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Stranger Danger

A lot of dogs don’t like it when strangers come over to their home. And the holidays can be really challenging for them because we typically have guests over more frequently and it is usually more guests than usual at once.

Why do some dogs not like strangers? Before I answer this, I want you to know that it is not uncommon and is actually normal for some dogs not to be friendly with other dogs or people.

I know that may come as a shock to some. But ask yourself this question: Do you like and want to socialize with ALL the people you meet? I’m guessing your answer is no. So why do we believe our dogs should like everyone?

There are many reasons why your dog may not like being around people. First your dog’s genetics play a role in how social your dog will be. Some dogs are born more fearful, timid or shy with people. Their experiences with people over their lifetime will also play a role in how social they will be. If they had a bad experience with people in the past, they may begin to look at new people, or people they don’t know well, as something to avoid or be afraid of. The situations they are in may make them less social. If they are in new situations, busy or noisy situations, they may be less likely to be comfortable around new people. Or, you may just have a dog that just wants to be with his family and not share! ☺

There are some things you can do to help your dog feel more comfortable around people or with people coming into your home.

First, you will need to enlist some volunteers to help you work with your dog. Then, find out what your dog truly loves more than anything else (such as their favorite food). To begin working with them, you will also need to find out what makes your dog uncomfortable with the “strangers”. Is it when the doorbell rings? Is it when they come into the home? Is is when they try to greet your dog? Or is it anytime they see a person or new person no matter what the situation is?

If your dog gets overly excited when the doorbell rings (or someone knocks on the door), you can work with them by having someone ring, or knock, and immediately give your dog a treat. After a few repetitions, your dog may begin to hear the ring or knock and immediately look back to you for the treat. This is great. They are getting the concept. When they do this, you may want to hold out a few seconds after the ring, or knock, before you give the treat. This type of training is helping them to see the ring, or knock, as a good thing. Because they get something they love when it happens.

If you have a dog that barks at guests as they come in, you may want to start with some management to help them. If you know people are coming over, or if someone rings, or knocks, just tell them to wait just a second, put your dog behind a baby gate and give them something yummy to keep them occupied, then answer the door. When your dog has settled down and is calm, you may let them come in and visit with the people who, by now, should be seated or at least settled in. Sometimes the over-excitement of new guests can be overwhelming for some dogs. But once everything is more calm, they can then greet guests more appropriately.

If your dog is still leery of new people, then begin working with them at a distance that they are comfortable at with new people. Each time your dog looks at the person, click and treat them. Or you may have the person helping you, walk in and out of sight during the training. Each time they are in your dog’s sight, feed your dog something they love. When the person is no longer visible, stop feeding your dog and wait until the person is visible again and feed again. This can make your dog see people as predictors of good things and can help them become more comfortable when they are around. You will need to get different people to help you with this exercise so your dog can see that it can be any person, not just your sister or your friend that predicts food. You will also need to work on this in different situations so your dog can generalize the skills to new locations with lots of new people.

If your dog just isn’t liking new people after you have tried the training with them. Then maybe your dog is just not a social butterfly and allow them a safe space to be when new people come over so they don’t have to try to interact and you don’t have the spend the whole time trying to manage your dog. This will be easier for both of you and your guests. Just know that it is ok if your dog doesn’t love everyone they meet. We should always be advocating for our dogs and their emotional responses to things that may scare them or worry them the same way we would for our children.

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