The thing is, you can’t trust strangers.
There’s a reason the grown-ups in our lives always told us to not strike up conversations with strangers when we were kids. Maybe most strangers are perfectly nice. But plenty of them aren’t.
Strangers are the nice checkout lady at the pet store, but they’re also the shady-looking dude that might hassle you if it entertained him for a few minutes that day. Strangers are the person at the park who respects your requests to not allow certain behaviors in your dog, and they’re also the old man that walks right up to you with his dog and says “I think you’ll be okay,” when you say “no thanks, we’re busy and don’t want to meet your dog.” (Ugh, true story.)
Strangers are safe and unsafe, helpful and unhelpful, respectful and disrespectful.
The point is, there are people who will respect your boundaries and your person, and there are people who won’t. Whether your standards are the same as mine or whether you have a totally different philosophy in dog training, the fact remains that you can’t trust other people to behave appropriately and uphold your standards when it comes to your dog.
There are a lot of reasons that I prefer to leave it at “no thank you.”
One of those reasons is to pump the brakes hard on any opportunity for pushiness.
If you have a dog who is fearful or uncomfortable around strangers, it’s important to reevaluate the expectations you have for your dog. Instead of forcing your dog to meet people, build their confidence by just being near people without having to interact.
A trainer will be able to help evaluate your dog’s behavior, and if necessary support you with muzzle training for everyone’s safety. Make sure to find a trainer who uses positive reinforcement training techniques who will be able to support you with helping your dog to make those positive connections when engaging with people.
Once you’re confident your dog is focused on you and can ignore other people, you can begin bringing your dog to pet friendly businesses. Start during quieter times of day when your dog is less likely to be bothered.
Your dog may love cuddling up with you and show all the affection at home, but when approached by an unknown person, they may become withdrawn or skittish. If your dog is uncomfortable about meeting new people, you aren’t alone. For some dogs, this is a natural instinct that is appropriate for their breed’s temperament. For others, it can be their individual personality or the result of a traumatic experience they may have had with people in the past.
Many people want their dogs to be friendly and social, but the way to achieve this desirable behavior isn’t by making your dog engage with strangers. Although some people want to push their dogs to overcome their discomfort by forcing introductions, this is more likely to cause more issues for your dog who feels threatened and uncomfortable, which can lead to an escalation of behavior and result in a biting.
They’re not a service animal, but what if they were?
A lot of people assume that my training dogs are service animals. Something about a dog just heeling, self-regulating, and paying attention to their handler in a public space makes people think they must be a really sensational service dog. And personally, I think this is the reason that a lot of people do leave us alone.
But the thing is, what if the dog was a service animal?
Service animals do not legally have to be marked as such. They can go out as naked as any pet dog. Vests, special identification, and big printed collars and leashes are nothing but a precaution taken by the people who need them.
Why? Because of basically everything I’ve detailed so far.
And the thing is, strangers wouldn’t know one way or another. Like I mentioned, many people already assume that my training dogs are service animals. Let me say it again. Strangers wouldn’t know one way or another.
If any of my working dogs were in fact unmarked service animals trained to provide tasks for my mental or physical health and safety, that health and safety would be at risk almost every single day because someone thought the dog was cute.
Have you seen the video comedian Drew Lynch posted of a woman at a restaurant blatantly distracting his service dog, Stella? When asked to stop, she said that she “wasn’t petting,” and continued trying to get Stella’s attention.
The point is, it’s a matter of principle. Service dogs don’t need to be marked. But in Washington State, it is in fact a misdemeanor to interfere or distract a service animal. It is literally a crime to distract a service dog, even an unmarked one.
All dogs aren’t service animals. But as strangers, we should assume they are. And as a trainer, it’s my firm belief that ignoring dogs in public and just letting them exist is the most appropriate course of action, regardless of whether they have an important task to provide or if they are just pets going about their day.
It should simply be assumed that any dog in public comes with a “do not distract” sign.
But the core reason that I don’t add more information to the conversation unless prompted is this: it should simply be normal to say no, and have that be respected.
How Do I Stop My Dog From Being Aggressive Towards Strangers?(Resource Guarding)
You’ve got a big birthday bash coming up, with friends, family and work colleagues attending. Your kids will be there and you’d love it if you could have your canine friend there too. But your dog has developed an unfortunate fear of strangers and will be a nightmare at such an event. It’s the same when you have new guests over to the house. He gets terrified, he barks, he runs to his bed and may even shake.
Getting a handle on this behavior is essential, not just for you, but also for the wellbeing of your dog. Whether he’s had a bad experience in the past or just developed a fear, socializing him with strangers is in the best interest of all involved and may bring back your once happy and care-free dog.
This type of training isn’t always plain sailing, you will need to use obedience commands to incentivize and reinforce positive, calm behavior. You will also need to take steps to gradually introduce him to strangers. As the training must be built up gradually, it can take anywhere from one to eight weeks before your dog will be comfortable around strangers.
You may see quicker results in puppies who aren’t stuck in their ways yet, but older dogs may need considerable time to fully conquer their fears. It is essential you get this training right, as a dog that is terrified of strangers may one day attack them, causing serious injury. It is important then you get a handle on this behavior rapidly. Don’t be put off by the time frame, the results will 100% be worth it!
Before you commence training you will need to get together several things. You will need a long leash so you can secure your dog while strangers are around and still afford him some freedom. You may also want to get your hands on a muzzle until the danger of aggressive behavior has passed.
You will also need your dog’s favorite food or treats. These will be vital for rewarding him and encouraging calm, friendly behavior.
Once you have collected the above, just set aside 20 minutes a day for the next several weeks and come armed with a positive attitude!
First, ensure your dog has a secure space at home that he can escape to if he gets scared. You never want to force your dog to confront his fears of strangers, doing this may only make the problem worse.
When strangers come to the house, have them completely ignore him. Ensure they don’t look at him, pet him or talk to him. This may sound strange, but this will slowly show him that strangers pose no threat and won’t even bother him unless he wants to see them.
Have strangers throw treats near him every now and then. Ensure they ignore him while doing this. This will show your dog that there are benefits to having strangers around: free food!
If he starts to look startled, have him sit. Obedience training of this sort is a quick and easy way to distract him from his immediate fear. Having him work in this way will also reinforce to him that he still has your attention and protection when strangers are around.
Practice all of the above measures consistently for several weeks. It is important you don’t skip out any of the steps. Socializing him with strangers is a slow process, you need to undo his fear and build a positive of new people, so be patient.
When he is more at ease around strangers you can have them stop tossing him treats and slowly have them say hello.
At two or three locations in the house, set up a tether station, where you can attach your dog to a leash when strangers come to the house. You need easily accessible spots, preferably relatively close to doors.
When someone new comes to the door, attach him to a long leash and let the stranger in, but position yourself between your dog and the stranger. Dogs are territorial, so they may feel they need to defend your home from any new faces. Positioning yourself between strangers and your dog will signal to him that you are the pack leader and will defend him from new guests. This simple positioning could quickly put your dog at ease.
Have guests approach him slowly. It is important guests slowly introduce themselves to your dog so they don’t scare and startle him. As they do slowly say hello, stay close to him and verbally praise him for his calm behavior.
Stay calm and upbeat around strangers. Many people do not realize that dogs gauge how to behave in a lot of situations from their owners. If he can see you are nervous and agitated, he too will become nervous. So try and keep encounters jolly and friendly.
Take a sideways stance when meeting new dogs. Dogs perceive the sideways stance as less threatening, so they will feel more at ease if you introduce them at this angle. Also, position yourself between the dog and visitors until you can see his tail and body language suggests he is comfortable.
Head out on a walk with your dog on a leash and with a pocket full of treats. You are going to show him how to behave calmly around strangers and you’re going to use treats to reinforce that behavior.
As soon as you see a new person, give him a treat. Also, give him some verbal praise to show him that seeing a stranger comes with tasty benefits and attention from his human pal.
Keep giving him treats as you get closer to the stranger. As long as he is calm, reward him with treats and praise. This will not only help keep him calm but it will also show to him that there are serious benefits to be had from meeting strangers.
As soon as he displays aggressive behavior, pull him in the opposite direction and walk away. Be firm with him, you need to show him that if he can’t be calm, he won’t get any control of where he gets walked and he certainly won’t get any more food or praise.
Practice this and gradually get closer to strangers before he acts out. Using a combination of the positive reinforcement and the firm pull when he gets aggressive will quickly hammer home the behavior you do want to see and the benefits to be gained from being calm. Soon you will be able to walk him up close and personal with strangers.
When you finally reach that point, reduce the frequency of treats until he no longer needs the promise of food to behave.