepared to wag his tail and receive some friendly attention. Many dogs, however, are nowhere near that relaxed around people, and the insistence that a lot of strangers have to just rush into things only makes the problem worse.

The majority of the stress comes from a situation that’s uncomfortable being pushed to a full-on conclusion. If you’re afraid of bees, being thrown into a hive isn’t going to instantly help you get over your fear. As with dogs, having a stranger come up and shove their hands into the dog’s face only results in said pooch having their worst-case scenario play out in the head, leaving them with the options of either “bark” or “bite.” Putting an animal in this forced situation doesn’t help and really only makes things worse.

In fact, if you’d really like to screw things up for your dog’s mental wellness around strangers, punish them whenever they bark or display any other signs of fear around people. My discouraging this perfectly legitimate behavior (fear), your dog will make an attempt to hide it from you as long as possible until they simply can’t handle it anymore, resulting in a sudden outburst that’s typically worse than if they could just be nervous in the first place. This is one of the key reasons that a dog will bite seemingly without any provocation.

To train your dog, sadly it will involve a lot of cooperation with strangers. Don’t let anyone just come right up to your dog and start petting. When you see someone approaching, shift your dog away. This will let them know that your dog doesn’t want to be bothered just yet and gives you time to explain as such. The proper way to approach a nervous dog is very slowly and very calmly. Let you dog decide how he’d like to proceed. If you have a hand stretched out and aren’t being wild, the dog may come smell it on his terms and decide that the stranger is okay. However, this doesn’t mean you can instantly act like buddies since they’re still afraid on some level and sudden movements may bring that fear back to the surface.

If you’re hoping to break your dog of these habits, you’re probably going to just have to take a lot of time letting him get used to people and the notion of strangers in general. There is no quick fix, even when treats are involved. Learn your dog’s body language and if you see them become fearful when they see a stranger, make sure to help them get the space they desperately want. Work with your pooch, not against him.


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